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.”

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Dhakiyarr vs The King on NITV last night

In Three documentaries–one of them a surprise thanks to NITV and How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits… earlier this month I recommended Channel 34 should become a regular part of our viewing. Indeed, I can think of few better ways to celebrate Australia Day than to go on over to Channel 34 as much as possible. Don’t miss the News at 5.30 pm. It’s a revelation.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Jeremy Geia is a regular on the news. He is really very good. He is also an artist.

Last night NITV showed the 2004 documentary Dhakiyarr vs The King.

In his acceptance speech when the film won the Audiovisual History prize at the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2004, the producer of the film, Graeme Isaac remarked, "It has been said that history is written by he who holds the pen, but much of the Aboriginal history of Australia since white settlement has been unwritten history, a history conveyed orally rather than through books and letters. The court case of Takiyar vs The King and the following appeal to the High Court is a famous part of Australian legal history, often taught to undergraduate law students, but Dhakiyarr’s story has never really been told from the point of view of his own people. We fashioned this film project to rectify that imbalance, and to fill in the gaps in the white history created by our ignorance of the Aboriginal oral tradition. We wanted the film to be a mouthpiece for Dhakiyarr’s descendants to tell their side of the story from their own perspective.

They told it not just in words but also with their painting and their ceremony. And in commemorating Dhakiyarr’s memory in the way they did in the High Court in Darwin, with their generous offer of reconciliation with the system and the society that took their leader’s life, they have also changed the feelings and the views of many others, effectively becoming not just tellers of history but also makers of history" We made our film specifically to present the point of view of a participant, to enrich our understanding of a story that is important not just to the Yolngu but to all Australians, one of the great iconic stories of our frontier history – not a ‘black’ or a ‘white’ history but a shared history, where both sides must understand and learn from the other in order to glimpse the full story.

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Dhakiyarr

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When men of the law meet.

Northern Territory Supreme Court Justices Brian Martin (left) and David Angel (right) and High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson (second from right) meet Yolngu Law Man Wuyal Wirrpanda.
Date: Unknown
Photographer: Peter Eve

Just inspiring.

In 2004 my former SBHS student Sacha Molitorisz had this to say:

Tom Murray and Allan Collins have a remarkable story, and they’d prefer to let someone else tell it. It’s about a blackfella called Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda from north-east Arnhem Land.

In 1933 this Yolngu tribal leader came across a policeman who had broken Aboriginal law by trespassing on Yolngu land. He had also chained up Dhakiyarr’s wife. In accordance with black law, Dhakiyarr speared the policeman, Constable Albert McColl, through the leg. McColl died.

The retribution, in accordance with white law, was equally harsh. On the advice of a missionary, Dhakiyarr travelled to Darwin to face the Northern Territory Supreme Court, where he was sentenced to death for murder.

After lobbying by academics and unions, however, the High Court overturned the decision, ordering Dhakiyarr be freed. At the time, it was a hugely controversial result, recognising Aborigines should be treated equally before the law. "It was an amazing decision," Murray says.

But the Yolngu celebrations were short-lived: as soon as Dhakiyarr was released, he disappeared. Rumour had it he was killed, possibly by vengeful policemen, or by vigilantes. His remains have never been found.

Murray, a Manly resident with a deep love for Arnhem Land culture, has long been fascinated with Dhakiyarr. "I’ve spent a bit of time up there. I’d heard the story in whispers. It was such a significant trial of the time, so I’d read bits and pieces. And I thought to myself, ‘I bet Dhakiyarr’s family have an amazing story.’ When I went to meet them, this raw, unreconciled story of wanting to know what happened to Dhakiyarr revealed itself."

When Dhakiyarr’s descendants reconciled with the McColl family, Murray decided to make a film about them. As an experienced maker of radio documentaries who lacked film experience, he teamed up with Allan Collins, the cinematographer of Beneath Clouds.

Funding proved hard to raise – until Film Australia’s National Interest Program saw the project’s significance. So filming began, with the focus on two of Dhakiyarr’s grandsons, Wuyal and Dhukal.

"In the Yolngu way, they call themselves sons of Dhakiyarr," says Murray. "To us they’re his grandsons. The film is about Wuyal’s and Dhukal’s attempts to reconcile this raw wound after 70 years."

Last year, Wuyal and Dhukal sent a video letter to Clare Martin, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, asking for the return of Dhakiyarr’s remains. Alternatively, the brothers asked to hold a ceremony at Darwin’s Supreme Court, where Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death. Martin agreed to the latter, and the ensuing scenes – featuring a meeting of Dhakiyarr’s descendants and McColl’s family – form the climax of the finished film, Dhakiyarr vs The King, a powerful piece of work. Last week, the filmmakers learnt they’ve been nominated in the best doco category at this year’s Dendy Awards, scheduled during the Sydney Film Festival.

