John Grant (Gary Bond) is a middle-class school teacher from Sydney who is forced to teach in a remote Australian Outback outpost to pay off tertiary education. It is the Christmas holidays and John is traveling to Sydney to visit his girlfriend Robyn, but must first travel through the nearby mining town of Bundanyabba (known as "The Yabba") in order to catch a Sydney-bound flight.
At "The Yabba", Grant encounters several of the locals including a policeman, Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty), who encourages Grant to consume repeated glasses of beer before introducing him to the local obsession with the gambling game of two-up. Hoping to win enough money to pay off his tertiary education and escape the outback, Grant at first has a winning streak playing two-up but then loses all his cash. Unable now to leave "The Yabba", Grant finds himself dependent on the charity of bullying strangers while being drawn into the crude and hard-drinking lifestyle of the town's eccentric but sinister residents. In particular, Grant's drawn to Clarence "Doc" Tydon (Donald Pleasence), a disgraced Sydney doctor with an unnerving personality.
May you dream of the devil and trope in fright:
- The Alcoholic: Everybody.
- Ambiguously Bi: Doc Tydon. He and John have an Almost Kiss while drunk.
- Anti-Villain: Jock is basically a Nice Guy who unwittingly draws Grant into dissolution by being overly hospitable. Aside from Doc, this could apply to most of the Yabba's inhabitants.
- Bittersweet Ending: Grant finally manages to get out of the Yabba, and makes peace with Doc, but not before being corrupted by the town, and implied to have become a traumatized alcoholic by the end.
- Break the Haughty: A film-length example.
- Driven to Suicide: Grant by the end. He fails, though.
- Faux Affably Evil: Doc is one of the only educated people in the Yabba and he initially seems like a kindred spirit to Grant. It doesn't take much to bring out his sadistic side, though, and alcohol only notches it Up to Eleven.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Grant gradually starts adopting the locals' habits, despite his opinion that they're beneath him.
- Hope Spot: Fed up with the town and its inhabitants, and unable to take the train out of there, John instead decides he has to leave through any means necessary, and goes on an audious journey through the Outback, mostly on foot and staying alive by hunting for food. He eventually happens upon a truck stop, and manages to score a lift with a truck driver who he assumes is heading for Sydney. It turns out he misunderstood the man, who actually ends up returning John returning to The Yabba instead.
- Kick the Dog: John killing the baby koala during the hunt.
- No Animals Were Harmed: Ruthlessly averted. The film features a violent kangaroo hunt about halfway through, and there's some controversy over whether the kangaroos were actually killed for the movie, or whether the filmmakers merely shot footage of a professional cull.
- Only Sane Man: John Grant, at first.
- Twisted Christmas: The movie begins at Christmas and takes place over the Christmas holidays.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: The Movie. It begins with a single example: John wants to escape teaching by betting his remaining money on the coin toss game. He tosses the coin and succeeds...but then has to do it again because he didn't throw the coin correctly. This time he loses, and so begins the spiral that continues the film.