Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Great Australian Actor Ray Barrett

I was first introduced to Ray Barrett in the movie “Don’s Party” in 1976. In this movie on the night of the 1969 Australian election, Don (John Hargreaves) holds a party in his suburban Sydney house, where his raucous, rude, embarrassing, extrovert friends discuss sex, politics, and their lives, and seduce each others wives.

For its time the language and sex scenes in “Don’s Party” were quite raunchy. Prior to this and other films Australia had one of the strictest censorships in the western world and with the entrance of a new censor the laws were relaxed and some would suggest “the floods gates were open” and to a degree this was true as naked breasts, full frontal and the “f” word were becoming “normal” in a lot of the films now being released with films like “Barry Mackenzie” and “Alvin Purple” .A new rating “R” was introduced which allowed films with adult content to be viewed by “broad minded” audience. One had to be over 18 to see these films.

Raymond Charles Barrett was born in the Queensland capital Brisbane on May 2, 1927. He was fascinated by radio from an early age and won an on-air talent competition in 1939. He left Brisbane for Sydney in 1954, and then travelled from Australia to England in 1957.

He was given character and tough guy roles from an unusually young age. In Britain he played one of the lead roles in the British TV series "Emergency - Ward 10", and later played one of the main characters, hard-nosed oilman Peter Thornton, in the long-running BBC series about the oil industry, "The Troubleshooters". He appeared as a murderer in the "Doctor Who" serial "The Rescue" in 1965. He returned to Australia in the mid-1970’s where he became a prominent player in a rejuvenated Australian film industry.

David Williamson's play “Don's Party” was about election night back in Australia. The film version brought together some of the era's finest home grown talent - John Hargreaves, Graham Kennedy, Graeme Blundell, and Ray Barrett in the role of Mal.

Graham Kennedy, John Hargreaves and Ray Barrett in 'Don's Party'

Ray received one of Australia's greatest acting accolades, an Australian Film Industry Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his role in director Fred Schepisi's 1978 film "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith."

Jacki Weaver, Ray Barrett and Jack Thompson at the 1978 Australian Film Institute awards.

Based on a novel by Thomas Keneally, which was in turn inspired by actual events, this is the shocking tale of an oppressed indigenous man driven to madness and revenge against an unjust and intolerant society. Jimmie (Tommy Lewis) is a “half-caste” young Aboriginal man raised by a Methodist minister in central-western NSW. Finding low-paid work with white farmers, Jimmy marries a white servant girl who is believed to be carrying his child. Discovering that the child is not his, Jimmy is forbidden from seeing his wife and fired without pay and finally explodes in a fury of violent revenge. The backlash from both Jimmie's tribe and white society initiates a series of dramatic events. As Jimmie tries to survive between two cultures, tensions build reaching a head when the Newbys, Jimmie's white employers, try to break up his marriage. The Newby women are murdered and Jimmie flees, pursued by police and vigilantes. The hunt intensifies as further murders are committed and concludes with tragic results.

Anne Phelan and Ray Barrett on the set of 'Something in the Air'.

In recent years he appeared in numerous television series, including "Something in the Air", "All Saints" and "White Collar Blue" as well as the telemovie "After the Deluge", winning a silver Logie as most outstanding actor in a drama series.

Barrett's last film role was as the character Ramsden in director Baz Luhrmann's movie "Australia," released last year. Ray who was aged 80 when the film was in production, filmed several scenes for the blockbuster in the searing outback heat.

"Australia" is Baz Luhrmann's first feature film since the 2001 musical success Moulin Rouge! This film centres on an English aristocrat in the 1930s, played by Nicole Kidman, who comes to northern Australia to sell a cattle property the size of Belgium. After an epic journey across the country with a rough-hewn drover, Hugh Jackman, they are caught in the bombing of Darwin during World War II.

Barrett suffered from chronic low blood pressure, which had led to several falls in the last two weeks. Jane Cameron, his agent, said Barrett died in hospital on Tuesday 8th September, 2009 from a brain hemorrhage he suffered after a fall at his home at the Gold Coast in Queensland. "He was an extraordinarily good actor who loved doing it," Ms Cameron said. "He was such a skilled actor that he was always a very solid presence on the screen."

There was a book “Ray Barrett : an autobiography” with Peter Corris which came out in 1995, which I purchased and I found this to be a very interesting read.

Ray Barrett is survived by his third wife, Gaye, a daughter from his first marriage, Suellen, and two sons from his second marriage, Reg and John.

Due to Ray's age he had not worked a lot, but like many of his fellow actors who have since passed on he will be sadly missed. Fortunately much of his work is readily available to be viewed by present and future generations, who will be able to study and see what a versatile actor Ray Barrett was.


Peter said...

It takes a good obit to bring you out of retirement.... now for gods sake get us home from Victoria!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Merle said...

Hi Warren ~~ Great Post - AT LAST.
You have still got it with this story of Ray Barrett. I hadn't realised he was in "Austral." Will
have to watch it again.
Hope to see more posts from you, seeing as how nicely Peter asked.
Take care my friend, Love, Merle.

Puss-in-Boots said...

Warren! It's about time you came out of the woodwork!

Good obit on Ray Barrett, I remember him in The Troubleshooters, that was a great series. And of course, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith...a tragic series of events.

He was great in his character role in the movie Australia, too.