The Supreme Court ceremony had a reconciling effect on the Wirrpandas and the McColls. As Joan McColl of Narracan wrote to The Age last week: "The Wirrpanda family involved the McColl family in a wonderful healing Wukidi ceremony during which they apologised for Albert’s death and presented to Alan McColl, his nearest living male relative, a ceremonial headpiece. In turn, gifts were presented from the McColl family and the two families now are in close, friendly contact."

Says Murray: "I think it’s been a profound experience for the McColl family. Alan McColl is from Gippsland. He said to me a year ago he’d never even met a black person, and now he has a family of them."

In the process, the McColls have adopted a sporting legend: 24-year-old David Wirrpunda, a star with AFL team the West Coast Eagles. He spells his name differently, but he is Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda’s great-grandson. Wuyal is his dad. Yesterday, Murray, Wuyal and Dhukal went to a West Coast game in Melbourne.

"It’s the first time Wuyal has seen his son play football since he was a kid. David lives in Perth, and Wuyal is the leader of a community in north-east Arnhem Land," says Murray.

This week, Murray returns to his hometown for the Sydney big screen premiere of his film at the Chauvel in Paddington. Wuyal and Dhukal will attend. "It takes courage to acknowledge the past and to apologise, as Wuyal did to the McColls. That’s been missing from the national debate, where we don’t seem to have that leadership. Dhakiyarr going to face white law, that’s showing leadership … With Wuyal, his leadership was made very clear. He showed dignity and courage, and I think that’s what people are responding to. And the same is true of Alan McColl – the McColls were willing to reconcile their own past."

One of the film’s biggest strengths is that it lets the Wirrpandas tell their own story. "Where there is narration, the two brothers narrate," says Murray. "And I think the film was really affirming for them, especially now so many people are saying to them, ‘You’ve done something really important for the Aboriginal debate. You’ve told a really important story.’

"After the screenings, people have been saying that it’s the first time they’ve been given the privilege of gaining insight into an Aboriginal community, unmitigated by a white voice trying to explain it."

It will no doubt be repeated. Don’t miss it.

Given a choice between romantic piffle and actual history…

… most of us prefer piffle, especially patriotic piffle or piffle serving some political agenda, be that left or right.

We may get a serving of piffle tonight on SBS on the subject of Eureka, which has attracted much well-intentioned piffling and some not so well-intentioned – a bit like Ned Kelly.  Tonight’s SBS offering (Dirty Business) won’t all be piffle, of course, if one is to judge from last week, some of which was most interesting. But it will be very scrappy and rather too obviously thesis-driven, as certainly was last week. It is not nearly as good, in my view, as The First Australians, currently being repeated on NITV.

The Victorians (the royal era, not the Aussie state) were excellent at patriotic piffling, inventing whole rafts of tradition. The Irish and Scots have been excellent pifflers – take for example the oeuvre of Sir Walter Scott – and of late – well almost twenty years ago – we had Braveheart. Last night ABC2 offered The True Story: Braveheart. I was impressed.

BraveheartMel Gibson’s Oscar winning box office smash of 1995 tells the story of real life Scottish rebel and freedom fighter William Wallace. With savage battle scenes, a cast of thousands and a tragic love story at its heart, it is a sweeping historical epic brought to the screen with stunning photography set amongst the highlands of Scotland.

But ever since it was first shown historians have asked questions about the accuracy of the movie. No one doubts that William Wallace was a real historical character – as was Edward 1st, Robert the Bruce, and many others who feature in the film. But was he really the “ordinary joe” made good portrayed by Mel Gibson, and did his life unfold in the way Braveheart depicts?

Interviewing script-writer Randall Wallace we discover that the inspiration for the movie was the stories generated by an ancient Scottish poem about the life of Wallace. But an analysis by modern historian’s show that this poem, as much as any movie, was designed to create a legend rather than explain history

On the poem see Blind Harry’s Wallace: Introduction and Index.

…There are many episodes in Harry’s poem which will never be possible to prove as having occurred. However, there are passages that have been proven false. One example comes from the opening stanza, in which Harry states that Wallace was the son of Malcolm Wallace, yet the letter Wallace wrote to the Hanseatic League after the Scots’ victory at the Battle of Stirling carried Wallace’s seal, which clearly states that he was "Wilelmus Filius Alani Walais" – William, son of Alan Wallace. Harry’s recounting of the Battle of Falkirk, July 1298, provides another example: it is documented that this battle was won by the English side, yet Harry’s version maintains that the Scots had the advantage, and concludes with King Edward fleeing in fear for his life.

Regardless of whether Harry had sources beyond oral tradition upon which to base his poem, and the fact that the poem reads as a biography of William Wallace, it should be considered historical fiction – a long-lived ballad that expresses profound pride in a nation’s patriot hero.

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Blue face Mel – nice idea, but around a thousand years out of place for William Wallace

See also BraveHeart – The 10 historical inaccuracies you need to know before watching the movie

So Braveheart is, one could say, piffle.  Very convincing piffle for some. Compare How accurate was "Braveheart"?

