This made-for-TV movie from the Australian ABC was a wry, rich and intensely Australian comedy – full of expressions such as dunny, galah, cobber, bludger, and tom-tits – following a group of soldiers stationed at a remote ordnance camp in the Northern Territory during World War II.
Set in the autumn of 1944, the soldiers were frustrated because they were stuck in an out-of-the-way camp – part of the “forgotten army” – while their mates were off fighting a real war.
Their lives were weighed down by boredom, and their main hobby was waiting around for a leave pass.
The camaraderie, the occasional setting against rules and regulations, and the welcome letters from home were the only oases to quench the bone-dry monotony.
Jack Allen was impressive as Mac, a huge and slothful Billy Bunter-type who, rather than take a shower, just dried himself with a towel at the end of the week. Harold Hopkins gave a sterling performance as Vic Richards, a rebel who raved about his grudges against the world and his girl who had been waiting four years for him to propose.
One of the best performances was given by Stephen Thomas, who played Eric Otford, an athletic type who – when he wasn’t busy doing push-ups – made a few quid doing the other mens’ washing.
Written by Sumner Locke Elliott, the original stage play was banned in NSW in 1948 and denounced as blasphemous and indecent.
While critics praised it, a police report at the time described it as “crude, vulgar in the extreme, bordering on obscenity as the law stands and most unsuitable for public exhibition”.
Elliott based Rusty Bugles on his own experiences at Mataranka, a middle-of-nowhere army camp in the Northern Territory during WWII.
Eric “Ot” Otford