The Change

During this research, Tim Burstall has acquired a new sense of accomplishment for Australian cinema. I questioned as to why I was reading in so many articles and papers that he almost single handedly revived Australian cinema during his height in the 1970's.
How could one man do such a thing?

However, it wasn't just Burstall. During this research I found firstly, that he had a large group of people behind him. The group from La Mama followed him through the 1970's and his later years. The support from Betty Burstall, whom without the La Mama theater Australia might not have given personalities like Graeme Blundell and David Williamson a chance in the Australian film industry. This group of people allowed Burstall to create the films that he deemed commercially successful, and while they might not have been the films that he wanted to make, they definitely allowed Australians to recognize themselves on film.

The films he created also contributed to the title of the 'ocker-comedy', a type of Australian film that has continued to be made to this day. These films most definitely changed the way that Australia and Australian's thought about cinema; for one, Australians could create humorous films and that Australian's could be extremely accepting of Australian films. The way Burstall did this was use stories like those from Williamson that had a relatable awkward character (Stork, Alvin Purple) and used an extravagant problem to bring out Australian culture, culture clashes, locations, and the general wants, needs, and ideals of the Australian people in his films.

Burstall pushed the boundaries of filmmaking in Australia, making films that pushed censorship to creating a R+18 rating for films. This allowed for Australia to move on from the 1950's and 1960's - and to create films that grew with the times. Whilst Australian people in the 1970's were moving on and accepting subjects such as sex and culture clashes, Burstall's films were addressing these issues and the film industry was following him, by allowing sex and culture clashes to be shown in the cinema.

How did he change the film industry? He connected with the people of Australia, made films they wanted to see, and the industry changed accordingly to what Australia had wanted to see, how the world was changing in the 1970's and the industry needed to grow and change.

The 1970's and 'Ocker' Comedies

Tim Burstall, whilst being a 'pioneer' of Australian ocker comedies, it also influenced a range of popular Australian films that are iconic today and associated with the Australian 'new wave.'

Similar films that leaned towards the humor and style of Burstall's classics such as 'Stork' and 'Alvin Purple' include 'The Adventures of Barry McKenzie'.

Barry McKenzie was hugely popular in Australia, and was released just a year after Stork in 1972. Directed by Bruce Beresford and written by Barry Humphries it was produced from a popular comic strip in an Australian newspaper created by Humphries. (Film Reference)
Barry McKenzie was also rather popular in the UK, allowing audiences to poke fun at what was considered to be an 'typical idiotic Australian bloke' in the character of Barry.

Elements of 'ocker' comedies that give Barry McKenzie a similar reference to Burstall's Stork or Alvin Purple and place them in the same category are;

- Cultural clashes between characters.
- Making fun of Australian culture and life, using the central character as a focal point for seemingly 'innocent'  and dumbfounded humor.
- Seemingly crude scenes and humor for the time.
- Targeted towards a local audience.
- A great deal of focus on sex or sexual desires.
- Local settings
- A 'send up'
 Oz Film

The main players in Ocker Comedies during the 1970's were Tim Burstall, Bruce Beresford, David Williamson, and Barry Humphries. Their 'ocker' films were all essentially Australian films, and were owned by Australian film directors, producers and writers. The films were made to highlight 'the australian' (Ocker and the Tariff) and they did so by creating a commercial identity for Australians overseas as well as within the country; this involved the humor, the character, and the social and political wants and needs of the Australian people, no matter how underlying the points were.

Some modern 'ocker' comedies can be seen in all kinds of art forms within Australia, not just film. Whilst Barry Humphries has continued with his characters from Barry McKenzie and further on, he has continued to use 'ocker' humor in his comedy shows and theatre productions. Other Australian comedians also have borrowed from the later times of the 1970's and used the familiarity and national identity as a way of achieving success.

Critics and Censorship

Alvin Purple one of Burstall's most successful and famous films, was the first Australian film to receive an R rating under the new censorship laws in the 1970's.
Previously Alvin would have been banned for screening as public exhibition. The new laws proceeded the laws Australia still has today:

"Following the Minister for Customs, Don Chipp, announcing the government intended to introduce legislation for an R classification for films, the new classifications: G, NRC, M and R, came into effect and R-rated films opened in cinemas around Australia"

 Part of the regulations also included that an R rated film should not:

 (b) ...unduly emphasize matters of sex, horror, violence or crime, or are likely to encourage depravity... 

According to the censors, Alvin Purple did not include these factors, this could be because Alvin Purple was a "send up" of the sexual desires of the characters in the film; Tim Burstall being the director of the film, is quoted as agreeing with the idea of the "send up";

"One of the best ways of getting an Australian audience to accept itself, one of the things we're fondest of, is the send up. We're prepared to look at our life and laugh at it in a way that we're not prepared to look at our life and be serious about it. " -The Age, 5/12/1972

The rise of this change of film classification was due to the Literary Censorship Board was ordered to cut back censorship to only not allowing a ratings that were 'explicitly pornographic' -Overland Literary Journal. Alvin Purple was obviously not pornographic; however this poses the idea that had Burstall chosen to not create Alvin as a 'ocker comedy' or a 'send up' would it have been treated as pornographic? Alvin was very much pushing the boundaries of censorship, for a film that was the first to be treated with a R 18+ rating.