In brief, the history in "Braveheart" is absolute garbage.

William Wallace did indeed lead a rebellion against English occupation in 1296. He won a surprising victory at Stirling Bridge and lost at Falkirk. After his capture, he was tried and executed as depicted. That’s about all that matches history. The rest of the film was inaccurate, grossly distorted, or absolutely made up. I can’t cover it all (and I should have done this when my memory of th film was fresher) but here are some, er, "highlights".

Wallace was portrayed as a poor man who was secretly married right before he got in trouble with the English. Actually, he was a landed commoner with a good education, and in peaceful times he might have been a scholar. All landed men were required to sign the Ragman Roll, which bound signatories in loyalty to England’s King Edward I. Those who refused, like Wallace, were outlawed. In response, Wallace and Andrew Moray organized other outlawed men into an army. Moray was killed at Stirling Bridge and mostly forgotten, and was not mentioned in the film. Wallace was invovled in a romantic relationship, but he was unable to settle down due to spending his entire adult life at war or in hiding. He was with her when the English discovered his hiding place. When they discovered she had stalled them to give Walalce time to escape, she and the rest of the household were killed.

From watching "Braveheart", one would think that Wallace invented the use of spears against cavalry in a moment of improvisation. Everyone in the Clann knows that this tactic is literally ancient. From the film, a viewer would think that these Scottish peasants could find swords and axe heads, but somehow couldn’t manage spearpoints. Also, they didn’t stand in one big mob, but in circular formations called schiltrons, the predecessors of our pike blocks, and a formation Wallace might have invented but certainly perfected. At least they looked impressive with their painted faces, which was indeed a Celtic practice—during Roman times, over a thousand years before.

During the battle of Falkirk, Wallace was shown going into battle against the wishes of the other Scottish commanders. The accounts I’ve seen indicate the opposite, that he opposed fighting then on the grounds that the field did not offer the advantages of Stirling Bridge. It was a neat scene when the Irish troops with the English switched sides as they were supposed to charge into battle, but I never heard of this incident. We also saw the Scottish nobles desert Wallace and ruin his plans right as the battle started, but I haven’t heard of this happening either. The cavalry did withdraw without orders, but the circumstances are unclear, though he might have won with them available. It’s true his hold over the Scottish lords and chiefs was weak. He wasn’t knighted until after Stirling Bridge (quite possibly by Robert Bruce) at which time he was made Guardian, which gave him the power of a king. However, having no land or vassals, his leadership depended wholly upon success in battle. When he lost his luster he was replaced.

In the aftermath of Falkirk came the scene that almost made me yell at the screen. When Wallace goes riding after King Edward, one of the knights accompanying Edward turns to stop Wallace and knocks him off his horse. When his face is uncovered, this knight turns out to be—-Robert Bruce. A great dramatic twist, but why don’t the histories mention Bruce at Falkirk? Most likely he wasn’t there, or else he fought with Wallace but did nothing significant. "Braveheart" portrayed Bruce so villainously that the English chroniclers who demonized him would have been envious. When, at the end of the film, Bruce asks the soldiers at Bannockburn if they will fight for him, he wouldn’t have reason to doubt: they had been following him for years already. I’ll admit having Bruce as narrator was a great idea, but that doesn’t alter my opinion of his portrayal.

Hollywood thinks movies have to have romance, but Wallace and Princess Isabella? I’ve never heard of a princess being used as an envoy, and with such an important mission to boot. I don’t even know that she had gone to England and married Edward II during Wallace’s lifetime. It’s difficult to believe she ever met Wallace or that she was this delicate flower who was ashamed of English cruelty toward the Scots. On the contrary, she had her husband imprisoned and murdered when he refused to abdicate in favor of their son, and she then launched her own invasion of Scotland….

Mel later went on to make The Passion of the Christ, of course…

Another documentary on William Wallace:

Now for something completely different.

Lately I keep encountering in novels and newspapers the idiom “bored of” – which strikes my ear with a very loud cacophonous clang!  When did this happen, I ask?

So I did ask Oxford.

Which of these expressions should you use: is one of them less acceptable than the others?

  • Do you ever get bored with eating out all the time?
  • Delegates were bored by the lectures.
  • He grew bored of his day job.

The first two constructions, bored with and bored by, are the standard ones. The third, bored of, is more recent than the other two and it’s become extremely common. In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by. It represents a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.

I trust you are not so bored with this as not to want any more…  Let’s resist it, albeit in vain. BORED WITH! Understand? WITH!

See also Daily Writing Tips.

How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits…

… and enriched my life.

I do not jest. They really have, and I can only commend you follow suit, if you are here in Oz. On NITV I have posted several times lately.

