Not everything’s about money.
One of my favourite Australian films of all time is Ken Hannan’s classic 1975 drama Sunday Too Far Away. It tells the tale of knock-about shearers working the sheds on an outback sheep station in 1955 Australia. Their tough existence is summed up in the title, paraphrasing what’s known as The Shearers Wife’s Lament – “Friday night too tired, Saturday night too drunk, Sunday too far away.”
Jack Thompson plays Foley, a hard-drinking gun shearer who leads his workmates in a strike over their substandard working conditions. When their employer brings in non-union labour in a bid to break the strike, Foley and his mates dig in.
In the final scene, as the shearers face off with their ‘scab’ replacements in the local pub, Foley finally does his block, and the bar erupts in violence. The film goes to freeze frame, as the final caption reads “It wasn’t the money so much. It was the bloody insult.”
It’s a great line, and a great way to end the film.
I thought about that line this week when I read a newspaper report on the defamation action brought by one-time State Government Works Minister Bruce Flegg against his former adviser Graeme Hallett. Last week Justice Peter Lyons awarded Dr Flegg $775,000 damages after finding Mr Hallett had acted with malice in defaming Dr Flegg three times. After the judgment was delivered the plaintiff told waiting journalists he would have settled for a simple “Sorry.” Although Justice Lyons found the allegations had tarnished his reputation and destroyed his career, the former politician insisted he would have discontinued the defamation case long ago if his former media advisor had simply apologised to him, and acknowledged his claims were untrue.
It’s so often the case, particularly with defamation. We work all our lives to establish our good name, so when it’s sullied we can’t help but take it personally. I once acted for a guy who mortgaged his house and pumped his whole life savings into suing a business competitor who published a newsletter alleging he was a fraud. The competitor defended on the grounds of truth, and my client put everything on the line to prove him wrong. When the decision ultimately went his way he told me confidentially “If he’d sat across the desk from me and said ‘I’m sorry, I realise now I had it wrong’, I’d have pulled up in a heart-beat.”
Sometimes it’s not about the money, it’s just about the bloody insult.