Charlie’s Country Australia JOURNEY Section
This is both a tragic and a supremely comic film, starring David Gulpilil as Charlie. We first find Charlie living, not contentedly but modestly in a makeshift humpy on the edges of a piece of “community land”. We know it is community land because the first thing we see in this film is the notice forbidding the sale of any liquor.
Charlie exchanges greetings and insults with the local police; he helps some drug runners to hide and then leads the police with his “tracking skills” exactly to the spot where they are hiding. The hokum of this trick got the first real laughs, but later on genuine Aboriginal tracking saves Charlie’s life.
For reasons that are never made clear, Charlie has family in the community and they have a house, but he doesn’t live with them. So when the housing officer, a deeply unattractive “white fella” with a wall eye interviews Charlie, he points this out – and at the risk of offending the actor who may well have a wall eye, this semi-blindness seems to me highly significant. As Charlie points out more than once, the white fellas came and stole the land, they introduced tobacco and liquor both of which are poisoning the mobs and now they make laws that make it nearly impossible for any of the Aborigine groups to live how or where they want.
The film, paced slowly and languidly through some of the most beautiful country on the planet, addresses the old conundrum of Aboriginal life. The doctor, also white gets a job and a house that goes with the job, the Aboriginal man may get a house, but no job, but “sitting on the grass” as one white policeman shouts when Charlie is in trouble, “is not going bush”. But when he does try to go back to the old ways, Charlie gets sick with pneumonia brought on because his lungs are weakened from tobacco…
In the end, there is a redeeming moment but it brought the tears to my eyes at the same time. White fellas wrecked a perfect way of life, there is no way back really – however well-meaning the effort to find a solution it is going to take several lifetimes to solve.
Rolf de Heer, the Director has come to London with this film and his telling of how and why it was made underscores sharply the twin dilemmas facing the Aboriginal in his own land: drink and prison. In the film Charlie says “I was put in prison for being an Aborigine”. In real life David Gulpilil was in prison having pretty nearly drunk himself to death and this is a successful Aborigine. He is a well known Australian actor, his first film was Walkabout with Jenny Agutter, but he has made several highly successful films since then: Rabbit Proof Fence and Crocodile Dundee several indeed with Rolf de Heer – notably Ten Canoes and The Tracker and many others.
I do recommend that you look out for this film as it has got UK distribution so it will come to a cinema near you at some point.