Swinging Safari is a nostalgic look back at 1970’s Australia that will have you laughing while you reminisce about long forgotten memorabilia/artifacts.
The film is set in a small Australian beach town and revolves around the lives of three families who all live in the same cul-de-sac, Wyong Close. The story is told through the orange-tinted memories of Jeff Marsh (Atticus Robb) as he reflects back to when he was 14 years old, and the outrageous events that took place over the course of one summer. An aspiring filmmaker, Jeff’s narration is intercut with his 8mm footage from the time, largely consisting of hilarious and dangerous stunts starring local kids from the neighbourhood.
Swinging Safari begins with an overload of information with iconic 70’s fashion and pop culture, as we are introduced to the numerous colourful and eccentric characters who make up the Hall, Jones and Marsh families. The families portray a broad cross section of 70’s middle-class Australia, where a combination of high living standards and plenty of leisure time lead to outrageous behavior and fairly relaxed morals.
Jeff’s father Bob (Jeremy Simms) sells K-Tel gadgets while his mother Gale’s (Asher Keddie) life seems to revolve around shopping and gossiping, while permanently dressed in her tennis whites. Across the road lives Keith (Guy Pearce) – the head of the Hall family who struggles to make enough to support his large family by selling Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopaedias. His wife Kaye (Kylie Minogue) is an alcoholic who barely leaves the house, and their five children seem to be permanently running riots and are behind most of the dangerous and crazy pranks. Completing the trio of families are the Jones’, comprising of Rick Jones (Julian McMahon) and his wife, Jo (Radha Mitchell). Their youngest daughter Melly is nothing like her boisterous parents, and her shy and thoughtful nature attracts the affections of Jeff. The pun about keeping up with the Jonese’s is almost certainly intended with their fabulous sunken lounge, corner bar and beta-max video machine having the rest of the street envious.
Melly (Darcey Wilson) and Jeff (Atticus Robb) share a childhood bond and carry the nickname ‘the flammable children’, thanks to the consequences of the first generation to wear fully synthetic fabrics, which is demonstrated in an amusing flashback. This reference is also an inside joke to the original film title. Their friendship begins to evolve when a 200-ton blue whale gets washed up on their local beach, sparking sudden media attention in their small town. Melly feels a connection with the whale’s tragic fate and her own fear of being stuck in the small community. When the two of them unwittingly observe their families’ experimental swingers party, it sparks them into action and they hatch a plan to run away together. Their parents are so engrossed with the repercussions of their experimentation and the resulting neighbourhood feud, that their children’s personal troubles go largely unnoticed.
Director and scriptwriter Stephen Elliot (known for The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert), has assembled an excellent cast of beloved Australian talent. Jack Thompson is superb as the local town mayor trying to capitalise on the media attention brought by the beached whale. Guy Pearce shows his comedic skills and seems to be having a fantastic time in the role. Special mention should also go to Atticus Robb in his debut role, who is a great new talent, especially when considering he wasn’t alive in the era the events of Swinging Safari took place.
Elliot shows his usual great attention to detail when recreating the fashion, set design and countless popular items like Space Food Sticks, KB Lager, cheese fondue and cold “Kentucky Fried Chicken” buckets at the beach. His witty script has found a way to celebrate Aussie culture while at the same time poking fun at it. It amusingly showcases just how dangerous it was growing up as a kid in the 70’s with distracted parents, widely available garden tools and a plethora of extremely dangerous fireworks.
Swinging Safari is an outrageous comedy with a nostalgic look back at the 70’s where kids ran riot, parents experimented with looser morals and everyone it seems consumed far too much alcohol. Whilst unlikely to become the internationally loved cult classic that Priscilla Queen of the Desert has become, it nonetheless is an enjoyable comedy, especially after a few glasses of cask wine.
Kylie Minogue and Guy Pearce were in the Australian TV series Neighbours together, playing Charlene Mitchell/Robinson and Mike Young.