Pemulwuy’s Resistance, and the Call for Modern Film Representation.

I ask you to imagine a new movie, a big budget Australian masterpiece. The star character being an historical Australian, charismatic and brave, a historical character who resisted the authorities and is an inspiration to many people today. No, I am not talking about Ned Kelly. I refer to the Aboriginal resistance warrior Pemulwuy. My research has found that Pemulwuy’s story is eligible for the big screen. This is a story that will lead to more positive Australian identities, for both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. It is clear that Pemulwuy is being celebrated in many forms in our culture; still, he deserves more collective memory.

There are books and a new ABC documentary about his life, yet some readers may ask who Pemulwuy was. Pemulwuy lived near Botany Bay, he was the leader of the Bidjigal people of the Darug language group. Born around 1750 New South Wales, Pemulwuy is noted for his guerrilla campaign against the British, from 1790 to his death in 1802. My research concluded that Pemulwuy used relatively successful guerrilla tactics in fighting, similar to those used by other Aboriginal groups on the frontier. Pemulwuy appears to be among the first to show the British settlers that the Aboriginal peoples were going to resist colonisation of their lands. Pemulwuy was followed by other ‘rebels’, including Yagan in Perth, who have become relatively well known.

Why is Pemulwuy being remembered? There is some evidence Pemulwuy persuaded the Eora, Dharug and Tharawal people to join his campaign against the newcomers. From 1790 Pemulwuy led raids on settlers from Parramatta, Georges River, Prospect, Toongabbie, Brickfield and Hawkesbury River. Between 1790 and 1797, Pemulwuy and his followers had killed at least 17 European settlers in the Sydney-Parramatta area, mainly in guerrilla style ambushes. These warriors, brave and united, posed considerable problems to the young colony. Indeed, a warrior from the Eora could throw four spears in the time it took an Eighteenth Century British soldier to reload his flintlock musket. As impressive as these facts are in theory, the reality of these conflicts gave distinct and increasing advantage to the European guns. Nevertheless, Pemulwuy’s resistance continued throughout the decade.

In 1797 Pemulwuy was chased with hundreds of his people to Parramatta. His large congregation of allied warriors had at this point, ransacked many farms in the northern Parramatta region, and killed whoever got in their way. The event that followed involved what can be called the first battle on Australian soil. According to the sources, there were relatively few conventional exchanges in the history of indigenous resistance; this makes the battle an important event. In March, the indigenous war band, said to be one hundred men strong, confronted a large group of British troops and armed settlers at Parramatta. Pemulwuy taunted the British and charged into battle. Many people were killed, including fifty, or more of Pemulwuy’s men. Pemulwuy was wounded and captured, but later escaped. The ‘Battle of Parramatta’ must have been quite the event, hundreds of spears jaunting through the air, lines of redcoats firing muskets, the wounded, dead and dying scattered piecemeal. Potentially the stuff of Hollywood, certainly the stuff that inspires national pride and nostalgia.

Pemulwuy continued to lead raids around lane Cove and the Hawkesbury during the period after 1797 to 1802. According to the historical sources, there are clear examples of Pemulwuy using economic warfare, mainly the slaughter of British livestock, and burning down houses and farms. Resistance tactics similar to these were to be used for over a hundred years in the frontier war. Pemulwuy’s warriors killed many settlers. It is clear from the sources that Pemulwuy preferred these guerrilla tactics over conventional ones, perhaps as a result from losing the battle at Parramatta. In 1802, Pemulwuy, the man who was never afraid of European guns, was shot dead by British sailors. Pemulwuy’s twelve year resistance was continued by his son, but few other Aboriginal warriors were as successful as the ‘rainbow warrior’.

