Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Queensland - Swimming Upstream

Having already seen some of Australia's most famous movies, including Muriel's Wedding by Brisbane-born director PJ Hogan, I've been searching for other movies set in Queensland.

Swimming Upstream is based on a true story about Queensland swimmer Tony Fingleton and is interesting, not so much because it is about a famous swimmer, but more to do with the fact that, for Tony Fingleton, swimming was only ever a means to an end, a chance to escape his oppressive family background, to leave Queensland and follow his dream of studying at Harvard.

The second of five children, four of them boys, Tony had it tough growing up and his relationship with his father, in particular, was strained. For some reason, his father despises him, probably because, as his brother says in the movie, he's such a 'goody-good'.  His older brother and father also call him a 'poofter'.

Tony's determination to succeed at swimming is an attempt to prove them all wrong and show them that he can really be someone. In the end, he surpasses his brothers' achievements, going on to win a silver medal at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games which took place in Perth. Tony finally achieved his dream, winning a scholarship to Harvard, but forgoing a chance to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964.

Swimming Upstream is very much a metaphor for the struggle to survive everything that life throws at you.  It's about Tony's determination to achieve recognition and not let other people, in this case his father and brothers, hold him back.

The director of Swimming Upstream, Russell Mulcahy, is originally from Melbourne. He did the Highlander series of films, as well as the US edition of Queer as Folk. He moved to the UK in the mid 70's and was heavily involved in the growing art form of music videos. He directed the video for The Buggles Video killed the Radio star, the first video ever to be shown on MTV. He also directed videos for the likes of Duran Duran and Elton John.

Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of music in the movie. Just two pieces really, which are both repeated at various points in the story; there is Chopin's Minute Waltz, an intricate piano piece that Tony plays to make his mother smile, and then there's the traditional song, When Irish eyes are smiling, his father's favourite song and one that most Irish people, myself included, hold dear to their hearts.

The actor who plays Tony, Jesse Spencer, is handsome in that stereotypical Aussie way; broad-shouldered, a healthy tan, golden hair and crystal blue eyes. He's also originally from Melbourne and his parents founded Australians Against Further Immigration, a scary right- wing nationalist party.

Geoffrey Rush plays Toby's alcoholic father.  He's a household name in Australia and starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the award-winning Australian movie Shine.  He's a native Queenslander, from Toowoomba.

Image credits:

The image of the Queensland flag has been created for Wikimedia Commons by user Denelson83 who is male and comes from Vancouver Island. He has contributed a lot of flag images to Wikimedia Commons, so thanks Denelson83 for sharing these with the world!

The amazing image of the swimmer is by flickuser Angela Radulescu.  Angela is originally from Bucharest, Romania but is now working as a freelance photographer in New York.  You can see more of her images at her website Thanks Angela for sharing this image with us, using the Creative Commons License. 

If you want to hear Chopin's Minute Waltz, you can listen to a free sample at

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