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A confused and disgruntled producer, Sam Goldwyn Jr, was presented with a climactic scene from director Stephan Elliott’s third film, Welcome to Woop Woop. After Elliott’s brash, obnoxious, crass and crude film has rollicked through misheard musical numbers, farts and bonfires, ‘dog day’, and a show stopping bar top dance by none other than Rod Taylor wearing jumper-cable boots, it belches into a third act moment where Taylor’s grimy titan Daddy-O stands down seppo import Teddy (Johnathon Schaech), defending his dishevelled and destroyed town with a defiant defensive speech:
It’s too fuckin’ dry! Too fuckin’ hot! Too many bloody flies! But it’s ours! You might think that doesn’t amount to much… But it’s fair dinkum. It’s Woop Woop! I think that’s worth fightin’ for. Hands up all of youse who think that’s worth a fight!
Watching the speech now, it’s easy to notice that there’s something off about it. Taylor’s lips don’t entirely match up when he says ‘Woop Woop’, which in itself sounds a little strange. Sam Goldwyn Jr. felt the original line went ‘too far’ and didn’t make sense – as if the film itself wasn’t over the top and nonsensical enough –, forcing Elliott to take a sound bite from earlier in the film to cover up Taylor’s original line:
Additionally, pulling from the world of Mulligrubs, Elliott filmed someone else mouthing the line and superimposed their lips over Taylor’s chapped chompers.
It’s a line change that altered the meaning of the film. It actively removed the notion that this remote town of outcasts who believe they’re part of Australia, representatives of the common culture at large, were instead a group of walled off, isolated drongos who appear to be the exception to the norms of Australian society, ‘othered’ individuals who don’t represent white Australia as a whole. In a film that’s full of tonal shifts that demarcates audience member after audience member as the comedy lurches from absurd to satirical to light-hearted to complete raunchfest, this line change feels like the biggest shift of them all.
With Elliott’s second film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, he sought to celebrate a side of Australian culture that had been neglected on screen, and by highlighting the majesty of a troupe of drag queens driving through the desert, he married the city and the outback in one fell swoop. The nastiness in Priscilla is pointed and contained, where an instance of violent homophobia stings the Queens pub-set pageantry. When it came to making Woop Woop, Elliott had this to say:
I saw another side of Australia out there. I nearly got my head bashed in about four times. I thought, ‘Okay, hang on, we don’t put these parts in Priscilla, do we?’ But that really is what I wanted this new film to be about.
And sure enough, where Priscilla celebrated the outsiders, the drag queens of the desert who brought glitz and glamour to the outback, Woop Woop made villains out of everyone.
Nobody is safe in Welcome to Woop Woop.
This is a film that’s eagerly reviled, despised, ridiculed, and slathered with the label of being one of Australia’s worst films. But it is also widely embraced, loved, and championed from the rooftops by the many who see a work of illness-fuelled genius at play here.
I’m part of the second group.
But before we get too far into the madcap brilliance of the Woop Woop-ites, I want to first take you on a journey:
In 1994, Douglas Kennedy released his debut novel, the pitch black comedic Wake in Fright-esque thriller The Dead Heart.
In the same year, fresh off his feature debut, Stephan Elliott slammed Australian cinema, and eventually the world with his follow up film: the Oscar winning The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
I started the year with the joyful abandonment of the little Queensland suburb The Gap, as my family made the slow saunter back to our home state of Western Australia by travelling around this broad, varied land. The journey would take us about six months, with my father’s intention to take in the four furthest points of Australia: Byron Bay in NSW, Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, Cape York in Queensland, and Shark Bay in Western Australia. Tasmania be damned.
My memories of the trip are vast, each providing a dusty tinge to my growing perception of Australia and what it meant to be Australian. As a shy nine year old kid, still impressionable and being moulded by the toxic racist streak that thrived in the Brissy Primary School I went to, this sojourn on the road, ‘learning from the land’ (as my teachers would call it) was exactly what I needed. If this sounds misty eyed and nostalgic, if not like privileged writerly wank, then I promise you that’s accidental.
In Longreach, my parents caught up with one of my sisters’ school teachers who had retired to the iconic location. The post-dinner discussion about kids dolls being equipped with anatomically correct genitals, moving away from the smooth curved dome that made the dolls feel almost futuristic and genital-agnostic, rings in my mind today. The alarm, outcry, and disturbance from the elders of society suggested a pandemic of paedophilia would sweep the lands upon the arrival of genitals on dolls. These same people would wring themselves into a knot in the decades to come with the increased awareness of transgender folk and who could use what bathroom. The fevered handwringing worry about the fracturing of society was tangible in the air that night, with the misguided parental concern colouring my perspective of such futures non-issues as ‘whether schoolkids should get the cane or not’ or whether Australia was, in fact, being ‘swamped by Asians’.