I suggest that Pemulwuy’s story rivals many others: William Tell in Switzerland, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and Che Guevara in South America, George Washington in America, even Robin Hood in England. Unfortunately, his collective memory does not. Nevertheless, Pemulwuy still makes headlines. In 2008, Prince William agreed to act upon a request put to him by Aboriginal elders to assist in returning Pemulwuy’s missing skull. Many prominent contemporary artists are clearly inspired by his legacy, especially indigenous art. In 2009, Brenda Saunders made headlines with her creation the Pemulwuy cloak. The popular artist Ron Hurley painted Pemulwuy as he was one of his most cherished heroes. Pemulwuy has featured heavily in contemporary music. Many indigenous musicians write music inspired by Pemulwuy, including James Asher, Paul Jarman and the Birralee Blokes. Interestingly his legacy does extend further than indigenous culture, the triennial singing event Pemulwuy National Voice Festival is for Australian singers of all ages and backgrounds. The organisers of this event are non-indigenous, yet they still pay homage to the resistance leader in every show.

Pemulwuy’s story is too long to discuss here in detail. I encourage any interested readers to delve deeper into this fascinating colonial history. I agree with author David Dale in 2008 when he calls for a modern movie that represents Pemulwuy’s resistance. Dale calls for Geoffrey Rush as Arthur Phillip, Guy Pearce as Watkin Tench, the humane officer who leads many patrols after him. The story would include many heroes and villains. But who has the charisma to be Pemulwuy? I suggest there would be many young indigenous artists that would be honoured to represent a national hero to many of them. The Pemulwuy story would make a great Australian movie with an enduring message. More importantly, it would confirm, to indigenous Australians, that many Australians value their history, their heroes, and their struggles.

Further Reading:

WHO WE ARE: The man who nearly changed everything A column about Australia by David Dale, published in The Sun-Herald, 16/2/2008 http://blogs.sunherald.com.au/whoweare/archives/2008/03/who_we_are_the_11.html
Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia (UNSW Press, 2007)
David Collins. An account of the English colony in New South Wales (vol. 2, 1797) http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/ItemViewer.aspx?itemid=846072&suppress=N&imgindex=49

Willmot, E., 1987, Pemulwuy – The Rainbow Warrior, Weldons.( A fictionalised recount using early colonial documents as source)

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12 comments on “Pemulwuy’s Resistance, and the Call for Modern Film Representation.

  1. Nathan Stormont says:

    Hi Chris,

    A very interesting article. I live in Parramatta, in the heart of Pemulwuy’s country, and pass many of the sites he would have seen and possibly interacted with (e.g. Parramatta River, Old Government House, Elizabeth Farm, Experiment farm, Third Settlement Reserve, etc.) almost daily. I have to question, however, the feasibility of success for a film about a man very few Australians could firmly relate to. To me, it seems you are trying to sell this film based on archetypal ‘Aussie’ values—the working class larrikin who resists authority, “charismatic and brave” – the comparison with Ned Kelly, already a folk hero amongst Australians, confirms this. I’m guessing that in your mind, it would be almost another ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’, both in terms of box office success and the message you’re trying to get across. A brave hero fighting off an alien oppressor. The difference is that in any film about Pemulwuy the intended audience and the oppressor are one and the same.

    Take the comparison with Robin Hood. While any film on Robin Hood would be attended by British audiences, they can easily relate to him because a) both the audience and the hero are British, and b) while the enemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham, is also British, he is clearly marked by his wealth, status and evil deeds as being the antagonist. Similarly, a film about the life of Ho Chi Minh may be received well in Vietnam, because a) Ho Chi Minh is Vietnamese, and b) because Ho Chi Minh and his comrades are fighting an alien oppressor—the French and Americans. I think, too, that this explains the success of ‘Tomorrow when the war began’ – that it positioned the Australian every (wo)man against an alien oppressor, at the same time feeding off Australian insecurities about Asia. In both of the above instances, audiences can easily relate with the hero, because they come from the same ethnic/social/political group and are therefore sided with the ‘good’ against the ‘bad’. Any film in which white Australians are the enemy would probably not be received well in this country, particularly when such issues as frontier conflict are highly contentious. I think any attempt to dehumanise colonisers (e.g. the Parramatta stockmen and landowners he killed) would create an outcry, particularly considering the enduring popular myth of the blameless, true blue Aussie stockman (Just out of interest, what was the demographic of the whites killed between 1790 and 1802? Adult male? Any females? Children? Were they all stockmen, or landowners, or just any person who happened to “get in their way”?).

