In a rundown school, a science-teacher, Mr Clarke (Ivar Kants), is at least able to keep trouble at bay in his class of bored, disengaged teenaged boys. His pupils are largely the sons of migrants from the postwar immigration boom. For example, there is Renato (Maurice Devincentis) who is trying to present himself as too cool for school. Mr Clarke puts him in his place by cuttingly, yet unmaliciously, remarking “and take off your sister’s sunglasses”. He is more effective in engaging his kids than the English teacher Mr Atkins (Brian James) whose attempts to have the boys respond to Dorothea McKellar’s My Country may have suited the Anglo-students of an earlier generation rather than these boys who really aren’t sure where their country is.
This science lesson is interrupted when one of the students notices smoke billowing outside the window and the class run to look out, and see that the dunny (no other word is really appropriate) situated in the bitumen playground is on fire – actually, a bin of paper towels and toilet paper set on fire by a student who chucked his fag away after an illicit smoke.
I was teaching at Brunswick Technical School when some of the scenes for Moving Out were filmed there. That outdoor dunny was the only toilet facility for all the boys and male teachers at the school. As you see in the film the urinal was open to the sky – and rainy weather could be, well, uncomfortable. But we were not the only location used for the film’s school scenes – actually, the classroom was at another school in Melbourne. I always enjoyed the way the magic of movie editing had a class of boys rushing to the window of a class in one part of town, and looking down on our antiquated facilities.
But Moving Out is interesting for more than preserving those Edwardian toilets on film. (Only a few years later they were replaced with more modern facilities – and the space they had occupied became the site for a new school library.) It was the first feature film for its director, for its screenwriter (Jan Sardi, whose later credits would include Shine [Scott Hicks, 1996]), and also the debut of a teenage Vince Colosimo.
It also captured an interesting moment in Australian social history. A generation earlier a film about the immigrant experience, They’re a Weird Mob (Michael Powell, 1966), was clearly shaped by the “New Australian” attitude – the happy immigrant is the one who integrates into Australian society, casting off all vestiges of their original culture. Nino’s “happy end” is to marry the Aussie boss’ daughter – and celebrate it with a beer.
Gino’s happy ending is quite different. If They’re a Weird Mob came out of an ethos of migrant integration, leading to the assimilated migrant’s “disappearance” into the Anglo-Australian culture of the time, Moving Out celebrates the multiculturalism that evolved in the 1970s (another marker of the era, SBS, began test transmissions in 1979).
Gino is torn between wanting to be an Aussie (speaking nothing but English, barracking for Collingwood) and recognising his Italian heritage. Here, the resolution comes when he realises that his Italian cultural and family background is really a strength, probably supplying more love and support than he sees in from the Aussie parents of some of his mates and girlfriends. He accepts that he can, in fact, be both an Aussie and an Italian.
The title evokes the various stages of life for newcomers. When they arrive in their new country they must take any kind of job, any kind of accommodation. This mainly meant working in a factory, living in small cottages in the “bleak” inner-city area (before those areas became fashionable and expensive.) The ambition is to move out to the outer suburbs to a large, new house.
Gino’s parents achieve this – but Gino is not happy leaving the “Aussie” identity he has been attempting to adopt. But he is reconciled at the end, to the fact that he can still keep these “Australian” aspect of his life and appreciate the double richness he has because of his Italian heritage.
Moving Out is a warm film, capturing a moment when Australia’s attitude to migration was changing, perhaps even to a point of envying the richness of migrants with their double cultural heritage. But there is no need to regret the disappearance of these old dunnies.