Four people in a car advertising a ‘Dad and Dave’ night at the Palais Royal ballroom circa 1930. Photo by Sam Hood (1872–1953), courtesy of Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales–DG ON4/3494.
Blimey! Our Selection
is Dad and Dave live at the Museum of Brisbane!
The people who enter the windowless studio are escorted by an usher to rows of uncomfortable chairs that look
as though they might have escaped from the station’s canteen. The men wear dark suits; the women close-fitting hats, gloves, stockings and sensible shoes.
are present. Those who wriggle are reprimanded by stern voices and sit, cowed and slumped in their seats. A woman at the back of the studio holding a wailing baby is spoken to softly by one of the station staff. She gathers up her child and exits the room,
smiling with embarrassment and leaving a pram behind.
There is a raised platform in front of the audience. Floor microphones with long stems sprout in front of a large canvas
bearing the station logo and the name of the program.
To the rear of the platform is a table at which several actors sit, shuffling scripts and occasionally exchanging a
word with the announcer who is snappily dressed in a charcoal suit, his hair slicked down with a liberal dose of Californian Poppy.
A sound effects man sits at a separate
table with his box of tricks and places some of them on the table before him. There is crumpled cellophane which, when squeezed between the hands, sounds like a crackling fire. Coconut halves stand in for approaching and departing horses. A long thin metal
sheet when flicked or wobbled by the sound man produces thunder and lightning. The purpose of other odd-looking items remains a mystery to the fascinated onlookers.
women walk up and down the aisles asking audience members if they would like a cup of tea and a biscuit. Most of the men, some of whom are smoking, refuse; most of the women accept. Children suck on the biscuits: the one bright spot in their day so far.
The announcer stands in front of one of the floor mikes and speaks to the crowd. Two of the male actors, holding their scripts, take their places and share one microphone between them.
The sound man, with his tools on a small card table beside him, sits on a stool in front of a microphone off to one side.
The entrance is closed. A red light blinks
above the doorway. The audience leans forward, expectant and hushed. A jaunty instrumental rendition of The Road to Gundagai fills the studio. The announcer becomes the narrator as the music fades.
Narrator: ‘We now present the first episode of Dad and Dave. A human story of two typical Australians – their families, their lives, their hopes, their doubts, their fears and their triumphs...visit the homestead
in Snake Gully just off the road to Gundagai.
It is a typical Australian homestead. There’s a veranda running almost right round the house. In front of the house are
a few trees and a small well-kept garden.
Now let us enter the homestead. It is night-time and in the living room we make the acquaintance of Dad and Dave. Dad is sitting
at the table laboriously writing while Dave has just finished reading the daily paper...’
It is 1937 and the first episode of Dad and Dave from Snake Gully
‘Your Troubles are My Troubles’, just over 12 minutes long, is being broadcast. Dave (John Saul) is trying to figure out how to get enough money to buy a house so that he can ask his long-suffering girlfriend Mabel to marry him. Dad (George Edwards)
tells him that money is too tight to help out. During the conversation Dave tries to fix a broken clock with disastrous results.
Mundane fare by today’s standards –
or is it? Dad and Dave, whether produced on stage, featured on film, or broadcast on radio and later on television was the rural Neighbours or Home and Away of its day. Across the nation, people in their lounge rooms sat around their
wirelesses with bated breath, eagerly waiting for the episode to begin.
2012 marks 100 years since the play On Our Selection written by Edmund Duggan and Bert Bailey
(who played Dad Rudd in the original production), made its debut in Sydney, New South Wales, at the Theatre Royal on 4 May 1912.
Arthur Hoey Davis (writing under the pseudonym
Steele Rudd), in collaboration with Beaumont Smith, had formerly attempted a stage adaptation of his Dad and Dave Rudd stories written between 1899 and the early 1900s, but the result was disappointing.
Bert Bailey, on the other hand was an experienced actor, dramatist and manager involved in melodrama companies in the late 19th century, and understood the expectations of an Australian audience very well. The play was a huge success and
toured throughout Australia, with several revivals in the 1920s.
