A Bit o’ Hard Yakka

by Angus Kirby

Hard Yakka (dir. Bryce Reimann, 2017, 100 mins, Australia)

The last great pieces of what could arguably be classified as Australian magic realism I can remember are the TV series Round the Twist and The Wayne Manifesto. Both of them belong to a generation or so past who also consumed Morris Gleitzman stories and existed just before the advent of the Internet. They reflected the times they were written and existed in. Hard Yakka, in this somewhat economically darker period, reflects the world of semi-rural Queensland, but also manages to capture the magical weirdness of the highly specific type of bogan cunts who scurry around bumming ciggies and sinking piss. The people you might see at a train station who don’t actually seem to be headed anywhere in particular. Hard Yakka looks at these people and this sometimes nightmarishly harsh locale with a more spiritual edge. It’s also a surreal black and white road movie with a deliciously bent sense of humour.


A young man journeys through a broken, desolate rural Australia. He’s headed somewhere, but to get by in the meantime he does yard work for cash, steals gaming consoles to trade with mystic local drug dealers and sleeps rough to save money for smokes. The painterly images zoom, pan, tilt and fade, constantly in hazy motion, lending the entire movie a floating, dreamlike air. Formally, it echoes Pedro Costa, Lav Diaz and Apichatpong Weerasethakul but this is very much its own thing. Hard Yakka could not conceivably take place anywhere else on Earth. Its entire vibe (the most appropriate word) is rooted in its rarely explored setting, the lower middle and lower classes in rural Australia. Just outside the major cities, these are predominantly socially conservative but alcoholically liberal folk who nevertheless carry an aura of mystery to them. The style of the movie might seem antithetical to the characters and setting, but it actually reveals an entirely unseen dimension, a scary and concerning one, but still a valuable fresh perspective. An ad for Farmers Direct this certainly is not.



This extends to Hard Yakka’s prevalent theme of Australian masculinity and the identity crisis it faces when people learn that the Aussie Larrikin is just a veneer and the emotional repression many Australian men endure is both self-imposed and pressured onto them. These men do hard bloody work, drink beers and readily accept unnecessarily tough circumstances. But their interactions are mostly stilted, skirting around pop culture and rarely reaching moments of sincere connection – until the end of the film that is. One female character is seen in the distance, her return causes her male partner to rush to her as if he couldn't stand another moment in the company of only men.


It’s a story that could’ve been told like the more consciously mainstream Last Cab to Darwin (Jeremy Sims, 2015), with offbeat characters and “quirky” comedy sprinkled throughout, but Hard Yakka is an entirely different beast. It has no interest in glossing up its subject matter. It still has moments of deadpan humour, but in its ability to translate just how surreal, scary and dystopic these places can feel the movie conveys an emotional truth that many other local releases either don’t want or haven’t achieved.  




A few Australian artists have been putting out work that is completely unafraid to portray the grotesque side of Australian culture. Michael Cusack, an animator, is a name that comes to mind. Tasmanian Simon Hanselmann’s Megg, Mogg and Owl comics also take an unflinching look at suburban depression and drug abuse, albeit in a non-specific setting. In these works, there is a complete, almost proud acceptance of what some might consider an “underbelly” of Australian society. Hard Yakka fits in well amongst these works as a unique piece of Australian cinema – something you couldn’t find anywhere else.

See the Hard Yakka trailer.

See also: Gutter Poetry (director Bryce Reimann on the making of Hard Yakka)

Angus Kirby is a filmmaker from Brisbane whose short films have played at Cannes and St Kilda International film festivals.

Published June 10, 2018. © Angus Kirby, June 2018