Image credit: Films for Change Wollongong
"This film is about what happened to my culture, when it was interrupted by your culture" (David Gulpilil).
I have just returned home from watching a screening of the documentary Another Country, narrated by Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout; Rabbit Proof Fence; Crocodile Dundee) and hosted by Films for Change Wollongong. It was a reflectively sobering experience to say the least.
The documentary opens with footage of young aboriginal dancers in sync and proceeds to take us on a journey around the landscape and terrain of the small indigenous town of Ramingining in Yolngu country on the edge of Arnhem Land. By 'landscape around the town' I refer to the distance of 500km or so that stretches between Ramingining and the next town (Darwin is approximately 560km away, and the voyage to get to Ramingining is not for the faint hearted, with an estimated 23 river crossings along dirt roads requiring 4WD vehicles only. There is, of course, the airport strip closeby, but as Gulpilil jokes, the airfares would often cost more than a trip to England including a personal session with the Queen herself!).
If we were to stop and ponder this distance, it would be like travelling from Sydney to the Victorian border without passing a town. This is almost impossible for those of us living in urban centres to fathom. Later in the film we learn that the town receives its supplies via a barge once a week, to which it stocks the one and only store in Ramingining, accessed by the locals by way of 'money cards' distributed by the Australian Government.
The footage of the town captured in the filming presents a bleak existence - including stray dogs hunting kangaroos on a piece of land that is not considered traditional country for most of the residents. Gulpilil explains how five clans have been reined into the town away from their traditional areas, stripping these Aboriginal people of their connection to their country and grouping them with clans of different languages and tribal lores.
"No-one from any government has ever known our language...how can they know us?" asks Gulpilil the narrator, leaving his audience to grapple with this very obvious question - a question that has somehow been shifted to the shadows in light of other, more 'important' factors in our own government's negotiations with our first nations peoples.
In one of the many moments of reflection I had during the filming, I felt a sad sense of shame creep somewhere deep within me, ashamed that this treatment and blatant ignorance had not yet been adequately addressed by those in power in our Country.
The film focuses in on two Elders in the Ramingining community; men who were brought up in the traditional cultural environment and who are respected and trusted for their wisdom within the local Aboriginal groups. But as Gulpilil laments, the government has not seen this wisdom and has completely disregarded the fact that these men speak five separate Aboriginal languages as well as English. They continue to throw money at money cards for these men (and all in the community), which Gulpilil believes will ultimately kill their people ('the bottles of coke, junk food, bread and meat - it's killing us' he says).
This documentary also cleverly weaves in the cultural clash between 'white fellas' way of life and 'black fellas' ways; highlighting very correctly the impact of our material lifestyles and the endless rubbish that is building up in the town of Ramingining as a result. According to Gulpilil,
"Our people are literally choking on your culture", and after seeing the footage of the piles and piles of plastic waste, bottles, cans and other rubbish filling up the river beds, it's hard to argue this point.
In today's current climate of political inaction and resistance towards improving our natural environment, this comment made me realise there is so much more we could be learning from our first nations people - not only in respect of reconciliation and a genuine acknowledgement and respect of the cultural history of our country, but in helping our current plight with the environmental mess we now face following such papers as the Paris Agreement and recent UN report on species extinction.
I left the screening tonight not feeling uplifted or spirited, but hopeful that everyone else watching the film felt as I did - that this type of treatment and disrespect could no longer be tolerated, and that it was surely time that we listened properly and deeply to our First Nations people of our country about their future and the future of this beautiful country that we live in.
It is almost as if we need to turn the process completely on its head, to be open to an entirely different approach that might not fit our traditional lens on life - but to essentially 're-imagine' a new beginning for the 'cultural clash' described by Gulpilil.
It is time.
It is time for us to stop our talking and simply start listening.
For the overall message from Gulpilil was one of hope - as he said perhaps not for the current generation but for future generations.
I sat looking at the name 'Ramingining', and realised that if we move the 'a' and the 'm' and replace it with an 'e', what we now have is...... Reimagining.
Hi there and thanks for dropping by! I'm Tehla Jane and I'm a self-confessed word nerd, bookworm and yoga devotee from Wollongong, Australia. I love to wonder and wander, and especially love spending time with my two little girls and hubby Glen. My blog is inspired by my daily musings in my trusty journal, where I scribble out endless pages in almost illegible handwriting and occasionally convert this into a typed format! Welcome!