In My Father's Country

In My Father's Country

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

You only have to watch the beginning of any film concerning the Aboriginal culture of Australia to realise how important history and rituals are to the Indigenous populace. Films which may contain images of those who have died carry a warning, so as not to offend many who believe all images of the departed should be destroyed after death.

Tom Murray’s compelling documentary deals with events at a different point on the journey of life - a coming of age ceremony for youngsters of the Dhuruputjpi community (population : 45). There is an interconnectedness to the rites of Aboriginal communities, an understanding that has existed for generations that, as this film shows, is still honoured and passed on to the next generation. But change is also an ever-present feature of Aboriginal life. While their young ones are learning about the rites of passage, ready to enter the Law Of Men, there are also fears from their elders that they will succumb to the ever-present threat presented by much of the rest of the Australian populace – the Law Of Money.

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Children the world over, however, are supremely adaptable beings, so that although it may appear incongruous to outsiders, to the little guys in this film, there is no disconnect between wearing a Bart Simpson T-shirt one moment and sacred regalia the next.

“Whitefella changes the law every year,” says one. “Our law was here already.” This creates a tension for communities. While practicing their own sacred rites, they must also adhere to rules which ensure they get cash from the Government.

Murray takes us on a journey, not just into this most sacred of ceremonies but also into the heart of a community, which is of the land rather than owning the land and where the ceremonies, rites of passage and life lessons are as complex and beautiful as the artwork they produce to keep up the community cash flow.

The nature photography - captured by cinematographer Leonard Retel Helmrich - is stunning, with boiling, stormy skies setting the scene perfectly for a documentary about a people so intimately familiar with the place where they dwell. The editing is also terrific, finding the contrast between the way the elders are constantly teaching the kids about their ancestry, their land, their rituals, and the education the community receive in the more formal setting of a schoolroom or computer class. The resulting film subtly invites you to draw your own conclusions as to which types of learning are the most important.

Murray has worked on several documentaries with the same community – and it shows. The adults and children are oblivious to the camera, allowing him to capture some of their most intimate moments in a way that never feels forced or invasive. Sensitively and poetically shot, Murray’s film offers a fascinating window into a culture which, although, vibrant and ancient is also under threat.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2009
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An intimate look at the coming-of-age ceremony and way of life of the Dhuruputjpi Aboriginal community.

Director: Tom Murray

Writer: Tom Murray

Starring: Galuma Maymuru, Will Stubbs, Dhukal Wirrpanda, Wuyal Wirrpanda

Year: 2008

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Australia

Festivals:

Australia 2009

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