Saw Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave” over the weekend on NITV

1977 seems such a long time ago. And I couldn’t help asking whether – brilliantly done as it is even if Richard Chamberlain is so forgettable – The Last Wave really is a lot of tosh. Did it rather show Indigenous Australians as white hippy mystics wanted them to be? After all, this was a time when shamans of any kind were so cool. Is it really deeply spiritual, or does it have the bunkum level of, say, Marlo Morgan? How do Aboriginal Australians in 2013 feel about the content of this movie? All that nonsense about South American connections, with what just might now look like abuse of Aboriginal stories and symbols – or a considerable stretching of their real context and significance – in the interests of a kind of von Daniken hodgepodge, albeit a good enough thriller. Granted, the Aboriginal actors in the movie, especially David Gulpilil and Nanjiwarra Amagula, did a great job. But what did they really think of what they were doing? What might they think now?

Apparently the movie opened in the US around two years after being made. There is an interesting interview from that time. It is on Peter Weir’s site.

What does it mean to be a tribal aborigine in Australia today?

The problems are with the youth. We’ve got the sophisticated technology and so forth – the transistors, music, the draw of the cities. So the problem for tribal people is how to bring their young people back into their culture, how to get them to be interested in initiation ceremonies, how to stop them drifting to the cities. It’s a case of how long they can continue to be a tribal people in a sophisticated Western country.

How did you find Nanjiwarra Amagula, who plays Charlie, and who is actually the leader of the aboriginal tribe?

He’s actually a clan leader. He’d never made a film, nor will he make one again. Not because of my experience, but because he saw this as a one-time thing. He would do it for certain reasons. To get him I had to go to, in Sydney, the Aboriginal Cultural Foundation director, a man called Lance Bennett, who subsequently became a friend. He was highly suspicious of a feature filmmaker delving into tribal cultural matters. It’s all very well to photograph a tribal man with spears against Ayres Rock, but another to delve into the system of perception, which I wanted to. So he screened me, he read my draft screenplay, and finally he passed me and he said, "OK. I’ll help you." He said, "There’s only one man who can play your Charlie, one man who has enough wisdom, enough breadth, enough understanding, not just to come into the city but to make a feature film. It’s obviously a sophisticated Western process." He said, "I’ll tell him about this on the radio-telephone on his island in the Gulf of Carpentaria – Groote Island. He may or may not see you." He did see me and we sat all day at Fanny Bay in Darwin, where he was rehearsing some dancers.

Rehearsing dancers – what does he do?

As a tribal elder he’s a magistrate; he sits with a visiting European magistrate to try petty crime, which is what they cope with there – theft, drunkenness, etc. He speaks the language with the accused and he advises the European magistrate on sentencing. He officiates at tribal ceremonies, which are considerable. For instance, during filming he had to hurry home at one point to bury a child who couldn’t be buried until he was present. He’s a member of the Northern Lands Council, which is coping with the uranium question. He’s a very important, busy man. So a film is something that could have appeared frivolous.

Our meeting, then. You know, they had no concept of acting. They don’t have acting. It’s the real thing. I sat with him on the beach and my first instinct was to tell him all about it. And I started to, and stopped because I could sense that it was the wrong thing to do and that he only wanted to do it has way. So we sat all day without saying a word. At the end of the day he said, "Can I bring my wife with me to make this film?" So he’d made this decision throughout that day in his own way, but it certainly wasn’t this idiotic language that we use. He sensed that it was right to do and that I was right to do it, I think. We then met that evening with Lance Bennett, who remained the go-between and who could speak his language. We discussed the concepts of the film and he asked me to place certain points within the film…

How did you decide on the subject matter?