The hype and celebration of Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert permeated through the air. I was far too young to watch these films, but it was impossible to not be aware of their presence in the world, with all the glitter, glam, and disco delight that they both wrought upon the Australian cultural landscape. ABBA and Gloria Gaynor were a far cry from Baker Street and Judith Durham, the soundtrack to our trip around Oz, but it became impossible to untangle the tumbled entwined nature of these pop songs, Aussie suburbia, and the sweltering heat of the red, dead centre.
As we made our way through to the Northern Territory, across the Gulf of Carpentaria, we brisked our way through small town upon small town, each with their own distinct accent, and each feeling as shut off and fractured from the other. When asked where we were coming from, it was safer to say the last town we visited, rather than ‘Brisbane’, for fear of being labelled ‘one of those city folk’. We were, of course, city dwellers, but we were also tourists, coming to a small country town, smiling with forced adoration over the souvenirs, criticising the cost of their Akubra’s, and laughing over yet another bag of ‘Kangaroo nuts’ bagged in a literal dried Kangaroo scrotum.
My memory lies to me now, but our stay in the Alice felt like it went for months. As a place of respite, I recall being forced to sit down with my often neglected diary, of which my sister and I had been told to complete every day as a form of ‘education’ due to the stretch of school that we would be missing, and was made to reflect on the journey so far. As I sit and write this, I’m awash with the memories of an Australia that embraced its fellow Australians with a feeling of eyeing caution, of judgement and disdain, a questioning gaze of ‘what are you doing here and what do you want?’. Unsurprisingly, the disdain that I recall from those who called the ‘outback’ home came from white Australians, almost furious that their homes were being invaded by other white Australians. I wonder if the rise of the ‘grey Nomad’ has made way for a further generation of disgruntled white Australians who sought the solitude of small town life, and the sanctity that it provided away from avocado toast consuming city dwellers.
At the park we were staying at, there was a resident who lived in his weathered caravan with his equally weathered Blue Heeler dog. I recall visiting him a few times, enamoured by the level of grime and muck that layered his clothes and skin, his mammoth size forcing an awkward manoeuvre into the caravan on a diagonal angle. At dusk one day, I watched as he chopped up a kangaroo tail for his dog, its tendons and sinew acting like an occy strap that might ping off any moment and slam an unsuspecting trolley boys eye out. He had an array of road kill stacked on his freezer each morning, collected after heading off into the night to scour the roads for kangaroos and emus that have had their heads collapsed by the pressure of a truck, or to relinquish their broken bodies that laid on the highway of their life as they breathe and gasp in pain, to clean the roads of the death and carnage, and to feed himself and his dog.
The smell reminded me of the puce like haze that hung around the XXXX refinery in Brisbane. It wasn’t death, but it certainly has never been in the presence of anything living. The buzzing neon sign stood proudly above the brick mausoleum that housed the death cries of the institution that is beer. As a child, I knew that XXXX was swill; a slurry of barley, hops, and yeast, blended in with the ‘pure local water’ of Brisbane, all of which, when combined, would make snails eagerly curl up and die instead of being submitted to death by way of a beer akin to ‘the dip’.
At each town, there was a new slice of ocker slang to add to my growing dictionary of Aussie colloquialisms. My ears twinged whenever someone referred to bathers as ‘togs’, but they gradually came to decipher the foreign version of English that was being spoken in rural regions, partly thanks to the education from this giant of a man. He taught me routine and basic phrases like ‘fair dinkum’ and ‘cobber’, and what it meant to ‘go off like a frog in a sock’, or why something was ‘as useful as tits on a bull’.
I didn’t know who Pauline Hanson was in the early nineties, but I certainly saw the impact of her rhetoric and beliefs throughout Queensland. I recall seeing a family of Indigenous folk in Cairns being yelled at in a grocery shop, being told to ‘get a job’, even though they were buying groceries just like everyone else. Returning to Perth, the jokes were of the same ilk, only with variations of the racist words I’d come to know. Joining them was a catalogue of cruel homophobic quips that became part of the playground vernacular, to be thrown like a barb when someone missed a shot playing handball.
Four years later, sitting in the Hoyts cinema half a k away from my high school, having bought a ticket to see Black Dog, and sneaking in to see the MA15+ rated Welcome to Woop Woop instead, this memory of the kind hearted behemoth, his dog, and his freezer chest of road kill came flooding back like a wave of unexpected nostalgia. Formative moments in our lives rarely announce themselves there and then, but that memory, married alongside the imagery of a mountain of empty Spam and XXXX cans, and the sight of a conveyor belt of carcasses, cemented an appreciation and adoration of the rugged outback Aussie bloke that I would otherwise have missed.
