Cherished Australian actor Michael Caton has revealed that in the year before his fame in The Castle, he had given up on acting.
It was 1997, and the former star of The Sullivans had resigned himself to retirement when a script for the cult Australian film landed in his lap “out of the blue”.
This character and story of the little Aussie battler seemed to be fate. Because Caton, unbeknowst to many, has a history as a social activist. He’s a real life Darryl Kerrigan.
His story, told on the Fighting For Fair podcast, started back in the 1960’s when the young actor went up against the might of Japanese whalers and the Australian government.
While working on The Sullivans, the plight of the whales captured the Brisbane boy’s attention, and he, along with one of the great characters in the Australian Animal Rights Movement, Laurie Levy, became a spokesperson for a huge ‘Save the Whale’ campaign.
“In those days, Australia was still whaling, and we joined up – the whole cast – to the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign. Rather than sort of selling cornflakes, we were able to protest outside the Japanese Embassy, because the Japanese at that stage were quite ferocious with their whaling. We could get things to magazines, and what have you,” Caton said.
Just 18 months after Caton and his castmates set up the campaign, Australia outlawed whaling.
He says his life as an activist just "progressed", until he was stunned when the script for cult film The Castle landed in his lap.
Despite his history, it wasn't until after his iconic role as the quintessential Aussie battler trying to save his family home that Caton's voice became highly sought after in the social justice world. He realised there are so many passionate people out there with brilliant ideas, but they don’t have the voice, or the platform, that he had as someone with a profile. That’s why the 73 year old is working with Maurice Blackburn and is the voice of their social justice campaign.
"It made me the focus for lots of people who tried to get my help if they were being oppressed by big business or government," the 73-year-old said.
"And I would actually do as much as I can. It is difficult – if you do too much you become a bit like a dog baying at the moon."
The actor calls the moment he realised his mission to save the whales had been successful, "the fickle finger of fate."
Atop a hill in Byron Bay overlooking the ocean, Caton was being interviewed about another one of his causes - the destruction of the beautiful property on which they stood. The journalist asked him why actors thought it was their business to get involved in social and environmental protest.
Standing beneath the majestic Morton Bay fig tree that he was trying to save from being torn down (and I can only imagine he was thinking - how's the serenity?) he pointed to a humpback whale, splashing playfully in the waters below.
Listen to the full story, then go back and listen to some of the other inspiring stories in the Fighting For Fair podcast series:
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To demonstrate the importance of fighting not just for our own rights, but for the rights of all Australians, Mamamia in partnership with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers brings you Fighting for Fair. True stories of social justice from around Australia.