  1. Twenty years after Redfern
  2. Bran Nue Day (2009)
  3. Jimmy Little — 1 March 1937 – 2 April 2012
  4. On NITV again and related issues
  5. Women of the Sun on NITV on Tuesday nights
  6. NITV best option for Christmas Night–in my opinion

Even last night instead of watching Edwin Drood on ABC – I am sure it was excellent – I could not bypass seeing the third episode of Women of the Sun (1982) and am so glad I did. Heaven knows what I made of it way back in the 80s. Did I believe it? Did I think it was exaggerated? I really don’t recall. But it certainly didn’t occur to me then that the key incident in the plot – the 1939 mass walkout by Aborigines from a government mission – was pretty much just as it happened. And the screenwriter, the late Hyllus Maris, would sure have known.

Hyllus Noel Maris (1933-1986), Aboriginal rights campaigner, community worker, educator, poet and scriptwriter, was born on 25 December 1933 at Echuca, Victoria, third of nine children of New South Wales-born parents Selwyn Roderick Briggs, labourer, and his wife Geraldine Rose, née Clements. Hyllus was of Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri (Woiworung) descent and spent her early childhood at Cummeragunja Aboriginal station, New South Wales. Her grandmother educated her in Aboriginal culture, genealogy and history, and both parents were activists; her father was also a prominent sportsman.

In 1939 more than 150 Aboriginal people ‘walked off’ Cummeragunja in protest at substandard conditions. Their actions provided a catalyst for the greater politicisation of Aboriginal people throughout Victoria. The Briggses were among a group who then settled on the ‘Flat’ in the Mooroopna-Shepparton area of Victoria. The Flat’s close-knit, family-based community championed social reform campaigns into the post-World War II era.

Growing up in a river-bank tent, Hyllus was acutely aware of the impoverished conditions under which many Aboriginal people lived. Her father was the first Aboriginal man to be employed by the Shepparton council, providing a regular income and stability for his family. She attended school and trained as a hospital dietician. Committed to securing basic human rights for Indigenous people, however, she decided not to follow that career path. In 1956 she married Andrew Marimuthu at Shepparton and adopted the surname Maris; they had no children and were later divorced. Moving to Melbourne, in 1970 she joined her mother, a sister—Gladys Nicholls, the wife of Pastor (Sir) Doug Nicholls—and others in founding the National Council of Aboriginal and Island Women, for which she worked as liaison officer. In 1973 she assisted in establishing the Victorian Aboriginal Health and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal services at Fitzroy…

See also Cummeragunja. Jimmy Little the singer also knew, as became apparent in the documentary about his life recently screened on NITV, though what follows is from ABC’s Message Stick, linked to the start of this sentence.

FRANCES PETERS-LITTLE: We go back now to Eddie Little, my dad’s grandfather. Now, his story is that he was born and found somewhere near a massacre site in Queensland. And he was found as a baby. And he was raised by a white family and they gave him the name Little. And then he came down to New South Wales and settled in the Southern Highlands area. And he met with Eliza Penrith and they married in 1902. And they had three sons and two daughters. And one of their sons was named James Edward Little, who we know now as Kunkas. And then he married Frances McGee at Cumeragunja. And their first child was James Oswald Little, which is Jimmy Little.
JIMMY LITTLE: I remember, fondly, Mum and Dad performing on stage. with other artists from the Cumeragunja Music Group, playing instruments, like mandolin, banjo, guitars of course, harmonicas. I thought – "Gee, that’s nice." Music had an attraction for me. As much as playing sport and just running loose around the bush… and hunting and all of that… One, two, three, four…

DEBORAH CHEETHAM: Well, it was three years ago I first discovered the story of the walk-off from Cumeragunja Mission. And I decided I wanted to create an opera around that story. And so writing an opera and writing a libretto around that story of the Cumeragunja walk-off, and then discovering that my own grandparents were part of that walk-off and that they took Jimmy as a young baby and walked across that river into Victoria in protest of how they were being treated To be writing an opera about that… (LAUGHS) ..to be in the process of writing it and then to discover that my own grandparents were part of it, I mean, it’s been a huge journey for me.
JAMES HENRY LITTLE: Right across the board, there are so many musical people in the family. Aunty Monica’s daughter, Deborah Cheetham, is a fantastic opera singer, who I never really got a chance to know growing up. I think she was taken away at an early age.
JIMMY LITTLE: I know about Deborah being part of the family… but I didn’t know the story behind her adoption.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I am a member of the Stolen Generation. I was taken from my mother when I was three weeks old. I was given to a family in Sydney. I’d be told, when I was very young, that I’d been abandoned by my mother, that she’d put me in a cardboard box and left me in a field. So as far as I knew, I’d been abandoned. Of course, this wasn’t the case but I didn’t learn that until much later in life.
JIMMY LITTLE: I was looking forward to eventually meeting her with her mum, my sister. And when that happened, there was a… there was a sadness and a gladness… to at least relate, family-wise, both ways.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I knew about the existence of Uncle Jimmy. In fact, I think when I was seven years old, I met him. My adoptive parents took me… I can remember quite distinctly, they took me to a shopping centre where he was making an appearance and I actually got to meet him…

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, eventually Governor of South Australia, was also A Boy From Cummeragunja.