This self-centred walk down memory lane is less in service of testing out the waters for a potential biography about my childhood in Australia (gosh, what a bore that would be), and more scene setting for the continued defence that I have for Stephan Elliott’s third feature, Welcome to Woop Woop. As a stringent supporter of this bonkers and bizarre outback farce, I’ve long wanted to sit fellow critics down and shake them with the reality that yes, Elliott’s mania-driven, jaundice-pained production, is a work of utter, bonkers, genius. His scum-scraping prowess had managed to slather the buttered side of Vegemite toast with a level of affection for the obnoxious and crude ockerisms of the outback by way of a Sound of Music-level condemnation of the ‘cuntfaces’ of the world.
Putting it simply: Welcome to Woop Woop equally celebrates and condemns the politically incorrect and the communally archaic citizens of the world. It dances with them on the bar top with jumper-cable boots glitzing sparks across the jeering crowd, singing a chorus that calls them a bunch of outdated, micro-gene-pool swimming drongos who would shoot their dog and eat it for breakfast. There’s precious little line-balancing taking place here, with Elliott instead skewing towards a frenetic whiplash level of whirlwind mania that feels akin to a red-cordial fuelled child trying to play both sides of cops and robbers at once, and winning as each team.
The audience surrogate is Teddy, a chiselled jawed seppo played in a slice of pitch perfect casting with comfort and ease by Johnathon Schaech, a crim on the lam after a nondescript deal-gone-bad in New York. He heads to Australia to ‘find his birds’ after a bonzo back alley deal where he tries to sell ‘genuine, authentic, Australian cockatoos’ (Schaech’s pronunciation can’t help but carry a ring of ‘cock-er-two’ to it) goes south, ending with the birds being let loose in Manhattan, shitting over the New Yorkers who retaliate by pulling out their hand cannons and blasting the sky to smithereens.
Shooting on the streets of New York over three days to capture this rather pointless and extraneous introduction to the film, we see the unrestrained excess that Elliott was afforded by Priscilla’s infamy being blasted away at once. Where Mick Dundee took glee in belittling the size of a man’s knife, putting Aussie’s as the land of the ‘stronger’ men, Elliott uses Teddy and his gun-toting kin as a boot in the side of the eccentric Americans. These are barely characters, instead grotesques that amplify the reductive mindset non-Americans have about yanks: trigger happy, violence-in-the-name-of-freedom supporters. These are Woop Woop’s first victims, and it’s clear that Elliott isn’t keen to stop there.
It’s no surprise that right off the bat Elliott upset and angered viewers. They expected more of the same from the director who helped cause a welcome celebration of the Australian film industry with Priscilla, but instead, Welcome to Woop Woop became cause célèbre, effectively condemning the future of Australian cinema to the dustbin of cinematic hell. Here was a man who managed to break into Hollywood with his Strine accented film, which nabbed an Oscar in the process, becoming the ‘hot new director’, only to ‘yes and…’ the dark side of Australian culture into a film that laughed and cheered alongside the characters it so eagerly condemned.
As the ‘hero’ of the piece, Teddy’s outclassed and out of depth in a world where variations on the English language are spoken, but rarely understood, where pineapple glazed kangaroo is devoured alongside copious amounts of canned Spam, and while sex is frequent and celebrated, ‘rule number three’ means you don’t sleep with your sister.
Australian cinema is replete with eager migrants finding themselves in too deep in a culture they fail to grasp onto, but in the catalogue of masculine imports being thrust into the outback to survive, Schaech’s Teddy is in a class of his own. He’s a world away from Gary Bond’s exhausted John Grant in Wake in Fright, or Walter Chiari’s optimistic Nino Culotta in They’re a Weird Mob, or even the wayward and lost troupe of refugees in Lucky Miles. The clear distinction is that Grant is British, and Culotta is Italian, with the asylum seekers being from Iraqi and Cambodian backgrounds. Teddy is very American, manufactured with all the cultural stereotypes we apply to the yanks of the world: ultra-confident, cocksure, arrogant, life-lesson spewing, self-satisfying ingrates.
While Teddy’s arrival in Australia is to play the role of open-eyed tourist, his import into the town of Woop Woop is less voluntary, being under the alcohol and drug-laden duress of his pepped up, Cherry Ripe devouring beau Angie (a masterful turn from Susie Porter). In some ways, Teddy shares a kin-like bond with John Grant, both of whom find themselves trapped in a region they fear they’ll never escape. But, unlike Grant, Teddy manages to flee his captors.
