Yer Old Faither is about the life of John Croall, a Glasgow native who emigrated to Australia, to the little town of Whyalla. It is a film which traces out the extraordinary impact of an ordinary life. Or not entirely ordinary, because Croall was a bit of a character.
The film traces his professions and passions, his love and concern for life. When he arrived in Australia, he was so impressed with the huge range of beautiful foliage. He had that immigrant’s ability to see with new eyes what everyone else takes for granted. He loved golf, but was unimpressed with the golf course in Whyalla, so he quietly began growing tree samplings, and planting them out on the golf course and surrounding areas. Over his lifetime he planted somewhere between five and six thousand trees.
He was an obstetrician, and delivered three generations of babies over his 40-year career serving Whyalla. Despite being seen as a bit of an eccentric, which was fair, he was very highly regarded. The nurses and midwives interviewed all spoke of him very highly, saying he had magic fingers, and was able to turn a breach when no one else could. He was dedicated and would come out any hour of the day or night when called, and would take all night turning a baby, no matter how long it took he had the patience. They said he was an expert in breach births, and could make successful deliveries other doctors wouldn’t even attempt. For a many years, he was Whyalla’s only obstetrician and was prepared to take on that work and responsibility solo. When he started working there, the mortality rate among mothers and babies dropped.
He was also the only doctor performing abortions outside of the cities in South Australia. He ensured women in Whyalla could get safe healthcare and terminations right there in their local hospital. And it was a bit of a discovery to his daughter, when putting the film together, that he had in fact studied to be a priest in the Vatican. He was raised Catholic in Glasgow, was sent to the seminary, then sent to study in Rome for 7 years. Then finally sacked it, and became a doctor. And this was never a point of conflict for him, because he disagreed with the Church’s view on reproductive health entirely. So he really led the way in reproductive care in his part of the world.
After he retired, the midwives lamented, they were unable to find anyone to replace him, as a small post-industrial town away from the city wasn’t a very attractive destination for a new doctor. They no longer had 24-hour care in the maternity unit, they were served only by a rotating locum, and they wouldn’t come out when off duty, and some even had to be flown in from Germany and America, with one obstetrician’s caesarean section rate well above 70%, when Croall’s had been at 8%. When Croall retired, his retirement party wasn’t thrown by management, but by the nurses and midwives. He was a doctor who was very well respected by women.
And in his free time, he made tables from recycled wood. Towards the end of the film, one of the trees in his garden has to come down, and he decides to turn it into a table, and it feels like a metaphor for the breadth of his impact, that here is this tree he planted 40 years ago, grown thick and solid, and now felled and also turned into something beautiful. It is like even with the trees in Whyalla, he cares for them cradle to grave.
As the film comes to the end of its story and the end of Croall’s life, they start playing Caledonia. And I, of course, burst into to tears. You can’t do that to us, you know that’s the Scottish kryptonite! The film just radiates with the love his family have for him, and he for them, and his love for his community, and the town’s love for him, and his love for nature, and these wide vines of impact he had for the better in his little corner of the world, in his garden. It’s just so moving, such a beautiful portrait, such a celebration of this quietly extraordinary ordinary man.