Inspiring testament to a life recovering its harmony
DIRECTOR Kaye Harrison’s documentary feature The Sunnyboy shows mental illness hasn’t extinguished singer, songwriter, guitarist and painter Jeremy Oxley’s undeniable charisma. That charisma helped Kingscliff-raised junior surfing champ Oxley (pictured) stand out from the musical pack as the young frontman of great 1980s Australian band Sunnyboys. It also made him a compelling and inspirational subject for Harrison’s film – a testament to the healing powers of music and companionship. Harrison (who also helmed ABC doco series The Long Goodbye, about three families living with dementia) challenges the stigma associated with schizophrenia in The Sunnyboy by sharing Oxley’s experience. ‘‘People normally only hear about the acute end of it and often associate it with violent acts, but this is the minority of cases and only occurs when those who are living with schizophrenia are let down by the health system,’’ she says. Oxley was diagnosed with the condition – not usually associated with hope and positive outcomes – in 1984. He self-medicated with alcohol binges for years, but turned a corner five years ago when he met Mary Griffiths through mutual friends. The couple married in 2011. Griffiths, a nurse, worked with Oxley and his doctors to find the right formula to manage his health issues. Harrison’s film charts Oxley’s return to the fold on several fronts: health, family and music. The healing influence his wife had on his health may be at the film’s heart, but The Sunnyboy does not suggest love cures all. Instead, it shows how treatment and a loving environment helped Oxley accept – or at least manage – diagnosis and treatment. Scenes revealing Oxley’s pain, his family’s despair and obstacles encountered by his wife are punctuated by belly laughs and pearlers, deliberate and accidental, which fall from the lips of Oxley at his whip-smart best. The film includes great old footage of the Oxley brothers growing up in Kingscliff, competing in junior surf comps (Jeff Gilmore, Steph’s dad, taught them to surf) and playing their first shows. Fans of the band Sunnyboys will find the film – which boasts a rocking soundtrack – essential, rewarding viewing. Anchored by Oxley’s charisma, Harrison hopes The Sunnyboy helps people better understand schizophrenia and boosts the self-esteem of those living with mental illness. ‘‘Jeremy is a fantastic story to tell because of what he has overcome . . . it shows what can happen with the right treatment and the right loving environment. He is an inspiration,’’ she says.
The Sunnyboy: Sunday, 9.30pm, ABC1