Then just the other day I was delighted to be able to see again my good friend Kristina being beautiful and brilliant in the 1986-7 AFI winner The Fringe Dwellers.

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Kristina – just as she was when I first met her in Roy Garner’s Forest Lodge Coffee Shop in 1987.

There is a very strange Indian article on Aborigines in Australian cinema I have just found. It does tell you a lot about The Fringe Dwellers, but the folk at Dear Cinema seem to have let their prejudices and apparent ignorance of Australian film since around 1990 allow their thesis on Absence of Aborigines in Australian Cinema to run rampant.

Year – 1987. Even as ‘white’ Australia was preparing to celebrate 200 years of white settlement, the oppression of aborigines – the original inhabitants of the continent – continued apace. The oppression is naked and heartless in outback settlements, but exists in subtler forms in Australian towns and cities. I have in one of my scrapbooks an agency report dating back to that year which speaks of a high court judge who wept as he listened to harrowing accounts of racism and denial of justice to aborigines in a remote New South Wales community. The judge wept and said : “I have been to Soweto in South Africa, to German concentration camps, but this is my own country…”

Despite an occasional admission such as this, not many white Australians are willing to face the truth that colonization has done little to improve the lot of the indigenous people. Australians are yet to acknowledge in large numbers that prejudice against the remaining 150,000 aborigines is rife. Unlike recent arrivals from Asia and Europe, many of whom are more than comfortable in the role of the comprador, the aborigines have never been integrated into the mainstream. In a society predominantly by, for and of white Australians, it is hardly surprising that the aboriginal question should be calculatedly glossed over…

Seeing that I marched with the Indigenous in the 1988 Bicentennial and had the enormous privilege in Kristina’s loungeroom in Forest Lodge of being told a dreaming story by a genuine songman, meeting at least one of the Page boys now so famous in Australian dance, and so on and so on, I rather resent the absences in Mr Chaterjee’s account of Aborigines in Australian cinema. And that is not to deny things in Indigenous Australia could be a whole lot better. However, the presence of Indigenous Australians in music, cinema, theatre, dance, the arts is actually quite remarkable given their numbers… Not to mention sport!  So save your snootiness, Mr Chaterjee, and concentrate on the many and varied injustices of your own country, of which lately we have had a glaring example. And now that we have a dedicated mainstream free to air channel for Indigenous programming – which has thus far no problem finding things to show – Indigenous stories are there for all Australians to share.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Recently too there was a brilliant documentary by Ivan Sen on the death of the sister of actor/presenter Rhoda Roberts: A Sister’s Love (2007). Then there is a quite delightful and informative children’s program, also seen on ABC3 – Bushwhacked.

Bushwhacked!’ is a 13-part series hosted by Brandon Walters and Kayne Tremills as they set off on the adventure of a lifetime to remote corners of Australia, meeting the country’s weird and wonderful wildlife, and learning about Indigenous rites and rituals. The series brings the bush to the ‘burbs, as Brandon sets Kayne a new challenge each episode, to track down one of Australia’s unique animals. But it is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. It’s a fun-fuelled, adrenalin-pumping, fast-paced adventure following these two colourful characters — one an ice cool bushman; the other a skateboarding city-slicker who’s never been into the heart of Aboriginal Australia. Whether it be chasing down dangerous spiders, killer sharks and venomous snakes, or friendly penguins and loveable turtles; adventure is never far away, as the boys challenge each other with rock climbing, skydiving and zip-lining. Along the way, Brandon introduces Kayne to friends from local Indigenous communities who get the boys involved in everything from traditional smoking ceremonies to investigating local bush tucker and bush medicine. Humour and high spirits are a trademark throughout the series, as Brandon and Kayne often find themselves out of their comfort zones as they take the journey of a lifetime together.

As if all these examples are not enough to persuade you to sample NITV – but you may get hooked! – then there are odd movies that you may not see elsewhere. For example, Christopher Reeve being very good as NOT Superman in The Aviator (1985), which I saw during the past week.

And The Motorcyle Diaries is coming up next Sunday at 9.30!

The remit of NITV extends to world Indigenous TV, so I saw a brilliant documentary about the Mohawk construction workers of New York.  Did you know about this? I didn’t.

Meanwhile I have grown fond too of ABC News 24. Check out just one of their regular offerings: One Plus One. The episode of 28 December had passionate educator and composer Richard Gill saying just what needs to be said about education these days.

Bran Nue Day (2009)

This has been on ABC TV several times but each time I missed it – until last night. Loved it.

