On the Waves of the Adriatic

1991, 130 minutes

About a gang in Coburg who only ride bikes.

Directed By:Brian McKenzie
Cast:Graeme Branch - Harold & Steve Kotis

This film was made over 2 years and was completed in 1990. It was financed via a grant from The Australian Film Commission, a forerunner to Screen Australia. Early material collected prior to financing relied on a still camera and audio recordings and a number of early sequences in the film are comprised of a series of black and white photographs. The original length of 130 minutes was later cut to 85 minutes for a sale to ABC Television.

This is the story of a gang of 3 adult men who spend their days on bicycles. Graeme, Harold and Stephen. I had met Graeme Branch and Stephen Kotis on a rainy day in Melbourne. They had come in from the weather to the domed reading room in the State Library where I was working. The room is cavenous with a large dome above and with its oak desks organized as if spokes of a wheel. I couldn’t see the two but I could hear them, and when I went across the room to see who was making the racket and disturbing me, I discovered these two cheery rascals giggling and leafing through books of vintage car models.

Graeme’s father left Communist Slovenia following the war. He came to Australia and met a girl in a cinema. Before Steve and Barbara could find a place to live their child was born. Graeme was left with Barbara’s mother and father, his grandparents.

At the opening of the film we meet the gang. They more or less introduce themselves in front of the old terrace cottage in Brunswick where much of the action takes place. The grandparents are long gone and Graeme is a young man. He still lives in the family home with Charlie and Dolly whom he mistakenly calls his brother and sister. In fact they are brother and sister to his mother. All four are mildly intellectually handicapped.

Graeme’s best friend is a Greek boy, Stephen Kotis who also is intellectually impaired and works part time in a factory which has been set up for people capable of doing only mundane work. The third member of their gang, Harold, is an older man whom Graeme and Steve found in a makeshift shelter at the local tip where they tour most days on their bikes. Harold has a bed in Graeme’s room in the house shared with Dolly and Charlie.

Graeme’s father, also Steve, controls the house and its finances. He and Barbara visit most weeks on pension day – they drive in from an outer suburb to do running repairs and the shopping. Steve’s word is law and all hold him in awe. The house operates as a refuge for their family, none of whom are able to work or drive cars.

Graeme and Stephen and Harold ride bikes whilst dreaming of driving cars. They imagine themselves as characters in a television show, The Dukes of Hazard, which was popular at the time. One day a car mysteriously appears outside their house and Graeme’s dream comes true, if only for a short time.

Eventually the gang is broken up and the story comes to a close. Stephen’s parents take him back to Greece, and Harold rides away and doesn’t return. Graeme is left with his bike parts and new friend – a rat.

The title of the film, On the Waves of the Adriatic is taken from the Slovenian folk music which is played in the car’s cassette player. It is said to refer to the ancient practice of setting mad people adrift in an oarless boat on the Adriatic Sea.

Winner of the Grande Prix at Cinema du Reel. Paris, 1991

Brian McKenzie