    That said, I am not suggesting that a film on Pemulwuy should not be made. I would very happily go out and see this film. I think it would be an interesting film to make, and to watch, even if just for exposure to a vastly different perspective. Also, I really love your suggestions for actors – Geoffrey Rush <3!! What I am suggesting, however, is that most Australians would find it difficult to relate to a film or a figure which positions them as the enemy.

    I’m looking forward to hearing your response,

    Cheers,
    Nathan

    • chrisdumaine says:

      Hi Nathan,

      Thank you for reading my article, and for your feedback. You have raised some interesting points regarding the proposed film. I feel that any film depicting indigenous people and their history needs to be carefully designed to minimise any complications in the nation conscience. Nevertheless, I argue that Pemulwuy’s story as a movie, is far more appropriate than, say, the killing of innocent indigenous people in the movie The Tracker, which is set in the 1920’s. The killers here are certainly Australian, and they are certainly oppressors. In 1790, little was known of the Aboriginal people, and killing them was not on the British agenda. There is a fair amount of evidence that the British (at this point) treated the ‘natives’ quite well. An example of this occurred in 1789 when 16 convicts attacked a tribe. The convicts discovered the well-honed fighting techniques of the warriors the hard way. On return the convicts, that were not severely injured or killed, were each whipped for cruelty to the “natives being contrary to his Majesty’s intentions” (Collins 1798). I suggest that the director could take advantage of this history not to offend those Australians who strongly identify with the British. In saying this, I suggest that these Australians are dwindling in numbers. I for one am a white Australian, who feels/has no connection to the British colonials. I think it is debatable whether the British colony of Sydney in 1790 can be classified as “white Australia”.

      In any case, the art of film making allows a director to have some control on these outcomes, for example, one can’t help but feel sorry for the child killing Jimmy in the old film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. This is even the case with the racist white killer policeman that is Garry Sweets character in The tracker. The fact Pemulwuy killed British colonials, no doubt including women and children, would require some thought in proceeding. This type of violence is perhaps better left the imagination- as in the tracker, where it is portrayed by art. Countless movies have shown that the old fashioned typecasts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ need not be necessarily applied.
      In regards to comparisons with Ned, I used this notion to gather interest. I actually feel that Pemulwuy could become more of a national folk hero than Kelly. It may be an assumption, but surely the community that really loves the old Irish criminal are a minority. Popular culture has helped this love affair. In any case, thousands of Australians would still relate to Pemulwuy- white and non-white. Australians have managed to portray Gallipoli as the footing for a legend, a legend that involves mateship, bravery etc. I must assume that many Australians do not think that we were the invaders, the oppressors, when they consider this history. I believe the key to portraying difficult events on the big screen is do the opposite of de-humanising the characters involved, re-humanising (for want of a better word) is the key to satisfying historical agendas. However, It is definitely possible that any movie about an indigenous resistance fighter such as Pemulwuy would be/remain a cult classic and never consumed by the masses.

      Cheers

      • Nathan Stormont says:

        Hi Chris,

        Thanks for your reply. You too have raised some interesting points here. As I said, a film about Pemulwuy would be one I would be interested seeing. And, in comparison with the other examples you have provided, such a film would probably be quite appropriate in bringing such a viewpoint to the public consciousness. We both agree on your final point—that the film would probably remain a cult classic. The inclusion of a scene in which bad white convicts are whipped for attacking aboriginals, too, would likely soften the blow to more diehard Aussies.