It just arose. A series of connecting things, moments, that conversation with Gulpilil that I couldn’t understand. Something that happened before that. I’d had a premonition. I’d never had anything like that in my life. I don’t consider myself psychic. I was on holiday in Tunisia; I’d come down from London. I’d always loved Roman or Greek ruins – not the way they used to be, I just liked the way they’d fallen down; but I kind of liked classical structure. We were driving to Duga, this inland city in Tunisia, Roman city, looks like Pompeii, and we stopped the car to exercise a little and everyone was picking up bits of marble by the roadside in the fields. The driver hit the horn and we were heading back to the car and I had this feeling which lasted some seconds, that I was going to find something. I was picking up bits of stone and I saw on a stone these three parallel lines and I picked that stone up. In fact it was a hand, a fist, and the lines were between fingers. It resisted a little bit, then burst up through the ploughed field and there was this head, the head of a child, broken off at the neck and at the wrist. It had been holding something on its head, or a sword or something. The nose was gone, the lips and so on, but I can’t tell you what that was like. I smuggled it out and took it home and had it dated and put it on my desk. I wondered about the head; why did I know I was going to find it? Subsequently I told people about it, and they’d say, "Oh, that happens to you – it’s you." And I thought, What if a lawyer had found it – that’s more interesting. And at some stage from that I thought, What if a lawyer dreamt of some evidence, what if he found some evidence through a premonition? Someone trained to think precisely on one hand; on the other, the facts, dreaming, dream some evidence. I told Gulpilil about this and we discussed things and gradually the forces began to come together. I did a lot of reading during that period – Casteneda and the Old Testament, strangely different influences. Thor Heyerdahl’s theories, Velikovsky – and somehow these clues began to form a pattern. There was a new way to look at tribal people.

Is there really an ancient aboriginal cave under the city? Is that a real location in Sydney?

No, my location was up the coast about 15 miles. But there are rivers under Sydney; there are things buried under Sydney.

Are the aboriginal legends in the film authentic?

Everything passed through the hands of the tribal aborigines we used. The Sydney people are dead – white contact destroyed them. Around the city they’ve left signs and symbols, some paintings, carvings in national parks; they’re now protected. Nobody knows what they mean unless there’s obvious hunting in the picture. We took the Groote Island people to look at them. And Nanji just said "Poor fellows." So therefore, we created a fictional situation. The only thing was, Nanji insisted that there are still the Sydney people there, but they’re spirits and their spirits exist at sacred sites and protect sacred sites, so if there’s a sacred site under Sydney he said, "This is true, your script is true. The spirits will be there, therefore I cannot be human." That was one change because in my story Charlie was human, initially. He pointed out that that was impossible. But he could be a spirit that took on human form; this is quite possible…

Carlos Casteneda indeed.

I still wonder about whether this really is a an exploitation flick at heart that could confuse as much as enlighten when it comes to real Aboriginal beliefs. It is so 70s.

But it is still one of David Stratton’s favourite movies.  He sees it as a movie about climate change. Which it is, though like most such movies hardly a reliable indicator of what climate change actually means. There are some great sequences though – I agree with him there. Take that one where the buses and pedestrians in Sydney are suddenly totally under water. Great cinema. Bad science. And I still niggle that the film is bad Aboriginal culture, despite the presence of Gulpilil and company. In fact the more I think about it the more I see it as a 70s whiteman artefact replete with the buzz memes of that time. The truly Aboriginal movie had not yet arrived. Think maybe Ten Canoes.

Maybe most will disagree with me. But it is what I thought after seeing it again on Saturday.

See also reviews on the IMDB, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on Spirituality and Practice, and Roger Westcombe who finds it “a masterwork of cinema that grows in depth and resonance with each successive viewing.”

Well said, Bert

Dreadful choice we have in this year’s election, but perhaps some things really are more dreadful than others. This morning in the Sun-Herald is a letter from Bert Candy.

The decision by the executive of the Liberal Party to give Cory Bernardi the top position on their Senate ticket in the forthcoming federal election – despite his speech asserting that there could be a link between homosexuality and bestiality, as well as his association with an extreme right American organisation (”Smoking Gun”, January 27) – says a great deal about the political leanings of the Liberal power brokers.

A person with these questionable views can hardly represent a modern Australian electorate and, by endorsing him again, the Liberal Party is guilty by association. With pundits indicating a Liberal landslide, it appears that the extreme right have the numbers.

Bert Candy Lemon Tree Passage

Here is the man concerned:

He is clearly on the right of Genghis Khan. The recent story about him, to which Bert refers, appears online as Abbott’s man under fire over extreme right lobbying.

TONY Abbott’s handpicked former parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi has apparently breached strict rules by failing to declare his ties to a right-wing, pro-tobacco group fighting gun controls.

The organisation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, was involved in a High Court challenge against the Gillard government last year and has financial ties with big tobacco.

The US-based council is working with the National Rifle Association to block President Barack Obama’s guns crackdown after the Newtown school massacre. An ALEC member since 2009, Senator Bernardi was dumped as Mr Abbott’s personal parliamentary secretary in September after he made a speech to Parliament that warned against legislating for gay marriage on the grounds it could open a legal path to bestiality and polygamy….

To get some idea of what kind of fruitcakes and downright subversives Bernadi sleeps with see ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection and Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teaching Climate Change Denial in Schools.

