|Donald Pleasance in Wake in Fright|
In Yabba, Grant becomes caught within the macho world of endless drinking, kangaroo hunting and fist-fighting that turns the outback into a nightmarish doubling of the wild west. Beginning the film as a schoolteacher trapped in the non-space that is Tiboonda, he escapes for Christmas and on his train out of the village he dreams of returning to the city, Sydney, fantasising about his girlfriend who appears to him like Aphrodite from the ocean. The character of Tydon, a doctor of medicine who lives au naturelle from the freebies he gets from the locals in exchange for his medical expertise, becomes a mentor for Grant, teaching him the ways of the outback and watching as Grant spirals out of control. Ultimately, Grant tries to escape but finds himself unable to do so: even hitching a ride to Sydney in the back of a lorry ends up with him returning to Yabba. In the end, a botched suicide attempt enables him finally to get back to his life: but it is not life in Sydney, only a return to Tiboonda where he is fated to work through his bond to the Australian Education system.
Although Tydon as psychopomp is a persuasive reading, there is another way of seeing the image of the benighted doctor. In his blindness, it is tempting to see Tydon as a Tiresias figure, the oracular asexual who haunts Eliot's Waste Land (1922). "Old man with wrinkled dugs", Tiresias is blind and yet sees everything. In Eliot's poem, Tiresias as "awaited the expected guest ... the young man carbuncular" upon "whom assurance sits/As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire". The mythical figure of Tiresias has crossed between the world of men and women, a figure of transgression and liminality, as Tydon is in the film. Tydon's wisdom is emphasised throughout the film, even if it is relative to the boorish, feral nature of the company he keeps. He talk of Socrates, plays opera, discusses the functions of the digestive system whilst standing on his head and drinking beer. His approach to sex is casual: he takes Janette (the daughter of a drinking friend) - and she takes him - as and when the need arises, pithily echoing the sixties hippy communes from which the world has just emerged. Yet it is also clear that he finds solace in the company of men and in a later scene there is more than the suggestion that he has had sex with Grant. Tydon removes the testacles from a kangaroo, asking a bartender to put them in the fridge. The bartender jokes with Tydon and asks him if they are his. It is easy to see Tydon, at the centre of Grant's journey into the heart of darkness, as a Kurtz-like figure: in the end, Tydon serves as a warning to Grant, perhaps even foreshadowing his own fall from grace. In the same nightmare scene discussed above, Grant sees his girlfriend naked in the arms of Tydon: the father figure has become his replacement, a doppelgänger. In this Freudian sub-text, Tiresias as 'father' stands for Grant's own insecurities (in a drunken state, he fails to 'perform' for Janette).
It would be interesting to read the film alongside Eliot's poem: from the parched mise-en-scene of the outback ("a heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter"), to the unflattering presentation of working class culture and the sense of alienation that ultimately pervades the film. The absolute claustrophobia which fills the screen, despite the prevalence of wide-open spaces, offers little hope to the protagonists.