I went for a movie last night. Not the fast-past, steamy, nail-biting, popcorn-munching kind of movie. Nope—it was the first time I’d been to a cinema theatre in Canberra and it was for a movie about Aboriginals. It was Another Country.
To put it the words of the narrator, “This film is about what happened my culture when it was interrupted by your culture.”
And as soon as the echoes of that resounding statement died down, the screen flared up with young Aboriginal men, dancing to rock and roll music, shaking their hips, faces contorted in concentration, and enjoying, apparently, the westernisation that had crept into their veins, pulsating through their feet.
With gut wrenching grace, the film touched upon many issues that Australian natives endured during the initial stages of colonisation.
“Then the white men came. With their cattle. If we didn’t do exactly what they told us to do in our own land, they would shoot us or poison us.”
As I heard the unwavering voice of the narrator, gliding over emotional scars and scabs oozing with fresh blood and pain, I shuddered. It was normal. And that was scary. As the audience, every moment of revelation was a gasp of shock, while it was everyday reality for the voice that told the story.
The more I watched, the more I understood how Aboriginals have been isolated in their own land. The documentary revolves around one small town in Northern Territory, emphasising the lack of everything there. When the government built a school, a store, and basic medical facilities, Aboriginal people from neighbouring lands had to move into a single town, where they were given periodic pension money to spend on supermarket-grade food that were ferried across or flowing into from other parts of the country. Since the town was devoid of everything else, including amiable weather, adults had no jobs to earn from. They were given money to buy things that the government intended them to—and as I watched kids and adults gulp down bottles of teeth-rotting Coca Cola and other carbonated, sugary drinks as if it were water, I cringed.
Alcohol is banned in the town. But soda that’s just as disastrous to health is abundant, encouraged, and in a sense, shoved upon these people. With nothing to do other than sit around, play cards, and participate in traditional celebrations, young men with a mischievous spark are punished. Possession of alcohol and kava are enough to land them in jail. About it the narrator says, “They get sent to jail, to Darwin, for doing things that other Australians are allowed to do.”
As if these youngsters aren’t Australian at all, just because they’re Aboriginal.
It was abominable to think of it that way. But it was more shuddering to realise that that’s how the rest of the world’s treated Aboriginals all along.
What a load of rubbish we are for looking down on fellow humans that way. Rubbish—the film covered that too.
When you think of it, the native people use nature’s elements to make baskets, tools, and almost everything else they need for living. When these things die, they return to the earth and people make new ones. However, the outskirts of the town are lined with garbage, broken appliances, and products used no longer. As the camera panned over piles and piles of old stuff now replaced by newer, shinier stuff, you can’t help but feel claustrophobic. And to imagine people living with all of that in their backyard—shame on us.
“We never had rubbish. Everything comes from the bush; everything goes back to the bush. […] We’re choking on rubbish. That means we’re choking on your culture.”
This documentary was eye-opening. It’s an assertive stance against the unfairness that’s become so internalised and normal in today’s Australia. And even though millions of people try and consciously avoid harming the essence of Aboriginal culture, or be patronising, it feels as if rules that require least 3 Aboriginal students in the opera club is also a way of enforcing the western culture in them.
This movie’s made me think—what’s happened between these two cultures isn’t a simple matter of right or wrong. And as we try to solve it, we will run into polarising problems. Finding the right balance will take time and and open minds. Question is, do we have that luxury?