ALEC Celebrates Groundhog Day 2013

Groundhog Day is on Feb. 2 and fittingly, ALEC and its corporate patrons continue to sing the same tune, simultaneously promoting fracking, blockading a transition to renewable energy and pushing bills mandating teaching climate change denial on par with actual science.

"It’s the same old schtick every year, the guy comes out with a big old stick, raps on the door,"actor Bill Murray said in the classic film Groundhog Day. "They pull the little rat out, they talk to him, the rat talks back, then they tell us what’s gonna happen."

Replace "guy" with "corporate lobbyist" and "legislators" with "rats" and that’s ALEC in a nutshell, serving as a mere microcosm of the current American political system at-large.

And of Cory Bernadi’s idea of a mate and a good thing for Australia’s way of conducting business. And of where his brain really lives.

A person with these questionable views can hardly represent a modern Australian electorate and, by endorsing him again, the Liberal Party is guilty by association. With pundits indicating a Liberal landslide, it appears that the extreme right have the numbers.

No way, I say. Some things really can be worse than Julia.

And speaking of the Right, cop the things crawling out from under logs to greet the bouffanted boofhead from Holland.  And look closely at the group who invited him.  I see they have the obligatory Oz flag at the top and a quote from Mary Gilmore. I wonder if they realise she was a life-long Communist.  Mind you she is an under-rated poet who certainly deserves to be better known, as this poem (not on that site) shows:

Nationality

I have grown past hate and bitterness,
I see the world as one;
But though I can no longer hate,
My son is still my son.

All men at God’s round table sit,
and all men must be fed;
But this loaf in my hand,
This loaf is my son’s bread.

On that anti-Islam group’s site you will find Robert Spencer at al, pretty much as you would expect, but you also find this, which I reproduce exactly as it is:

Ayn Rand: The Collection.
Her book ‘Atlas Shruggs’ is considered by many in the International Counter-Jihad and Freedom Movement as foundational work for the relation between the free individual, the state and the collective society.

Surprise, surprise!

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They are all so sane and balanced, these people, are they not?

Meanwhile here are a couple of free eBooks from ANU that you could read as a way to ensure your own sanity.

Australia: Identity, Fear and Governance in the 21st Century, Edited by Juliet Pietsch and Haydn Aarons (November 2012).

The latter years of the first decade of the twenty-first century were characterised by an enormous amount of challenge and change to Australia and Australians. Australia’s part in these challenges and changes is borne of our domestic and global ties, our orientation towards ourselves and others, and an ever increasing awareness of the interdependency of our world. Challenges and changes such as terrorism, climate change, human rights, community breakdown, work and livelihood, and crime are not new but they take on new variations and impact on us in different ways in times such as these.

In this volume we consider these recent challenges and changes and how Australians themselves feel about them under three themes: identity, fear and governance. These themes suitably capture the concerns of Australians in times of such change. Identity is our sense of ourselves and how others see us. How is this affected by the increased presence of religious diversity, especially Islamic communities, and increased awareness of moral and political obligations towards Indigenous Australians? How is it affected by our curious but changing relationship with Asia? Fear is an emotional reaction to particular changes and challenges and produces particular responses from individuals, politicians, communities and nations alike; fear of crime, fear of terrorism and fear of change are all considered in this volume.

Multiculturalism and Integration — A Harmonious Relationship, Edited by the late Professor Michael Clyne and Dr James Jupp (July 2011).

Multiculturalism has been the official policy of all Australian governments (Commonwealth and State) since the 1970s. It has recently been criticised, both in Australia and elsewhere. Integration has been suggested as a better term and policy. Critics suggest it is a reversion to assimilation. However integration has not been rigorously defined and may simply be another form of multiculturalism, which the authors believe to have been vital in sustaining social harmony.

May help you counter the dogs’ breaths that are so noisome out there, and will no doubt get worse and skankier as the year goes on, God help us.

Setting up a “new” computer…

… takes so long and is SO frustratng! Two days now I have been at it.

You may recall Replacement for Baby Toshiba.

My main Christmas celebration was the day before. M came down in the afternoon. After a chat at Diggers with a friendly old lady we went for a beer or two and a sit at Illawarra Brewery, then to Steelers for a hot pot Chinese dinner at the Long Yuan. The food passed the M test!

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Well now I am coming to you from that computer having got the power cable from M on Sunday.

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And a reminder there of the floods in Queensland and northern NSW. Sirdan in (near) Gympie is OK.