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Review by David Stratton

And now to end on something uplifting – it is the festive season after all! So that brings us to BRAN NUE DAE…
Willie, ROCKY MACKENZIE, who lives in Broome, loves beautiful Rosie, JESSICA MAUBOY, but can’t bring himself to approach her. Willie’s mother sends him off to a boarding school in Perth run by strict Father Benedictus, GEOFFREY RUSH – but Willie runs away and heads for home accompanied by his uncle, ERNIE DINGO.
Rachel Perkins’ exuberant adaptation of the 1990 stage musical is a lot of fun, despite the fact that it has a rather insipid hero. The energetic staging of the musical numbers is just one of the engaging elements in a film filled with unexpected delights, such as the performances of MISSY HIGGINS and DEBORAH MAILMAN, who are both excellent.
GEOFFREY RUSH is very funny indeed, the pacing is brisk and it all looks terrific.
BRAN NUE DAY represents a really enjoyable visit to the movies this summer…

DAVID: I loved the musical numbers.
MARGARET: It takes a lot to make a musical these days.
DAVID: Yes.
MARGARET: And I think Rachael Perkins has done a fabulous job.
DAVID: I think so too. Yes, I agree.
MARGARET: I’m giving this four stars.
DAVID: Yes, me too, four stars.

It is worth reading the comments on The Movie Show site. One person found the movie racist! I am sure Jimmy Chi, Rachael Perkins et al would be quite surprised. There are people with no sense of humour out there, of course. Not that Bran Nue Dae is all laughs, as my YouTube selection shows. And sometimes the satire cuts several ways:

One of the famous verses from a song in the musical sums up Chi’s dry humour and sharp political approach:

There’s nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit.

See also Bran Nue Dae.

Update

1. Following the success of Bran Nue Dae, Rachel Perkins and Blackfella Films  have gone on to make some really splendid movies and documentaries and, of course, the series Redfern Now. Meanwhile, many of the people in Bran Nue Dae may also be seen in 2012’s very successful The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair. Indigenous stories and voices really are being seen and heard! I notice however that too many TV Guides, including The Australian Review for 22 December, still hide the existence of NITV!

2. Cinematography on Bran Nue Day was by Andrew Lesnie – brilliant.

His work began receiving major attention after the release of the anthropomorphic pig story Babe (1995) and its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City. He was director of photography on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and received an Oscar for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2002. Since then, he has filmed several other Jackson-directed films, including King Kong and The Lovely Bones, and will also film the upcoming The Hobbit films directed by Jackson.

Wikipedia needs to update that last line!

Andrew Lesnie’s son Phillip Lesnie is carving out a career in the arts. I did teach him briefly at SBHS. See Rani P Lukita and Phil Lesnie – Sydney artists / Hand to Hand and his site Monster Friendship Society.

Takes my mind back to the beginning of the century, via this quote from the 2000 SBHS Annual Report. There’s a  name there that is now well known in Indigenous circles too.

Achievements in the Arts

The  school  has  a  very  strong  emphasis  on co-curricular  activities,  particularly  musical  and  choral performance  and debating.
•  The double  in debating  – GPS  Roat Shield  and State Hume Barbour Shield – was achieved. The firsts  (Oscar  McLaren,  Hilbert  Chiu,  Robbie Moore and Mike Martin) were undefeated.
•  Eugene  Schofield-Georgeson,  Jonathan Ailwood,  Morgan  Green  – Art  Express finalists.
•  Jack  Manning-Bancroft  and  Mihai  Sora participated  in  the  English  Teachers Conference.
•  Michael  Nelson,  Jason  Kok  and  Thomas Norrie were chosen to  play in the NSW Public Schools  Symphony Orchestra.
•  Robbie  Moore’s  play  ‘Wolves’  was  accepted for a reading by a theatre group.
•  Phillip  Lesnie  won  the  Sydney  Theatre Company’s ‘Young Playwrights Award’.
•  Peter  Hayward,  Justin  Hill  and  Thomas Beamish sang at the opening ceremonies at the Olympic  Games,  the  Paralympic  Games  and the Pacific Schools Games.

On NITV again and related issues

I see the Herald has an extract from the upcoming final Boyer Lecture by Marcia Langton, a person who quite often says, rightly or wrongly,  what people don’t really want to hear. I rather admire her.

There is an undercurrent in the reconciliation movement that has gone unnoticed. At public events over the last 20 years, many Aboriginal advocates of reconciliation have addressed themselves not to the settlers who want absolution for their ancestral past, but to young Aboriginal people attracted to the ”Aboriginal sovereignty” slogans. They have tried to deter them from a fatuous political path towards ideas and activities that will improve their lives and sense of self-esteem.

Noel Pearson challenged Michael Mansell and his entourage to develop an ideological consciousness "that goes beyond absolutist, nihilist daydreaming about what should be, but instead become concerned with how we are actually going to go about making things the way they should be".

