“The Sweet Swaggie” The Battlers September 1993

The Australian Women’s Weekly
September 1993

‘Police Rescue’ Star Gary Sweet is the kind of man most women would love to be rescued by. Now Gary, always willing to try something new, has taken to the road in a very different role – that of a bottling wonderer during the Depression. And in this new mini-series, Gary’s as sweet as ever.

On location in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia for the filming of “The Battlers”, Gary Sweet is wearing mudcaked boots, grey trousers, a collarless shirt and a shabby ’30s-style jacket. His hair is slicked back for the period – the 1930s Depression.

He plays Snowy, an itinerant worker, in “The Battlers” – a South Australian Film Corporation mini-series to be screened mid-1994 on the Seven Network. And since early light, Gazza, as he is known, has been humping his swag down the dirt back roads here in the heartland of Hans Heysen gum-tree country.

Now Gary sits, feet up, sun-tanned and smiling, and talks of dive-bombing and surfing at sunset in Sydney, He also talks about risks: the risk that took him out of “the safe job of teaching” into “The Sullivans”, then onto “Bodyline”, “Come in Spinner’, “The Lighthorsemen” and his numerous other film, stage and television roles, including “Police Rescue”, which he says is the most important job he’s ever done.

“As a kid I used to like risks,” he says. “I would climb the highest trees, and dive bomb off the jetty instead of the rails.”

He grins in a droll, laconic manner – just like his character, Snowy, who is one of the thousands of battlers who took to the roads during the Depression to pick fruit and chop wood to earn a living. Snowy believes in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but rarely gets it.

Snowy is not unlike Gary Sweet’s father. Gary’s parents come from South Australia – he calls them “Phil and Betty, the royal couple from Warradale Park”. Phil, trained as a butcher, was a jack-of-all trades during the Depression.

“Dad taught me persistence. Mum taught me to iron – I enjoy it, I’m meticulous, and it drives everyone nuts. I’m a real pain in the butt about it,” he
says in his laid-back way.

The persistence paid off in Melbourne, where he went after graduating as a teacher. “I walked into Crawford’s [the Australian television production company] and asked for an audition. They told me to get lost,” he explains. So he went home and rang them, and was told again not to bother them. The following day he went back and was told: “You don’t have an agent, you don’t have any experience, and we can’t seem to get it into your head that we’re not auditioning.” But Gary wore them down eventually, and a three-week job ended as a two-year-long stint on “The Sullivans”.

Now, at 36, Gary Sweet is comfortable with himself. He lives in the Sydney beachside suburb of Manly with his wife, Jill, a lawyer, and their two children, Frank, five, and Sophie, 16 months. He has a motorbike, and the freedom to play golf and tennis, and to surf.

“I surf where the waves come round the point in a big sweep,” he says. ‘Then you’re sitting there at dusk, the water is silver in the fading light. You can’t see the waves coming until the swell is on you. Then I feel this great adrenalin rush and I don’t want to be anywhere in the world except Australia.”

He tried to make it big in the US, but just missed out on the role he wanted in the police series “Nick Knight”. “I gave it my best shot. That’s all that matters. I’d hate to reach 70 and regret that I had never tried something,” he says.

As we speak, 2i-year old Jacqueline McKenzie, who co-stars in the role of Dancy in “The Battlers”, arrives.

“Being in ‘The Battlers’ is an absolute bliss-bomb,” she says. “Dancy is a gritty, grubby girl. She likes Jean Harlow, she’s in love with Snow, and she has lots of spirit.”

Only two years after graduating from NIDA, Jacqueline has had roles in the Australian film “Romper Stomper” and the television adaption of Ben Elton’s book “Stark” (which recently screened on ABC-TV), and she has written a psycho-thriller movie script. She had wanted to play the role of Dancy ever since she heard about it back in 1990.

Acting is a game to her.’You have to have a sense of humour,” she says. “What else can you do when you’re running across an open field, holding a gun, pretending to be a cop? A sheep is following you and so are 15 crew members with hand-held cameras, props and sound equipment, and a light meter is flashing up your nostrils.”

It is 3.30pm. Snowy and Dancy have been filmed walking the roads; a child has been buried in a pauper’s grave. The filming equipment is being stacked away. Gary Sweet has changed into his own clothes and is heading home.

My 1974 Mazda with its non-grip tyres is spinning out on the grass and mud. Out of nowhere someone arrives and pulls my car out of the bog. It is Gary Sweet, to the rescue – true to form. He’s grinning and the white T-shirt he is wearing is splattered with mud.

“Thanks,” I say.

“No worries,” he replies, with that Silver Logie-winning smile.

Original content copyright The Australian Women’s Weekly.