Outback pioneer Tom Kruse's 100th birthday: documentary "The Mailmen Back of Beyond" screened at Waterloo

The centenary of the birth of Australia’s most recognised outback mailman, dam sinker and carrier, Tom Kruse, was last week.

Along with his 11 siblings, Tom was born in the front room of a modest family home at Waterloo, in the Mid North of South Australia, on August 28, 1914.

He died on June 30, 2011 and rests with his wife Valma at the nearby Carlsruhe cemetery.

The community at Waterloo paid tribute to their favourite son on Sunday.

In addition to readings from the internationally successful children’s book Tom the Outback Mailman, written by Kristin Weidenbach, and the unveiling of a commemorative panel, the celebration hosted the premiere screening of a new feature-length documentary, “The Mailmen Back of Beyond”, produced by Corrugated Air Productions.

The Mailmen Back of Beyond is a result of 28 years of research by producers Ian Doyle and Keith Webb.

They gained unprecedented access to the significant photographic collections of the Kruse, Heyer, Ding, Crombie and Teague families.

The documentary also aired for the first time elements of movie footage filmed by filmmaker and adventurer Colin Wagener.

He filmed in colour a trip he took on the Marree to Birdsville mail run with driver Monty Scobie in 1953 and the Cooper Creek in flood in 1956 and 1963.

Tom Kruse was the key figure in the classic Australian docudrama The Back of

Beyond, directed by the Shell Film Unit’s John Heyer and released in 1954.

Shot in black and white, The Back of Beyond remains one of the most critically acclaimed and awarded films ever produced in Australia.

It won the Grand Prix Assoluto – the best film in all categories at the Venice Film Festival in 1954, as well as many other international awards.

The Mailmen Back of Beyond reveals, in a letter written to Tom, that John Heyer believed if he had been able to show the film to a paying audience (and it was allowed to be nominated), it would have won an Oscar in 1954.

The documentary has also unearthed a letter written in 1954 from London by Australian artist Sidney Nolan to Tom Kruse in Marree.

The contents of the letter have sparked a search by the Kruse family for “enclosed” photographs and drawings promised by Sidney Nolan.

Sixty years after the release of The Back of Beyond, the double DVD set The Tom

Kruse Collection includes more than 3.5 hours of material about Tom Kruse, the rescue, restoration and re-enactment involving his 1936 Leyland Badger mail truck, the stories behind the making of The Back of Beyond and the past 100 years of history of the mailmen of the Birdsville Track.

Outback mailman Tom Kruse was a film star before his Top Gun Hollywood namesake was born.

The 1954 Australian film classic The Back of Beyond introduced Tom Kruse and his 1936 Leyland Badger mail truck to a generation of Australians.

Most never forgot the extraordinary images of the man and his battered trucks doing battle each fortnight with the sand and isolation along the Birdsville Track - outback Australia’s toughest mail run.

The Tom Kruse Collection includes The Mailmen Back of Beyond (Corrugated Air Productions 2014), Last Mail From Birdsville – the Story of Tom Kruse (Corrugated Air Productions 1999), The Postman (ABC TV Australian Story 1996) and The Outback Mailmen (ABC Countrywide 1986).

The Tom Kruse Collection is available from the Royal Flying Doctor Service (phone 8238 3333 for $39.95 including postage and handling).

Funds raised from the sale of the double DVD will support the RFDS.

Part of the new documentary is planned to be broadcast on ABC TV’s Landline this Sunday.

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