The fact that Alvin Purple was the first of R 18+ films in Australia is extremely pivotal point in Australian cinema history, and proves Tim Burstall's importance during this time. Had people like Burstall not created films that pushed the boundaries of censorship, would we have had the progress in Australian cinema that we look back on today?

Graeme Blundell & Alvin Purple

A huge influence in Australian cinema during the 1970's, Graeme Blundell was a driving force in many of Tim Burstall's films, and continued to be a figure in Burstall's career and life, both men being associated with 1970's Australian film.

Blundell is an iconic Australian actor due to his character in Burstall's film Alvin Purple playing the sex-crazed Alvin. Alvin Purple is considered to be successful due to it's commercial value, being a film generally about sex and human's desire for sex, Alvin Purple was also extremely risque for the time, and reflected the lives, thoughts and the changing culture during the 1970's. Alvin Purple connected with audiences also because Blundell's realistic performance as a real teenager with real issues and real thoughts and feelings about his sexual desires; something many teenagers of the day, even still today can connect with.

In Blundell's biography 'The Naked Truth: A life in parts'  he writes that the world after the 1960's explored a huge market for sex, and Alvin fit into that market. The exciting idea about Alvin was that sex was treated in a way that audiences accepted it as a script "...that scored it's points with a wink rather than a sneer, and a smile rather than a leer".

Alvin Purple managed to get audiences to accept the film as a charming comedy about sex, and a man's ideas and hesitance about it, while it was "raunchy" for it's time, the film projected societies anxieties about sex rather than blatantly placing it on film for 'shock value'. Blundell and Alvin are forever remembered together, and were used as a tool in the 1970's to bring to light the new fascinating culture surrounding Australian cinema and the new ideas people were accepting as every day life from the stubborn and clean earlier years.

"Stork" Interview 2004 (Part 1)

Hexagon Productions

Hexagon productions was born out of the company associated with the members of the underground Australian film culture and Village Roadshow members, and produced titles such as:

The Last of the Knucklemen
High Rolling
Eliza Fraser
End Play
The Love Epidemic
Australia After Dark
Alvin Purple & Alvin Rides Again

Notably, many of the productions were Tim Burstall's doing, forming the production company with Roadshow (John J. Benson, 1983) and creating most of his 1970's films under that name. Hexagon is credited along with Burstall's name as being a pioneer company of the Australian new wave cinema; ACMI claims in it's history that Hexagon, along with other young filmmakers was responsible for the emerging films making their way through young people's culture and as a result, Australian universities. (Australian Center for the Moving Image, 2012)

AFI chairman Alan Finney
Hexagon Productions was the first company to embark on a 'joint venture' with production and distribution entities. (AFI, 2012) It appeared that Hexagon's aim in the Australian film industry was to create commercially successful films both in Australia and overseas.
Alan Finney; current member of the AFI board of directors, was a keen member of Hexagon Productions, using his position at Village Roadshow to create the production company alongside Burstall after distributing 'Stork'.


John J. Benson and Australian Film Institute, 1983, An Annotated and Critical Bibliography on Australian Filmmaker Tim Burstall, Research & Information Centre, viewed 18/05/2012, <>. 

Australian Center for the Moving Image, 2012, Our History, Australian Center for the Moving Image, viewed 12/05/2012, <>.

The Australian Film Institute, 2012, AFI Board of Directors, Board and Staff, viewed 12/05/2012, <>.

La Mama Writers' Theatre

Owned by Tim Burstall's wife, Betty Burstall - La Mama was a haven for artists to express themselves separate from the norms of Australian theatre. Taken from the La Mama website:

La Mama was established by Betty Burstall in 1967 as a playwright’s theatre,  
“a place where new ideas, new ways of expression can be tried out; a place where you can hear what people are thinking and feeling”

The venue's name and idea was taken from the kind of theaters that Betty experienced when visiting America. La Mama was also an inspiration and a place for Tim Burstall to find actors and writers for his films. The script for Stork was taken from the play that was performed at La Mama 'The Coming of Stork' written by David Williamson whom is an Australian icon today. The idea that Tim Burstall could come to any one of La Mama's plays and give a writer or an actor an opportunity to be involved in a feature film, was a revolutionary one for Australia's underground artists.
Bonza database information on the people who have worked at La Mama

La Mama was such an influence on the early 1960's and mid 1970's artists because it is credited with assisting the Australian new wave cinema. And particularly how Burstall used the stories coming out of La Mama to his advantage in creating modern films that audiences relate to and enjoy - these films are credited with his success as a filmmaker during this time. 

Who is Tim Burstall?

Tim Burstall (20 April 1927 - 19 April 2004) was born in England, however is best known as one of Australia's most successful filmmakers during the 1970's when Australia was struggling to have a film industry, with his 'ocker-comedy' films such as Alvin Purple (1973), Stork (1971), and Eliza Fraser (1976). He is also famous for his 1980's films such as Attack Force Z with the production of Lee Robinson , Kangaroo,  and Great Expectations: The Untold Story, however this blog will focus only on Burstall's fame during the 1970's.

Here are the trailers for Alvin Purple and Stork:

Next Post: Hexagon Productions


Hello Readers,

This blog is dedicated to Australian filmmaker Tim Burstall. The posts will focus on Burstall's years in the 1970's, and how he influenced the Australian film industry during that time through my research.

Next Post: Introduction to Tim Burstall.