With Teddy having scarpered from his American worries, he sets off around ‘the land down under’ as a renegade tourist in a dusty VW van. Elliott delivers a meet-cute flooded with as much flesh as he can deliver, with Teddy taking a quick shower at a rundown petrol station, and the infectious and sugar-addled Angie glaring in giddy adoration at his well-maintained physique. Elliott’s camera caresses Schaech’s figure, showing us how easily Angie becomes addicted to Teddy’s presence, and we can’t help but swoon alongside her.
It’s a good third of the film before we even reach Woop Woop, with Teddy and Angie effectively fucking across the landscape of Australia. Elliott and writer Michael Thomas enjoy making us wait, giving us the sight of a prostrate, legs akimbo Angie spitting out memorable quote after memorable quote mid-root, from the iconic ‘part me beef curtains Teddy’, to ‘root me stupid’ and ‘fuck me dry’, all of which is joined by Teddy’s quizzical look when Angie screams ‘sock it to me!’ (Schaech’s response of ‘nobody says “sock it to me” anymore’ is a deadpan delight.)
Angie is a character driven by her own sexual hunger and desire, a notion that was thriving throughout the Australian cinema output of the late nineties, with films like Praise and Better Than Sex showing women in charge of their own sexuality. This is in stark contrast to the titillation of the seventies, where the bare bosom of women like Felicity Robinson in Felicity was less of a bid for sexual liberation for women, and more about sexual gratification for men. John D. Lamond’s output is best explored elsewhere, but as Australia’s smuttier Russ Meyer, his fascination with the bust was clear: the man liked breasts. For Stephan Elliott, Angie is a character conjured out of the drought of unsatiated sexual craving she’s lived with for so long, forming a rubber band ball of sexual frustration which positively explodes and pings off the walls after she witnesses Teddy’s chiselled physique. For her, Teddy is a bottle of Evian, emptied into the dust, and finally ending the sexual drought enforced by the confines of Woop Woop itself.
For some viewers, Angie’s voracious sexual appetite and her ferocious dialogue was too much, with the ‘beef curtains’ line carrying a graphic weight to it (even though Teddy’s Kombi has literal curtains with pictures of beef on them). Susie Porter was fresh on the Aussie film scene at the time, but delivered each eyebrow-raising line with the normalcy they deserved. Our manner of talking is an iconic aspect of our cultural identity, with phrases that sound nonsensical at first, but make complete sense as your brain wraps itself around them, and before long, you find yourself implementing them in common place chatter . Porter’s delight at screaming ‘part my beef curtains’, or Daddy-O’s loud proclamation of fahfangoolah! shows Elliott and co. proudly leaning into the Australiana of Woop Woop, maybe even a little keenly trying to introduce a few new obscene phrases into the worlds vernacular, one upping the already established filth that permeates through our slang.
Just like Angie does to Teddy, Elliott hoodwinks the audience into expecting a certain kind of sex comedy, and then delivering a sucker punch of icky familial questioning, as Teddy meets Daddy-O for the first time. There’s no skirting round the bushes here, with Daddy-O jumping straight to the punch, demanding Teddy tell him if he ‘plugged his daughter real good’, and how good of a root she was. The open, frank, and jovial tone of the town makes this kind of otherwise private discussion feel as if it’s the norm – as if to ask, well, why wouldn’t Daddy-O ask about his daughters sex life? Especially if Teddy is going to be a new introduction to the gene pool of Woop Woop, extending the genetic variety with his American bloodline.
That knowledge and notion doesn’t make Daddy-O’s questioning any more comfortable, with the heat inside the corrugated tin pub being used as an extra torture device for poor Teddy. There’s something to be said about the masterful use of the searing Australian heat in Woop Woop that makes it feel like a tangible entity on screen, reaching out and making you sweat in your seat. Whether it’s the thick layer of red dust that smothers every characters pores and costume, or the sun-worn wrinkle-laden mug of Rod Taylor, poking out from his weathered and tattered Collingwood jersey, the production design by Owen Paterson, set decoration by Suza Maybury, costume design by Lizzy Gardiner, all work in harmony to showcase a cast of characters who have been built, shaped, and transformed by the scorching earth they call home. (Decades later, stories of systemic racism thriving within the Collingwood football club help inform the right-leaning mindset of Daddy-O just that little bit more.)
