F

It can include the fishing town-cum-beach resort featured in films like High g Tide (Gillian Armstrong, 1987) and Mullet (David Caesar, 2001), but only T if you came from there in the first place, not if you moved there from the ® city as in the popular comedy-drama series SeaChange (Artist Services and g ABC-TV, 1998-2001). And not if you're a Pitt Street farmer growing avo- % cadoes, macadamias or coffee in the north, or running a boutique vineyard » in the south or west. And not if you're an Indigenous Australian for whom country might be a site of memory and identity and a basis for renegotiating settler definitions of Aboriginality.12

When city folk go to the country they are usually in some kind of trouble, existential or with the law, but when country folk arrive in the city (Mick Dundee in New York at the end of Crocodile Dundee, or Cathy Duncan in Canberra at the end of Message from Moree, for example) they usually manage to impress the urban sophisticates who underestimate their resourcefulness. If earlier Australian films (before the revival of the industry through government subsidy in the 1970s) were mostly concerned with Australia's ambivalent relation of dependency on the British motherland, films set in non-urban areas since the Mabo decision display different levels of awareness of historical debate about the legacy of violence on the frontier during the colonial years. The trauma of a settler family losing the farm has been explored in feature films (No Worries, The Bank) and in mini-series (The Farm) in terms of the deep attachment to land handed down from one generation of pioneers to the next. The frontier wars have been erased from memory in these terra nullius films: the enemy here is usually nature in the form of bushfire, drought, flood or pest, joined more recently by the deregulated banks and their promotion of foreign currency loans.

In films funded for broadcast on national television, however, there is a new kind of message coming from the country. In Heartland, a mini-series produced just after the 1992 Mabo decision and screened on ABC-TV in early 1994, before the Wik and native title legislation of 1996, issues of Aboriginality, identity, law and belonging are explored through social melodrama. Although the story is contemporary, the historical consciousness of the series stretches back before modernity and colonialism, and forward into a future based on a difficult and piecemeal process of reconciliation within families and communities, if not at the national level. In Cunnamulla, released in 2001, a small outback Queensland town at the end of the railway line appears to reprise the ugly working-class outback town featured in Wake in Fright g (Ted Kotcheff, 1971). Decades later, this prototypical remote town, once js enlivened by male rural workers, appears to be socially and economically " non-viable, at least as it is reprised in Cunnamulla. However, it is the enigma of everyday experience, etched into bodies and faces, and the endurance of

< habitual ways of thinking and living in towns like Cunnamulla, as the nether 2 world of colonial and global processes, that captures O'Rourke's attention in u his auteurist documentary. In Message from Moree, broadcast on ABC-TV in « 2003, the documentary form enables a relatively transparent argument about ^ practical reconciliation based on a mix of talking heads and observational £ footage.13 But the message itself retains something enigmatic, something

< untranslatable in the experience of Aboriginal administrator Cathy Duncan as she takes over the running of Moree's Aboriginal Employment Service, set up by white cotton farmer Dick Estens, in a northwest New South Wales cotton town notorious for its overt racism.

If there is something enigmatic and untranslatable in the messages coming from these films, the enigma has nothing to do with exoticising the other or the country. Rather, we draw on Jean Laplanche's argument that 'the message from the other' is enigmatic because the other (as a subject in Freud's sense) is already possessed by an unconscious history.14 The sense of something enigmatic, of something that is difficult to translate in these films, might be traced back to whatever the camera, as an optical unconscious, has picked up of the afterwardness of traumatic frontier histories buried in different parts of the country where the films were shot. On the peculiar temporal structure of trauma as belated and repetitive, Laplanche has insisted that traumatic experience involves two moments: 'it must be internalised, and then afterwards relived, revivified, in order to become an internal trauma'.15 Further, Laplanche argues that although the memory of the original event can be reinterpreted afterwards, there is always something enigmatic or untranslatable in traumatic experience.16 The enigmatic aspects of what we see and hear in these films will be considered here as messages from a repressed or not fully conscious past which has left memory traces in land, landscapes, faces, voices and bodies.

The untranslatable aspect of these messages, revealed in the unconscious optic of cinema (its close-ups, its mise-en-scene, its montage), arises from different understandings of what country might mean to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. These differences occur within the dynamic context of two laws: Law underpinning traditional Aboriginal societies and laws imposed by the transplanted British colony. The lack of a treaty between settler and Indigenous Australians means that the living system of two laws has never been officially recognised. The ABC-TV mini-series Heartland operates precisely in this territory, using the heightened morality play of melodrama to bring the shifting and permeable frontier between g black and white Australia into view. The mini-series is a significant break- 1

through as a collaborative project between the national film-funding bod- g

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment