Yer Old Faither review by Pat Byrne
At Glasgow Film Festival 2021 At Home 6 – 9 March, 2021
Yer Old Faither is a documentary about the life of a remarkable man – John Croall, a Glaswegian doctor, who emigrated to Whyalla in South Australia with his family in 1970. He wanted to live in a sunny place and his wife, Ruth, wanted a kitchen with a view of the ocean.
The documentary is directed by his daughter, Heather Croall, whose background is in film production and documentary-making. It’s described as: “A letter to my father. An elegy for a man, a town and a dream”.
In the making of the film Heather had no shortage of material to draw on and she succeeds in presenting a flowing documentary using home movies, John’s many letters, interviews with friends and former colleagues plus animated sequences – pulled together to make this an exceptional and memorable film.
John was a great letter writer and wrote every week to his daughters, Fiona and Heather, when they were young girls at boarding school in Adelaide. He had a quirky sense of humour and liked to sign off, ‘Yer Old Faither’. He kept in touch with his Roke, his pal from primary school. Sending news of life in Australia and requests that to send Rizla tips for John’s roll up cigarettes.
He was a man ahead of his time and wrote frequently to the Premier’s Department with concerns regarding the local economy and offering advice on how to improve the environment. This included suggestions regarding the development of solar power and wind energy – in 1980.
A particularly enjoyable aspect of the documentary are the interviews with doctors, nurses and midwives, who worked with the obstetrician at the district hospital in Whyalla. Here Dr Croall became something of a legend, on call day or night. He was considered to have ‘magic hands’ with a flair for delivering babies in trouble; lying breech or with the cord wrapped round their necks. He delivered hundreds of babies over 40 years, sometimes three generations in the same family. Colleagues remember him respect and affection as stern, humorous and eccentric. He would tell nurses in the corridor to ‘hold your uterus up straight’ and at times fly along those corridors pretending he was a Boeing 707.
His passion for the environment has left a very emphatic legacy. He loved the plants and trees that grew in Australia and his mission of collecting, germinating and planting seeds can be seen in the many thousands of trees that now grow in Whyalla. He continued to plant trees until shortly before he died in 2013 at the age of 80.
The documentary captures the impact of an astounding character with this story about immigration. It shows not only the pleasure he brought to his adoring family as he acted silly for his kids’ entertainment and fulfilled Ruth’s dreams constructing a house with a view of the ocean – using local stone and timber. It’s also a story of how one man touched the lives and the land in Whyalla.
I cannot recommend this film enough. I could watch it all over again.
Pat Byrne, March, 2021.
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