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Jack Thompson Down Under – Episode 3 (1987)


This magazine-style show presents aspects of Australian life culled from footage shot over the years by the ABC for their groundbreaking television documentary series A Big Country (1992), as well as from the archive of the national production house, Film Australia. The actor Jack Thompson presents the series.

The five stories in this episode include: an SAS exercise in free falling from 10,000 feet, a young woman from the bush with a huge musical talent, the life of an agricultural auctioneer who clocks up 300,000 miles in his light plane trying to keep up with the big boys of the auctioneering world, and the rodeo clown who risks his life to make people laugh.

Curator’s notes

This series is a guide to the beauty and wonder of Australia, with its emphasis on some of the continent’s most inaccessible places. Beyond obviously had an eye on US sales since all distances described in the narration are in miles, although in Australia we have used metric road measures since the 1970s. The two series were in fact sold to the American Discovery Channel.

In this program, the footage is drawn largely from the archive of Film Australia although most of the footage that made up the two series of 26 programs was drawn from the 25-year archive of A Big Country (1992) (one of the longest running and best loved of the ABC’s documentary programs and made by the national broadcaster’s rural department).

Jack Thompson is a great narrator. He’s the iconic Australian male and his voice has that dinky-di Aussie drawl that Americans love. Matthew Flanagan approached Jack to front the series soon after he left the ABC where he had been a producer in the A Big Country (1992) unit. He’d tried to interest the ABC team in exploiting their fabulous archive of rural program material and was ahead of his time, since these days archives are regularly trawled for possible compilation programs. In fact, the ABC produced such a series in 2002 called A Big Country Revisited in which some of the earliest characters from the show were followed up to find out what had happened to them in the intervening 30 years or so.

Matthew Flanagan was persuaded by Iain Finlay, one of the principals of Beyond, to make a pilot with Jack Thompson. Beyond offered a facilities deal in return for a 30% stake. Kevin Weldon took another 30% in return for a production office for Matthew, who retained the final percentage. The series was licensed to Network Ten in Australia, with Discovery picking up the rights to broadcast in the US.