To Sydney on Sunday–8 car trains, M, Jim Belshaw

A regular complaint from travellers between Wollongong and Sydney is that out trains come in four car sets, which can lead to some uncomfortable overcrowded journeys. But they have been listening, it appears.

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Joining two sets to make 8 cars to Sydney on Sunday morning. The 5.30 pm express back was 8 cars as well.

For some shots of the journey up see To Sydney as the wet approaches–pinhole shots. Yes is was moderately wet pretty much all day.

After visiting M in East Redfern, I bussed to Kingsford then walked to Daceyville. The Daceyville photos will be on the photo blog tomorrow. Thus to Jim Belshaw’s.

Yesterday Neil Whitfield and Winton Bates came to lunch, the first time Winton and I had met for a long time. Winton on the left, Neil right. This was the first time that Winton and Neil had met.

As I can and when I can, I am slowly bringing together the people in our little blogging village. Winton and I were co-editors of Neucleus, The University of New England student newspaper. Neil and I met as bloggers via the death of Australian playwright Alex Buzo. 

As you might expect,  it was a wide ranging conversation that gave us all great pleasure.

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Very pleasant day, despite the weather – but even that was better than the 46C we had recently!

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Wollongong Station

Inspiring people: true Aussies both

Two from last night’s Australian of the Year Award – with an eye to the future.

Young Australian of the Year 2013: Akram Azimi

"This bloke is a legend already," says one commenter.

Akram Azimi is a dedicated mentor to young Indigenous people.  Arriving in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan he went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. An outstanding student, he topped the tertiary entrance exam scores among his classmates. He’s now studying a triple major – law, science and arts – at the University of Western Australia. Intent on giving back to his adopted country, Akram uses his leadership and pastoral skills to help young people in remote and rural Western Australia.  In 2011 he co-founded a student-run initiative I am the other set up to raise awareness about Indigenous issues in universities. His philanthropic roles have included working with True Blue Dreaming, which helps disadvantaged remote Indigenous communities. For three years, Akram mentored young Indigenous people in the Looma community in the Kimberley region, and he has mentored primary school students in the small farming community of Wyalkatchem, in WA’s wheat belt. Akram is also mentoring a Special Olympics athlete to help raise community awareness of disability issues.

See also The Big Interview with Akram Azimi.

youngozoftheyear2712122712201211_18docbr-18docbr

Local Hero: Shane Phillips

REDFERN: According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s (Sydney) magazine, Shane Phillips of the Tribal Warrior Association is one of Sydney’s 100 most influential people writes Liesa Clague in the February 2012 edition of the South Sydney Herald.

It was an immense pleasure speaking to Shane about growing up in Redfern – what has inspired him with regards to his work now, and recalling, when he was young, the key events and people who have made him the leader he is today.

Shane (a Bundjalung, Wonnarua and Eora man) was born in Redfern, and grew up surrounded by role models such as Mum Shirl, Charlie Perkins, Joyce Clague, and other Aboriginal men and women who have contributed to the fight for equal opportunity, the right to be counted as part of the wider community and to help support Aboriginal people. Shane talked about the environment of Redfern in the ’70s and ’80s, which were “good times”.

Much has changed since then. Shane looks forward to new life for “working families” on The Block, better relationships with the police and among all people of good will in the community.

What inspires Shane is supporting his family and being true to them as well as doing the best he can for his community.

He believes that you need good work ethics and to follow through by doing the best job you can.

Shane started work at the age of 14, after being told by his Dad he had to work. The work experience for Shane was “tough but fair”, and he learnt a lot from the people he worked with and for. He learned there was value and pride in contributing to the greater good.

Shane recalls, when he was 14 years old, assisting another lad to break into a car. The other lad ran away but Shane was caught by police. He recalls that the police officer “kicked me up the bum” and “told me he didn’t want me being involved in any stealing again”. This event shaped Shane to realise that he did not want to do anything to get himself into trouble. “I respected that he gave me that chance – that he showed me that respect,” Shane said.

Being there for his family, maintaining humility and integrity, and developing programs that support young people in the community to achieve their goals are very important to Shane – more important than any accolades or awards.

Source: South Sydney Herald February 2012 www.southsydneyherald.com.au

See more from redwatch.

shane

See SBS video The Block for a profile of Shane.

In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

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The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.

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Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

sometimes
i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”

tomorrow

i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me
abo
schizo

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out

sometimes

i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out

sometimes

this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
dressmaking
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
tomorrow
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black

****

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Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.