Toombaworth is an uncompromising examination of bleak reality in a tired, peripheral Australian town. Lead actress Tayla drifts through a haze of drug use and cigarette smoke, her world a continuum of expletive-laden yet affectionate exchanges with comrade Maggie and confronting encounters with her ghostly mother, an addict.
Director Lucy McKendrick, who also wrote and edited the film, sets a raw tone at the outset. The first scene comprises a shouting-match between Tayla and probable romantic associate Dylan, of which the outcome is Tayla’s confirmation that he’s given her crabs. It’s all good though—at least it wasn’t syphilis, which was the initial worry.
Even at this early stage, the acting is great. It’s very natural stuff, and well-placed minor details breathe life into the story. For example, we see Dylan tossing his bike over the school fence in his pursuit of Tayla and tumbling over after it in a careless scramble of teenage limbs; this might seem like a fairly arbitrary or insignificant particular to praise, but in a medium that so often features painfully stilted ‘realities’ it’s refreshing to see sequences with some soul. Toombaworth is carefully crafted, which is why it provokes such a visceral reaction in most viewers.
"In the end, it doesn’t even matter that the guy gave her crabs."
The establishing shots immediately following the opening scene communicate an eerie suburban emptiness. We see pathways and blockades, opportunity and impossibility; however, the former does not seem able to offset the latter—we see one shot of a graffiti-stained concrete underpass, and several immediately after comprising fences, gates and chains. It’s clear what prevails in Toombaworth.
The music accompanying these shots, an original score from local producers Whitebear and Mindtree, compounds the effect, grinding and pulsating as patches of yellow grass and cloudy skies flood our vision. A sombre melody hums behind the heavy bass and percussion, and the score’s marriage of these components parallels the film. It suggests a glimmer of something redeeming beneath the dull surface, even if, as one of the final shots shows us, it’s merely Tayla lighting up at the prospect of smoking a joint with Dylan and forgetting her surrounds for a brief moment. In the end, it doesn’t even matter that the guy gave her crabs.
Lucy McKendrick netted a healthy bag of accolades for Toombaworth, including but not limited to Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year at the Byron Bay International Film Festival in 2013 and an Honourable Mention at the LA Film Awards in the same year. These were very well deserved; it’s an evocative, powerful film.