Arthur Hoey Davis (Steele Rudd) was born on 14 November 1858 in Drayton near Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia,
the son of a Welsh blacksmith and an Irish mother and the eighth child of a family of thirteen children.
Governments in Australia had for some time been desperately trying
to break the power of the squatters and create a more diverse society. They offered parcels of Crown Land to would-be farmers on the condition that the land they selected would be used to grow crops rather than run sheep. Arthur’s father Thomas took
up a selection at Emu Creek and it was not an easy life.
Before Arthur was 12-years-old he left the local school and did odd jobs on a station before becoming a junior stock
rider on a station on the Darling Downs. Surprisingly, at the age of 18 he became a junior clerk with the Curator of Intestate Estates in Brisbane, and in 1889 he transferred to the sheriff’s office and took up writing in his spare time under the name
of Steele Rudd.
When Davis’s efforts to adapt his work for stage didn’t work out, the attempt was abandoned until Bailey and Duggan wrote their version. This
introduced a more cohesive plot with ‘Cranky Jack’ becoming a murderer and throwing suspicion onto the Rudd family and friends. Virtue triumphed in the end of course.
The play was revived by director George Whaley at the Jane Street Theatre at Randwick, NSW in 1979 and starred Don Crosby as Dad, Geoffrey Rush as Dave and Mel Gibson as Sandy. This production was later transferred to the Nimrod Theatre and George Whaley,
never one to let a good thing get away from him, also adapted the work for the film Dad and Dave: On Our Selection produced in 1995.
Whaley’s film was by no
means the first attempt to bring Dad and Dave to the silver screen. Raymond Longford’s silent version of On Our Selection premiered at West’s Olympia Theatre in Brisbane on 24 July 1920 and stayed close to the original Steele Rudd stories,
principally because producer E.J. Carroll did not have the rights to Bert Bailey’s play.
Longford cast quite a few non-professional actors in support roles in an effort
to give the film authenticity and the humour was far less broad than in most rural comedies of the day. The film was so successful at the box office it was followed by the sequel Rudd’s New Selection in 1921.
Before Steele Rudd died at the age of 66 on 11 October 1935, he had been awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal and lived to see an increased demand for films based on his work.
A further four features followed before 1940, most starring Bert Bailey as Dad. These films, however, owed more to the stage version than to Steele Rudd’s original work. A 14-part television series Snake
Gully with Dad ‘n’ Dave was also later produced by ATN7 Sydney in 1972.
What Rudd would have thought of George Whaley’s 1995 film made to honour
Australia’s centenary of film and cinema is debatable. Certainly some people were outraged. Steele Rudd’s stories were never less than warmly affectionate and written with respect for the real hardships experienced by families on the land.
Over the years a number of ribald jokes and parodies had been circulated (most of them unprintable), which increasingly portrayed the Rudd family as country bumpkins. The blurb on the
2006 DVD release did nothing to dispel this impression:
‘Dad and Dave – On Our Selection is a “pioneering” comedy based on the larrikin yarns
of Steele Rudd. Full of bush brawls, harvest dances, outback wedding celebrations and bloody good laughs, it's about a family who didn't give a damn about the authorities or the harsh conditions – and made this country what it is today. “Too Right!”’
The movie runs for approximately 105 minutes and does have some very funny moments. The cast includes a host of outstanding Australian actors. Veteran performer Leo McKern plays Dad
Rudd, Geoffrey Rush appears as Dave and, in an extraordinary piece of casting, Opera Diva Dame Joan Sutherland portrays Mother Rudd. With not a note to sing, Dame Joan is nevertheless convincing and endearing as Mum.
Despite the criticism of some purists, at the AFI Awards Eter Best’s score We of the Never Never earned him an award for Best Original Score, there was also an award for Best Screenplay, and Noah
Taylor was nominated as AFI Best Actor.
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