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e000951h-01Steele Rudd’s On Our Selection (1899) was one of the most popular works in Australian fiction for nearly fifty years. It was a series of satiric ‘sketches’ involving a rural Australian family, the Rudds,  battling the elements, neighbours, politicians, and themselves. It marks the beginning of a number books by Steele Rudd about this lovable family of ‘country bumpkins’. The original group of ‘sketches’, On Our Selection, in 1912 became a highly successful play, written by Edmond Duggan and the then popular Australian actor Bert Bailey who also played the central character of Dad Rudd.

download-1The play became the basis for the 1920 silent film version as well as Charles Chauvel’s 1932 ‘talkie’ On Our Selection. This was the film that really launched Charles Chauvel’s career. He was initially reluctant to do it, considering it as ‘old-fashioned’, however, based on the success of the play and the 1920 film he was persuaded that it would be a big hit with the Australian public – and it was.

Bert Bailey co-wrote the screenplay as well as reprise the role he created, Dad Rudd. Bailey, and Fred MacDonald as Dave Rudd, as well as the film, were such an enormous hit that it subsequently triggered off a series of films – Grandad Rudd (1935), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Dad Rudd MP (1940).  Whilst ‘film series’ are not unknown in the Australian film canon, nonetheless, the ‘Dad and Dave’ films are the most successful.

It is perhaps lamentable that the world and humour of On Our Selection and the ‘Dad and Dave’ films, in general, are relegated to the ‘old-fashioned’ dismissed bucket. However, Yes – they could be regarded as ‘old-fashioned’, but there is also an engaging whimsical charm, and they have moments that are genuinely funny. Furthermore, they do not shy away from social and political comment, and have more in common with the contemporary US films of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges than is generally credited – but with a uniquely ‘Australian’ voice.

This is partly exemplified in Dad and Dave Come to Town (which is my personal favourite) by the character of Mr. Ernstwhislte, played by Alec Kellaway. This character is what was called a ‘sissie’ role; in that, he is very effeminate and obviously ‘gay’. What makes this character and Alec Kellaway’s excellent performance important is that it is quite possibly the very first positive presentation of a homosexual man in ‘world cinema’, as opposed to being villainous, decadent, pathetic, psychopathic outcasts. Alec Kellaway’s Mr. Ernstwhistle is none of these, but is ‘good guy’ and helps Dad and Dave in their battle against the real villains in the film. Even more surprising, and a delightful paradox in regards to Australian audiences in comparison with English and US audiences, Mr. Ernstwhistle was so popular with the Australian public that he subsequently came back in later films.

These films may well be just of ‘historical interest’ now, however, I would argue that if viewed they would still garner laughs and be extremely popular.

Tony Knight