Mon, 18 Feb, 2019Courtney Allan

Australian legend Jack Thompson's health battle: "It's very confronting"

Australian legend Jack Thompson's health battle: "It's very confronting"

Jack Thompson is an Australian screen legend who has been in the film industry for 50 years. However, at age 78, he’s undertaking one of the most important films in his career and has shown no signs of slowing down, despite being diagnosed with renal kidney failure or the film being made in Arnhem Land. 

"What would I complain about?" Thompson reflected in a new interview with ABC.

"I'm alive. I'm on the right side of the ground, as the old fella says! Take a look at where you are, take a look at how long you've been here and how long you might reasonably have ahead of you. Be here now. Enjoy this."

Thompson initially wasn't always so accepting of his diagnosis.

"I finally presented to the doctors at St Vincent's Hospital and they said, 'You're about 48 hours away from not waking up'," he explained.

"That's very confronting."

"I never thought that end stage renal failure would have anything to do with me," he says. 

"I certainly didn't have a diet full of sugar. I exercised. I had a healthy diet. I was stunned. Here I am."

A groundbreaking medical dialysis service offered in the Northern Territory has been an integral part of his filmmaking journey.

The Purple Truck allows Thompson to receive his lifesaving treatment on wheels and, as the service is delivered in a bus, it allows remote Indigenous communities to gain access to lifesaving treatment as well.

A nurse in the hospital where Thompson received his diagnosis had heard about what was happening and reached out to her friend, Sarah Brown, who is the CEO of Purple House.

They felt obligated to help Thompson create the film he’s been desperate to make over the last seven years due to the story he was telling. 

The film High Ground recreates the Indigenous resistance to white settlement and is set in 1934.

"When I walked into the room in St Vinny's, Jack had just finished his first dialysis," Ms Brown recalled.

"He was looking quite unwell, and he looked really sad. There was this big man with this big personality and this huge life sitting in a hospital chair next to a hospital bed in a gown, looking crook.

"We were the only people in the country who could help Jack to do this. It just felt right."

Brown explained that the team are proud to have been able to help Thompson during this part of his life.

"It's an unlikely story, Clancy of the Overflow, having dialysis in Kakadu, in a truck owned and run by Aboriginal people from the desert, yeah that's pretty unlikely," she added.

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Thompson now receives dialysis three times a week, whilst filming in Arnhem Land, all thanks to the Purple Truck.

"You would put this in a movie, and they would say, 'No don't be silly Jack, that's very unlikely to happen all that'," Thompson says.

"But of course it has happened. It's wonderful.

"They have made it possible for my career to continue, when it very well could have come to a full stop right there."