My Country, Your Prison: Portrayal of Aboriginal Culture

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The twisted tale of Aboriginal kin in Australia is rendered richly personal in director Rolf de Heer’s dramatic feature, “Charlie’s Country.” Anchored by the enthralling, performance of indigenous icon David Gulpilil, a veteran of aboriginal cinematography appearing in films such as “Walkabout,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” and de Heer’s “The Tracker” and “Ten Canoes,” this atmospheric and cautionary tale of a “Blackfella” caught between two cultures illuminates perfectly the misunderstandings that arise when traditional Aboriginal culture and white bureaucracy live side by side.

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One of the main devices used by de Heer is the use of the Yolngu traditional language. The use of “foreign” language and subtitles have a double effect it brings a sense of alienation and foreignness to the white viewer. While signifying also that in modern day the aboriginals are viewed as the foreigners on their traditional land. They are positioned as a society dispossessed of their culture and struggling to survive as outsiders in a European society they have no real hope of being integrated into. The idea of the Aboriginals being separated and foreign to land is repeated throughout the film one of the ways de Heer achieves this is the camera angles and scenes. Ian Jones’ widescreen photography immerses the viewer in the Australian outback. These shots often include Charlie seamlessly blending in at being at one with nature representing the relationship between the aboriginals and the land. The “I don’t own the land; the land owns me” relationship that is at the forefront of the film and that the “whitefella” will never be able to understand or develop.

One of the predominant themes of Charlies Country is the ignorance of white Australia towards Aboriginals and their way of life. This is highlighted in Charlie’s police and judges encounters they are predominantly well-meaning but show no understanding of importance of culture and country to indigenous people. One magistrate asks if he can call the defendant “Charlie” because he has difficulty with foreign names. Australians have grown to recognise this lack of comprehension as the status quo in Australia. It is evident in every part of our society at the highest levels, politicians have struggled to find ways of dealing with the perennial problems of Aboriginal society. In this sombre story it is apparent that there are no magic cures for the despair apart from the determination of individuals to take control of their own lives. If Charlie, and Gulpilil, can come through, there’s hope for everyone.

It is evident that the Northern Territory intervention underpins Charlies Country. De Heer does so most obviously and effectively when Charlie is incarcerated. There is a series of repetitive shots and that end of each day of Charlie looking out through the prison wire that restricts him. The prison fence is contrastable to European colonisation and the Northern Territories intervention. De Heer is also able to make reference to the intervention through the constant imposing of regulation after regulation from the white bureaucracy that deny him his rights as a man “born not found in my Country”, as a hunter not a “recreational shooter” and – most importantly – as the owner of the land on which roads, police stations, government housing and all those rules have been imposed. Where others think they know what is best for him and his people and take away his spear or gun and tell him he can't hunt to feed himself. The tyranny of the powerful or the tyranny of the collective either way the free man, the individual, the traditional custodian is trampled and restricted.

One of the many issues that de Heer is able to successfully depict is the sense of worthlessness and boredom the aboriginals have. This is achieved mainly through the pace of the film de Heer and Gulpilil tell their story at an Aboriginal pace, with long periods of consideration and lengthy negotiation. The boredom and lifelessness of the Aboriginals is also seen in when Charlie is put behind bars. The first prison see is the stunning real-time sequence, in which Charlies thick mane of hair and full beard are shorn, completing his isolation and loss of freedom. Day after day he drops off a load of laundry with the same mechanical gestures. In the dining room, unappetising food is dished out with robotic efficiency. Gulpilil is seen in prison more as a lifeless, impassive carving than Man. The visual dullness of prison is contrasted with the immaculate beauty of the bush, in which the first half of the movie took place. The slow pace of the film suggest the white society will simply have to learn about that pace if we're ever going to understand the First Australians and work through all our problems together.

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My Country, Your Prison: Portrayal of Aboriginal Culture. (2021, January 12). WritingBros. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/my-country-your-prison-portrayal-of-aboriginal-culture/
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My Country, Your Prison: Portrayal of Aboriginal Culture [Internet]. WritingBros. 2021 Jan 12 [cited 2024 Jun 22]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/my-country-your-prison-portrayal-of-aboriginal-culture/
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