I have been thrilled by the Redfern Now ABC television series. Produced and directed by Rachel Perkins of Blackfella Films and a magnificent team of indigenous writers, actors and technicians, it speaks to the Aboriginal people who have lived through these turgid political dramas. It depicts the emergence of an Aboriginal middle class with veracity, its members intimately linked to their families living on the Block in Redfern, and the transference of Aboriginal cultural values from the Block to the suburbs. It shows Aboriginal values and social practices at work in dramatic scenes of encounters with the police and the struggles of families to deter youth from criminal activities and with mental illness.

Artists such as Perkins and her exceptional team members have done a far better job than anthropologists and the political ideologues in describing these challenges. With minute attention to the intimate details of Aboriginal life at the Block and the tendrils of familial, social and political connection across geographies, class and history, they have broadcast more truth and sociological sophistication into Australian homes than thousands of papers from the intellectual militias of the "Indigenous Affairs" machine.

Those of us who have raged against the machine and won some few successes know that the challenge lies in large part in capturing the hearts and minds of young people with a message of hope. The elements of that picture of their future that they must imagine for themselves must come from opportunities to enable them to live a good life. This is why Pearson’s welfare reform and education initiatives are so important and effective in transforming the lives of people in Cape York. The inspiration Noel has given to others across the country should not be underestimated. In the face of the rancorous denials from the exclusive club of Pearson haters, the facts keep stacking up.

A younger generation of Aboriginal people are telling stories through literature, the arts, film and music and speaking back to history and oppression without the burden of the culture wars. Redfern Now, The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair, Toomelah, directed by Ivan Sen, and Samson and Delilah, directed by Warwick Thornton, are just some examples of their outpouring of creative work, thinking and writing. Indigenous filmmakers and television producers have cemented their place in the mainstream winning over audiences and proving their box office success…

That will really get up some noses around the country, but I think she is quite right about “the intellectual militias of the ‘Indigenous Affairs’ machine…” Nor should we overlook, beyond her anger about that issue, the overall positive thrust of what she is saying.

You can judge Ivan Sen’s Toomelah for yourself on Sunday thanks to NITV, and see Marcia Langton feature in First Australians. Burned Bridge, I am ashamed to admit, I had never heard of!

  • 7:30pm First Australians

    This landmark series chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia as never told before, from the perspective of its first people. It explores what unfolds when the oldest living culture in the world is overrun by the world’s greatest empire, and depicts the true stories of individuals – both black and white. The story begins in 1788 in Sydney with the friendship between an Englishmen, Governor Phillip, and a warrior, Bennelong. Documentary (PG)

  • 8:45pm Burned Bridge

    In the remote Australian town of Brooklyn Waters, NSW, a police officer and a radio producer investigate the horrifying murder of a young Aboriginal girl. Starring Cate Blanchett and Ernie Dingo.

  • 9:40pm Toomelah

    Daniel is a small ten year old boy who dreams of being a gangster. He is kicked out of school and befriends a local gang leader, until a rival arrives back from jail to reclaim his turf.

It is worth it to give those program details as I see The Australian and The Illawarra Mercury haven’t yet registered in the print versions of their TV guides that NITV Channel 34 exists!  The Herald Guide did so from Day One.

Check NITV programming here.

I will, however, watch the NSW Department of Education (that is, PUBLIC education!) rising above all the crap politicians and others fling at it and the funding they fling rather less, in what will clearly be yet again a fabulous Schools Spectacular on ABC1 at 6 pm.

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The Schools Spectacular is a world-class arena production and one of the largest annual events of its calibre anywhere in Australia – and arguably the world. Since 1984 the Schools Spectacular has grown to become more than just a showcase highlighting the talents of the students of New South Wales public schools. It is an iconic cultural event incorporating students from diverse backgrounds and communities from the length and breadth of the state. The Schools Spectacular is a remarkable New South Wales success story and is proudly presented by the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

Images from the 2012 show – see  the Schools Spectacular Gallery page.

Miss Odgerny and other contemporary figures

Annabel Crabb is spot on today.

If we learnt anything at all about misogyny in this grubby old week, it’s that as a nation, our ability to spell the word is in precisely inverse proportion to our eagerness to fling it about online.

If we wipe the week down for a minute and examine where it all started, we find a text message from the former speaker, Peter Slipper, in which he likens an intimate female body part to a brined mussel.

It’s easy to see why this sort of observation, once published, might be inconsistent with the continued exertion of distinguished and unimpeachable authority over the federal House of Representatives.

And the text certainly established Mr Slipper’s status permanently, in the minds of anyone who might have been wondering, as ”bivalve-curious”.

But … misogyny? That’s a big call.

The Oxford definition of the word is ”hatred of women”.

Is it misogyny when Tony Abbott refers to the ”housewives of Australia … doing their ironing”?

Is it misogyny when some buffoon at a union dinner makes a cheap and speculative (and defamatory, which by the way is why you haven’t read it, and not very funny either) joke about the Opposition Leader and his female chief of staff?…

Sexism is everywhere in politics – you just have to count the examples that have cropped up this week once everyone suddenly started to care about it.