        I still have some concerns however. Firstly, with regards to the issue of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. We’re speaking strictly hypothetical here, and it comes down to where and for who the film is made. If it’s made for the ‘progressive’ crowd who would travel to Dendy’s in Newtown to see it, sure, such a distinction is not entirely necessary. However, in a wider, blockbuster (to use your words) release, the average person would make that distinction anyway, regardless of how vague the director intended it to be. People instinctively draw these distinctions themselves anyway and, if not provided by the director, the demographic of the cinema would make their own conclusions. Yes, white Australia may be dwindling, but it’s not dead yet—going through quite a reactionary stage (Cronulla riots, various extreme-right ultranationalist groups, One Nation etc. over the last decade). A number of average Australians agree, even if just on socio-economic grounds, with some of these groups (hearing at work or on my way to uni, South Park-esque “They took our jerbs! Durk er jeerbs!” with relation to Asian, Indian or Middle Eastern emigrants confirms this).

        Coming off this, we need to address what conclusions new emigrants (beyond refugees) could source from this film. As newcomers in an environment where words like ‘invasion’ and ‘occupation’ are being thrown around (often thrown against the newcomers themselves), and considering the unavoidable racial aspects of the proposed film (black vs. white, a binary which could very easily be inversed) how do you prevent this film being seen as an attack on multicultural Australia? Again, this is a very, very hypothetical discussion. Though this film would probably be made by a ‘progressive’ filmmaker, the inescapable idea behind it (newcomers vs. the original inhabitants) could easily be twisted of adapted into a very different context, or emigrants seeing this film could draw their own conclusions based off this idea.

        Concerning your second last paragraph now. Would this violence, ‘left to the imagination’, cover all acts of violence against aboriginals too? And if so, do you have a film at all? Frontier conflict is an integral part to this story, because without it there would be no story. If you include the violence by white colonists against aboriginals, but don’t include—or include in an artsy way—aboriginal attacks against women and children, automatically conclusions are drawn between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, and your own agenda is revealed. Not to mention you would have produced a skewed history. People would instinctively see the white guys as being bad, because they’re killing aboriginal women and children. Conversely, if an attack against a white homestead was done artistically (e.g. a montage), or the violence implied, because of the less graphic nature of the violence, such attacks are likely to be overlooked. I think that the Kelly legend is so persistent because of such a skewing: we’re reminded of all the acts of bastardry by the cops against the Kelly gang, but all their own acts are muffled out, or mentioned only in passing. If all violence was shown, however, people would be allowed to form their own conclusions—though as a result Pemulwuy would likely to lose his chance at being a ‘folk hero’.

        I really disagree with your last point, Chris. While I did draw comparison to Ned Kelly, I also drew much stronger comparisons with a range of folk heroes, across many spaces. I was in Melbourne a few months ago doing all the touristy things and Kelly fever is in full swing even now. Hundreds of kids in Melbourne Goal, the gallery of SLV containing his armour and letters packed out. Again this relates back to the suggestions I made in my first comment, in particular the one on Robin Hood. Firstly, Ned Kelly is white, as in a large percentage of Australia’s population. Secondly, while his antagonists are also white, decades of skewed history have presented Kelly and his goals as being almost righteous against the greed and bastardry of the Victorian police. I myself don’t agree with this, but that’s how it’s happened. In this case, racial concerns take a backseat to, say, socio-economic ones, as is the case with Robin Hood. However, they are still important—we subconsciously relate to these figures based off the colour of their skin. If we couldn’t relate to them, their ‘noble’ deeds would quickly become ignoble—If Kelly were aboriginal, I can almost imagine the average Bogan, in between swilling from a can of Jim Beam on the western train at 11am, saying: “An abo killing a coppa? What’s special about that, moite?” It’s sad and I don’t agree with it, but it’s true. For these reasons, Pemulwuy will never become a folk hero comparable, or even surpassing, Ned Kelly, simply because very few people could relate to him. In your final point you condemn your own argument—if the film remains a cult classic, as it most likely would, Pemulwuy would never break beyond the contained consciousness of a very small group of people. The sort of people who have already formed their opinions on Pemulwuy anyway, even before such a film comes out.

        Thanks for your reply,

        Cheers,
        Nathan

  2. Nathan Stormont says:

    the likely audience, not the intended audience ** (in the first paragraph) – My bad!

