Monday, September 16, 2013

Review of Dingo, Rabbit Proof Fence and a flim clip by Jonathan Safran

At our last gathering we discussed a film, video clip and a book about the legacy of colonialism in Australia and Aboriginal Australians’ struggles for social justice.  The book was Dingo by Sally Dingo.  It tells the story of the Dingo family from Sally's perspective as a non-Aboriginal woman, who married into the Dingo family.  The book follows several members of the family as they live, travel and work in towns and on stations in Western Australia.  By tracing the trials, tribulations and resilience of the Dingo family, the author exposes the contentious history of Western Australia. 

We also discussed the film, RabbitProof Fence.  This extraordinary film follows the experiences of several Aboriginal children forcibly taken from their parents to be ‘re-educated’ and assimilated into white Australian culture.  Similarly to Dingo, the film showcases a broader part of Australian history through the lives of individual people.  By tracing the personal stories of Molly Craig, Daisy Craig Kadibill, and Gracie Fields, the film tells the story of the stolen generation.  Thousands of ‘half-caste’ children were taken from their families and forced to give up their language and cultural ties. 

The third item we discussed was a filmclip by Jonathan Safran.  In the clip, a group of Aboriginal people approach a house in Melbourne with a sign on it that says ‘We acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as the traditional owners of the land’.  The Aboriginal actors, directed by Safran, tell the tenants of the house that they are there to move in since they saw the sign.  It is supposed to be a comedic attempt to expose white people’s empty rhetoric about reconciliation and justice.  But it misses the mark as the Aboriginal people in this clip come across as pawns in Safran’s joke.  Of course symbolic gestures alone are inadequate to ensure meaningful change.  I don’t know that anyone would argue otherwise, but the easy target of belittling symbolic gestures – such as plaques on buildings, Welcome to Country ceremonies, etc. – does not mean that these gestures are replaced by bolder, more meaningful, action.  It means that they are replaced by the silence that pervades much of non-Aboriginal Australia’s approach to dealing with the history and legacy of oppression that continues today.  It would have been far more interesting to hear from the actors themselves and their take on the signs, their part in the clip, and Safran’s attempt.  This would have, no doubt, contained a range of responses spanning both comedy and tragedy.  Increasing the range and scope of Aboriginal voices heard on radio, TV, in movies and in books is long overdue.  Creating the space for people to tell their stories, what they have endured, and how they’ve survived, such as those highlighted in Dingo and Rabbit Proof Fence, are an essential part of achieving social justice.