Mr Abbott’s response to the speech, understandably, was very different; he couldn’t believe he’d been called a misogynist, and that – in my personal opinion – is fair enough.

Mr Abbott has been guilty of sexism, and at times extreme dopiness, with respect to women. But a deep and unswerving hatred of women, ”every day, and in every way”? It’s not a case I’d prosecute.

Thursday, the day on which Christopher Pyne was arguing to the Speaker that the word ”bloke” was sexist and unparliamentary, and everybody else was going through the roll-call of the guilty, otherwise known as the guest-list for the CFMEU dinner, was the first International Day of the Girl.

One in three girls around the world do not get an education, the charity Plan International reports. One in seven is married before the age of 15. One in four is sexually abused by the time she’s 18. On Tuesday, as Australia’s gender debate revved up, 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban; punishment for her insistence that she has the right to be educated.

The definitional squabble over the term ”misogyny”, in other words, is rather a clear-cut affair, in certain less blessed parts of the globe…

One of the most sensible things I have read so far.

You want to see misogyny? Look no further than the Taliban. Comparatively you won’t find much of it in any Australian parliament, though sexism and dopiness are not so hard to find.

Then there is a tradition, quite venerable really, as any fan of the 17th century poet and libertine the Earl of Rochester knows:

Love a Woman! y’are an Ass,
‘Tis a most insipid Passion,
To Chuse out for Happiness
The idlest part of God’s Creation.

Let the Porter and the Groom,
Things design’d for Dirty Slaves,
Drudge in Fair Aurelia‘s Womb,
To get Supplies for Age and Graves.

Farewel Woman, I intend
Henceforth ev’ry Night to sit
With my Lewd Well-natur’d Friend,
Drinking, to engender Wit.

Then give me Health, Wealth, Mirth, and Wine,
And if busie Love intrenches,
There’s a sweet soft Page of mine,
Do’s the Trick worth Forty Wenches.

Now that could be called misogyny, even if it is not entirely clear how serious Rochester is…

Leaving that and the Punch and Judy show of 2012 politics aside, I go back a bit – but not before commending a couple of other articles.

Charles Waterstreet in today’s Sun-HeraldGillard brought down the House.

…Abbott likes women around him, so do I. They are smarter. Like Ramjan, they are more generous, kinder and emotionally honest. Ramjan built houses of bricks in her career, Abbott a house of sticks.

In law, good character means, among other things, that what such a person says about a matter is more likely to be believed. If Ramjan says she was intimidated, surrounded by fists, then I believe her. If Abbott could not recall it, then I would have believed that, too. When he changed his mind and said it did not happen, I believe Barbara.

The Prime Minister nailed Abbott to the wall this week. We have all done stupid things. Men of character apologise and move on. They don’t hide from the fog of the past and suddenly remember. I have been accused of living in a glass house of misogyny and sexism myself. When I appeared with Penny Wong on Q&A, I whispered to her that we had something in common. She turned to me quickly – ”We both love beautiful women”. She laughed, I think.

Abbott could not laugh when Gillard stripped him of all his emperor penguin’s clothes in the chamber. One thing he could do is get dressed, get on his bicycle and cycle down to Barbara Ramjan’s house and apologise.

Michelle Grattan: Misogyny war has no winner.

Now to go back, as promised, and to THE SHIRE!!!  Yes, I watched Puberty Blues last night – the 1981 movie, not the recent much praised Channel 10 miniseries.

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puberty2

Now those are more the Cronulla I remember, as distinct from the over-developed version I saw when I revisited this time last year. Even so, my time teaching at Cronulla predates the period Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey wrote about by a good decade or more. By the 1970s I was in Wollongong rather than Cronulla, and the drug issues that form part of the story in Puberty Blues I associate with Wollongong, therefore, rather than Cronulla. (The ethnic mix in that second North Cronulla still above is interesting too for 1981.)

Sadly, I don’t think the 1981 movie is all that good. Having 20-somethings (it seems) playing the school-aged surfie guys didn’t work for me, and the parodic elements in the story clashed with the serious rather too much. But I really don’t think the book is all that great either.

Nonetheless I enjoyed the nostalgia trip, even if it was to a place that wasn’t really quite like that at the time. But see Kate Hunter, Puberty Blues: boys were really like that in the 70s.

It’s so sad the boys in Puberty Blues do little to make life better – more fun, more interesting, more memorable for the girls.

Whenever a panel van pulls up, or a wave packed with surfers rolls in, the girls’ relationship shifts. The mood gets darker, loaded … dangerous. I wanted to yell at the boys, ‘Rack off, you dickheads, those girls were having a perfectly nice time until you showed up.’

Maybe that’s just me. Could be because now I’m a mother of daughters. I’m not a girl anymore. Thank God.