    • chrisdumaine says:

      Hi Nathan,

      Thank you for the time you have shared with me on this post. You have again suggested many interesting issues that any filmmakers considering this project would have to consider. I must make a quick reply to your last paragraph though; I argue that my suggestion of an alternative “possibility” hardly condemns my main argument.

      Cheers

      Chris

  3. samwyper says:

    Hi Chris,

    Pemulwuy is indeed a very interesting historical figure in Australia’s indigenous settler contact history. Following with the success of previous Australian films that focus on Australian Aborigines, such as Ten Canoes, I would look very much forward to watching a film based around the character of Pemulwuy. From your blog entry I understand that Pemulwuy was a great warrior to be feared and revered. However, there were a couple of aspects about Pemulwuy which you didn’t cover. I’m aware that Pemulwuy, as well as being a great warrior, was also considered to be a clever man by many Aborigines (and perhaps even some colonisers). For example, he is reputed to have broke out of jail in almost impossible circumstances, so much so, that many attributed magical powers to him (this is at least my basic understanding). I imagine this would be an aspect of Pemulwuy that would sit better with Aboriginal peoples than with the current non-Aboriginal population. I am curious to see what your opinion is about how a film on Pemulwuy should be portrayed. How you would negotiate around the Aboriginal conceptions of Pemulwuy without presenting a too one sided Euro-centric narrative of Pemulwuy?

    Thanks for an enjoyable read,
    Sam.

  4. chrisdumaine says:

    Hi Sam,

    Thank you for reading my article and for your feedback. Yes, this is an important issue I left out of my blog, but not my actual paper. According to the sources, Pemulwuy did indeed escape prison; this was after the battle at Parramatta. Pemulwuy had reportedly been shot several times, was bound in irons and still managed to escape, this incident leading to more people considering him a carradhy (clever man). Pemulwuy was admired and feared by whites as well as Aboriginal people.

    In 1800 John Washington Price, recently arrived on the ship Minerva, observes that;

    “Pummil-woy [sic] (who frequents Sidney & Paramatta)’ is known to say that ‘no gun or pistol can kill him … He has now lodged in him, in shot, slugs [sic] and bullets about eight or ten ounces of lead, it is supposed he has killed over 30 of our people, but it is doubtful on which side the provocation was given” (Collins 1797).

    Regarding “Aboriginal conceptions of Pemulwuy without presenting a too one sided Euro-centric narrative of Pemulwuy”; I feel this would entail some big efforts by the film makers. Indigenous historians and custodians would certainly have to work closely with the producers. If you haven’t already, I strongly advise you to watch the film, the tracker. This film portrays difficult events (one linked to a police massacre in the 1920’s), but the indigenous characters becomes so empowered, you soon forget about the massacre. Additionally although it is clear in the tracker, the gun toting whites are in power, the power of individual Aboriginal identity seems to rise above the lack of personal freedoms. I would suggest that my reply to Nathan (above) contains some additional points of view you may find of further interest.

    Cheers.

  5. amelia1710 says:

    This was a very well written and interesting post, using popular media as a method of counteracting mainstream misconceptions of Australian history is an intriguing idea. The History Wars have served to challenge constructions of Australian history, primarily within an academic context. It is true that the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives is now a mandatory component of all KLA’s across both primary and high school syllabuses. Aboriginal perspectives however, are seldom present within mainstream society. Your suggestion of a film based on the life of Pemulwuy and his resistance to the European invasion offers a method of bringing Aboriginal perspectives into mainstream society.
    The film would also work within the History Wars debate, as it would challenge popular understandings of Aboriginal resistance to the invasion. Many people do not know that the Frontier Wars occurred, or indeed that there was any strong resistance towards the European invaders. Just the term ‘Frontier Wars’ is contentious. The film would offer an opportunity to challenge these understandings and to educate in regards to Aboriginal methods of resistance, many of which took the form of guerrilla war style tactics.
    I think the idea of a film based upon Pemulwuy’s life would also bring to life a character considered by many Indigenous Australians as both a hero and a freedom fighter. Hero’s within the Aboriginal community are seldom present within mainstream society, the film therefore offers a method developing shared histories and perspectives. Aboriginal people such as Pemulwuy did resist the invasion, however in the non-Indigenous community they are seldom known. A film would re-create an important resistance made by Indigenous Australians, shedding light on the fact that we did seek to preserve and maintain our land, culture and language. The film would challenge negative misconceptions about Aboriginal resistance that continue to plague many Indigenous people today.