Rod Taylor’s ease and comfort is on fine display here. You’d hardly think he’d built a career overseas, having only featured in a handful of Aussie films, given how naturally he blends into the town of Woop Woop. There’s an ‘every man’ quality to Daddy-O, a nefarious one at that. He’s the kind of guy who’s all teeth, the rich, sleazy uncle or the misogynistic dad who bangs on about right-leaning politics a little bit too much, and how women have their place in the world. To some, Daddy-O might be endearing, but to many, he’s a thug, a brute, and a towering beer-filled man of a human to fear.
Stephan Elliott’s films are stridently political, with Priscilla working to bring the queer identity into the reserved homes of Australia. Woop Woop on the other hand was an acidic portrayal of everything that was wrong with Australian culture. Talking to FilmInk, Elliott said:
It’s a major attack on political correctness. You step back in time, and Daddy-O is a racist pig; basically he’s Pauline Hanson. It’s like a One Nation world happening back there. I played with a lot of taboos…it was great fun using the c-word, saying cunt for the first time really hard. For me, it was an exercise in political incorrectness, trying to cause trouble but with a sense of humour.
It then makes utter sense that Elliott would want to pillory the iconography of One Nation and Hanson’s band of zealots by casting Pauline herself in the film as the wife of Rod Taylor’s obnoxious Daddy-O. It wasn’t to be, with producers talking Elliott out of trying to cast one of Australia’s most notable racists. Hanson wasn’t the only politician that Elliott sought to cast, with his eagerness to get former Prime Minister Bob Hawke in a cameo performance also ending in failure.
These dream casting decisions further highlight how eager Elliott was to ridicule Australian culture and tackle what the Australian identity is. He’s on the record as saying that Woop Woop was ‘a hearty wave goodbye to an old Australia before political correctness came in’, and while that suggests an eagerness to offend the left-leaning folks who voting for Hawke and Keating, it also ignores the publicity statement that feels most apt for the film itself:
A film which will offend just about everyone.
Paul Byrnes said it best in his review for the Sydney Morning Herald:
It’s a film with a bizarre emotional polarity – nostalgic for the endangered Australian redneck, whom it actually despises. 
But the occupants of Woop Woop are less a species of endangered Aussie rednecks, and more a product of their own cultural bubble. Effectively becoming their own micro-nation, like a skewed version of the Principality of Hutt River, they live, quite literally, ‘off the map’ in an abandoned asbestos mining camp, where Daddy-O spews his own rhetoric about the rest of the world ignoring Woop Woop. There’s a grumble at some big wigs in Fremantle who wanted to pay the Woop Woop folks off, but really, what it boils down to is a Daddy-O-led guarded sanctuary where crude, unrestrained bigotry, and fervent racism is allowed to flourish.
Elsewhere, with the Oscar nominated Crocodile Dundee, tendrils of Paul Hogan’s Mick Dundee’s masculinity can be teased out of being a mere thread or two from the sun kissed desert comber Daddy-O. Mick is held up as a ‘proper bloke’, a man’s man, whereas Daddy-O is the menacing thug we find equally familiar. Both would be quick to reach for their belt-buckle in a domestic argument. Mick’s worldview plays as circle on the Venn diagram of Aussie blokes, overlapping with the actively xenophobic mindset of Daddy-O. If these gents had Facebook profiles, you’d be dead certain that they’d be slightly out of focus selfies popping up under threads about any topic they’d label as ‘snowflake’ material, all the while they lament the downfall of Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson or Rodney Rude and rage on about ‘cancel culture’.
If anything, Elliott’s cognisant vilification of Daddy-O and the other brainwashed Woop Woop-ites is an equal condemnation of that species of ‘endangered Australian rednecks’ that Byrnes talked about. While Teddy sees right through the manic Daddy-O immediately, the rest of the town is oblivious, seemingly in awe of the pig who can stand on its hind legs, sing, dance, and talk with the rest of them. Instead of being horrified by Daddy-O’s manufactured Animal Farm, the other occupants are along for the ride.
And why wouldn’t they be? Most of them know no different. The rocky incline that encompasses Woop Woop makes a natural enclave akin to the same desolate sanctuary that Mick Taylor found in Wolf Creek. These individuals are outcasts of society, resolute figures who are far from being shadows of the genuine Australian townsfolk who litter the regions that many city folk only hear about on the news. They’re greatly unaware of the reality that while they live on tinned pineapple and spam, Daddy-O and his inner circle of sweat-laden, leather-skinned brutes have been devouring clean food from outside of Woop Woop.
That divide between the privileged (Daddy-O) and the poor (Woop Woopites) is not as cavernous as that that exists in reality, but it’s a glimmer of a reflection of Australian society as a whole.
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