THERE’S a moment in Yer Old Faither when John Croall, the documentary’s star, recalls telling his devoutly Catholic mother he’d been kicked out of the Priesthood by the Vatican. 

“Don’t take this too hard and try to accept this is God’s Will” a voiceover reads from a letter while the man himself, by this point nearing the end of his life, looks beyond the camera to not anywhere in particular. “Be good and God bless.” 

The rawness of it all seeps through the lens as one of the most impressive, yet  little known, Glaswegians looks back on a life well-lived. 

John Croall was a Glasgow boy who fled to deepest, darkest Australia in the hunt for a better life in 1970. 

The Herald: John, right, during his day in the priesthood John, right, during his day in the priesthood

He was never a man who looked for the spotlight, but it’s shone firmly upon him in a heartfelt film of family clips and interviews, dripping with moments which stay with you until long after the final credits roll.

His daugher, Heather Croall, is the talent behind the lens. 

“I had filmed him a bit over the years but when we found out he had stage four lung cancer I filmed him even more, as a way of coping with his dying and also as a way of keeping him with us,” Heather, a festival director for the last 25 years, said. “It was a process that led me to look beyond my own sense of grief and loss to a broader story of his impact in Whyalla and beyond. It’s a personal film but it opens out to bigger philosophical and political themes.” 

Glasgow never really did leave John and in one discussion during the film, 40 years on from his move, he says: “In Glasgow, everyone argues a lot. It’s the spice of life.”

“People who come to Glasgow and play in theatres say it is a very difficult auidience,” he later adds, before agreeing with Heather that “people in the audience are funnier than them”. 

Whyalla, a former industrial powerhouse in Australia’s south stripped of its soul by decades of false policies and promises, remains indebted to him. 

The Herald: John Croall with his family in Australia John Croall with his family in Australia

Whether it was the thousands of babies he delivered in the city’s hospital, the hundreds of trees he planted which blossom to this day, or even his letters to the country’s leaders, which eventually led to much-needed investment shortly after his death, he was a man who touched more souls than he probably ever cared to believe.

“He wrote a lot of letters to me and my siblings and often signed them ‘Yer Old Faither’,” Heather said. “It was amazing to talk to all the midwives about Dad and his work. I learnt so much. 

The Herald: John planted hundreds of trees in Whyalla John planted hundreds of trees in Whyalla

“His skills at delivering breech births, for example, and also that now rural remote towns no longer have the specialist doctors living as part of the community in the towns. The women no longer have the 24 hour care that doctors like my father provided.” 

Born in Knighstwood to Jonny and Susan, John, much to Heather’s “surprise” entered Blairs College at around seven before his short-lived spell in Rome. 

After returning home, he attended Glasgow University to study medicine and then to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology, where he met his future wife Ruth.

Soon the pair set off for Australia because, as John puts it, “they told me the sun shone every day”. Heather, sister Fiona, and brother Grant completed the family. 

John always kept his links to his birthplace, writing to pen pal Ronnie O’Conner and sister Denise, who lived in the West End. His letters in the documentary are even read by Glasgow actor Gary McNair. 

The Herald: Whyalla in the south of Australia Whyalla in the south of Australia

His love for Glasgow and for Whyalla is clear in the film, which ends shortly after his death in 2013; his passing was mourned by a city united in grief. 

The documentary will premier next month at the Adelaide Film Festival. 

“The film is an elegy for a man, a town and a dream – and about the close, and often very funny, relationship between a father and a daughter,” Heather, 53, said. “The trees my dad planted in the desert live on and this film offers hope as a town reinvents itself. John Archer, of Hopscotch Films in Glasgow, has been a huge help to me on this documentary.” 

You can support Heather's film by visiting Documentary Australia Foundation website