    All in all, a thought provoking and interesting post.

  6. Tony McGrath says:

    In the late 90s – fresh out of film school – I tried to get the rights to Eric Willmot’s book with the aim of making a feature film. I actually got quite close, but the project fell apart because of disagreements between myself and the guy who held the rights (he wanted to direct, but had no experience). I gave up because of that and also because of the daunting task of making my first film on such a massive story which would have cost upwards of $50M.

    I’m now in Hollywood, about to direct a film called ‘Passenger’ (based loosely on my own life as a twenty year old in Brisbane and Ipswich) and produced by Forest Whittaker’s company, but intend to come home next year. I’ve always thought that the Pemulwuy film should probably be directed by an Aboriginal filmmaker, but if no-one else steps up to take on this incredible story then I will again attempt to get the rights, write the screenplay and try and get it made. It’s a story that must be told.

    I’d appreciate your feedback and any help you could give me in getting this film made.

    • Richard Gardiner, balgowlah, nsw says:

      This could all be intergrated into a film or miniseries based on first settlement in general. A great story with heaps of themes, drama and give context to pemulwuy’s story, along with bennelong, colbee & yemerrawanyea. Just make it realistic, so all perspectives can be seen. We haven’t got anything like that which could shown on australia day to remind us what its about. Love the suggestions for the actors. Rush looks like Phillip, and would be supremely capable in depicting this underrated, complex figure, who was very enlightened for the time.

  7. Travis Marke says:

    Hi Chris & for that matter, Tony McGrath & Nathan Stormont. For the past three or so years, since re digesting the entire back catalogue of Tolkien (with his use of English history and cultural practices, for e.g. storytelling and song), and musing upon my entire life of watching movies based upon American history, I began to realise that as a white australian searching for his/her own folklore, that you can a) look back to the motherland (England) and the “Bound for Botany Bay” settlement stories, b) root your heritage in tales of our footy and cricket prowess, or c) look back past it all to the stories of the first inhabitants. I realised that if we are to be a truly united nation, we need to face up to our past, explore it, and move forward together.

    Fresh from my absorption of the extended edition Lord Of The Rings films, I began to imagine and talk constantly of the marrying of such emotive and captivating film making techniques with my lifelong fascination and empathy (yes, i’m white, grew up in a very comfortable middle class area, with fairly conservative, right leaning parents, and NO aboriginal people) with the plight of the indigenous forebears through the time of invasion/colonisation. Coupled with Peter Jackson-esque attention to the magic and myth surrounding Aboriginal belief systems and practices, a film, or better still a trilogy (yes a trilogy!) of big budget films on this topic would, if presented well, catch the imagination of most Australians (a grandiose goal but that is exactly what is needed).

    Then, at the beginning of this year, I read Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior, and new I had found just the character we need to focus this exploration.

    Concerns of the relevance of Pemulwy’s story to really “white” aussies, as raised by Nathan, can be allayed when you look at a few key factors in this fictional depiction of the story, which I will outline in a moment. I believe this book would provide an ideal basis for a screenplay, as it situates itself perfectly in the hearts and minds of both it’s white and native protagonists, with all the strengths and flaws of each laid bare. Nathan, if you have not yet read the book, it is well worth doing so as I believe you will find many of your doubts answered. However, here’s a summary of a few aspects of the book I believe could be key to situating this movie smack bang in the collective conscience of all Australians, building from my previously mentioned point that we all love a hero and a blockbuster (don’t we?):

