Engaging, thought provoking, feeling sad, comic, angry, frustrated! - Yes, these are all components of my response to this excellent film: Charlie’s Country.
And did I mention that it is sooo sloooow! Ah! I hear, “You, white fella!” Yes, the pace of the film is itself a cross cultural experience for this fella (me!). This aspect of the film reminded me that the challenge to learn is heightened when the way we speak and listen is so very different. Note, ‘different’. Not wrong, just different! This latter sentence became a key learning for me during my cross cultural missionary training at St Andrew’s Hall in the 1970s.
Film Director, Rolf de Heer was interviewed following the film at the State Cinema North Hobart where it was shown as part of NAIDOC week. One of the many ‘takeaways’ from the interview and film was the emphasis on persistence in respect and the forming of a new way, a new third culture/way was thought provoking, where traditional indigenous culture and the new culture can be founded in respect and care. A genuine shared life together of the original custodians of Australia and the ‘white fellas’ has been and continues to be a long term project for all Australians. We must continue seeking and building this life together: to gather around the camp fires and learn each other’s hearts. This is a very great challenge given our mutual fragility; as ‘Charlie’s Country’ so vividly demonstrates.
At the Tasmanian film showing, I along with community leaders, politicians, Municipal Councillors and Church leaders, were informed by Tasmanian Indigenous Elders of RECOGNISE which is the people’s movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution. See, RECOGNISE. Although broadly supportive, my concern is that this project may take energy from the deeper issue of growing respect and understanding, working practically, so that we can build healthy and life giving ways to live together in this land, Australia.
The film is very well reviewed by Gemma Blackwood, Charlie’s Country: David Gulpilil confounds our romantic fantasies. A snippet:
Poster for Charlie’s Country. Image.net/Entertainment One films
In Charlie’s Country, Eurocentric fantasies about Indigenous men are deconstructed. For example, the main character works as a tracker – but for the police. Rather than being able to live off the land, his inability for long-term survival in the swamps of Arnhem Land is revealed.
Gulpilil and de Heer’s decision for the film to be a character study allows the banal daily problems and ongoing prejudices in Ramingining and Darwin to convey a much bigger social commentary about disadvantage and cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Charlie lives in a self-made humpy because he feels the government provisions are inadequate. The film progresses through a register of emotional states, charting Charlie’s struggle to do things in his way. He tries to go bush in the traditional sense, but he’s all on his own and an unfortunate early wet season means he contracts bronchial disease.
Then, released after extensive rehabilitation from Darwin Hospital, he falls in with itinerant drinkers in the city and is eventually incarcerated, and for a while, silenced.
I urge you to please take the opportunity to view and discuss this important film.
Following my heartfelt ‘Sorry’ to the indigenous peoples at my first media conference as Bishop of Tasmania, I asked that the history of the relationship between the Aboriginal Community and the Anglican Church in Tasmania be told. Anglicare(Tas) generously funded the project resulting in James Boyce’s ‘God’s Own Country?‘. The book launch address at St John’s New Town, Wednesday 27 June 2001, is here.
Participation in events such as The Water Ceremony and Ecumenical Reconciliation Services continue to grow my understanding, as does reading and consideration of indigenous biography such as Yulki: Arnhem Land Priest and Michael Gumbuli of Ngukurr. Also, listening to indigenous concerns such as the NT Emergency Intervention Response: An Indigenous Christian View.