    * the book has several white (Irish and English) characters that are equally disgruntled by the oppressive nature of the English governor/military, and join forces with Pemulwuy. These are namely the Irishman, McDonough, whose crime was to make arms for the Irish against the English, who ends up marrying a Nargel (or Narewe), as well as fighting valiantly alongside him, and whose feeling of alienation from his roots is well documented as he decides whether to join Pemulwuy. The others are also Phillip himself, in his perhaps naively colonialist attempts at harmony, the bushrangers, William Knight, and the character of Kate Donovan, an escaped convict woman who lends a charismatic, grounded and balanced voice to Pemulwuy’s ear.

    * The book can also be seen as a document of the broad ranging sadness and personal cost to all sides when a country is invaded, not so much a white vs black binary as Nathan is concerned about. The book shows us how Pemulwuy was in some ways the anomaly, the sole warrior-like- physical manifestation of a collective consciousness of resistance amongst an Aboriginal people who, by their very nature, were not aggressive warmongers. He inspired and rallied them to levels of warfare and resistance that were sadly unsustainable, as Kate Donovan, when answering to Pemulwuy’s concerns on some of the Eora’s (Aboriginal’s) slow desertion of traditional ways of life for the British, explains, “Pemulwuy…there is little else for them. The British will not let them be, and for the most part they are not up to fighting with you” (p.259)

    *Further to the above point, the book employs a very useful device that in my own sketches of a screenplay (I hold no aspirations to be the writer, I just want to see it made), I utilised as the perfect tool of perspective for a potential film. Namely, the book LOOKS at Pemulwuy for the most part, through the eyes of Kiraban or Awabakal as he is later named, a foreign Aboriginal that comes to Sydney and joins Pemulwuy’s cause. The book cleverly portrays Awabakal’s transformation from boy to warrior, depicting the characters own shock at the warrior he has become when he kills some British in front of his estranged parents later in the book, “This is what they have made of me…They (the British) are a savage, brutal people” p.254. Similarly, when raiding with the newly involved Tharawal people, Awabakal kills a fleeing white girl, much to the shock of his Tharawal companions. In answer to Nathan’s suggestion that these acts would need to be glossed over in order to present Pemulwuy as a folk hero, I disagree. They are all part of the story, alongside the multitude of murders and antagonisms perpetuated by the colonialists (I see no need in illustrating these from the book or history here, as it is a given that they would be included in any films).

    FInally, I have much more to say, much of which is not necessary on this blog, but want to make one last point.

    This maybe a contentious point to make, but I don’t necessarily believe it has to be an indigenous director that makes this film. I believe that if the primary aim of making this film or films, is to tell the story and have history changed to reflect a greater part of truth, then we need to influence and appeal to the portion of Australia that is culturally and structurally responsible for its suppression, the majority that is still white Australia. Therefore, if we want to share the cinemagoers dollars with the Hobbit part 2, Ironman 3 etc, there may need to be some Hollywood style concessions made here. Of course it is absolutely necessary to have Aboriginal people advising, writing, acting in and styling the film, but I think that we need BIG NAMES to make the BIGGEST IMPACT, in terms of directors/studios etc. So if it means McDonaldizing (that should be a word) the story to make it digestible to the greatest portion of suburban cineplex goers, so when they go home they can daydream over their fries about the courage of Pemulwuy instead of Frodo, then so be it.

    A cult classic is NOT and should not be what we’re aiming for here. It should challenge white australia’s perceptions of themselves and their history, and pandering to their fears and influence will not help the cause. There will never be a truly perfect time in our evolution as a nation for this film to breach this gap, and it could be argued that the longer we leave it, the more the sands of time and history wars will blow over the truth. If the rising popularity and success of films such as The Tracker, Ten Canoes, Rabbit Proof Fence and Samson & Delilah are any guide, then I believe the film can be presented in a way that says “it’s okay to admit this happened”, and instil a pride in our indigenous people and their history, OUR history. We are a cultural melting pot here in Australia, and we need these stories to connect us to the country and respect what we have.

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