The Loop

This week, Australia rendered uncanny by ‘white dreaming,’ four decades of Adrian Martin’s incisive writing on film culture and a digital collection of archival portraits of local artists fill gaps in our cultural narrative.

Mainstream Australian culture’s insistence, in the past week, on continuing to traffic in the cheap comedy of Chris Lilley’s blackface nonsense, warrants a return to a brilliant piece on ABC online in June by Stan Grant on the ways in which Indigenous culture is always both present and absent in Australian ‘white dreaming’ stories. Palace of Memories, a documentary on artist Jonathon Jones’ work on the Sydney Garden Palace, pulls Grant into a “an eerie world, a world of loss and memory; a world both familiar and yet strange.” He then presents possibly one of the most cogent arguments anywhere for Picnic at Hanging Rock as “a white dreaming story, an initiation into the land itself” and a key moment acknowledging the eerie presence of Indigenous custodianship and the myth of terra nullius:

“The girls are forever lost, the school headmistress commits suicide and those who are left have been forever changed, no longer ‘British’ but now altered into something else — becoming Australian. [Scholar David] Tacey says the film creates a ‘grinding tension between the colonial overlay of society and the unconscious substratum of ancient and denied realities.’ Tacey sees Australia as immature, inauthentic. ‘This spirit of place,’ he writes, ‘is not mystical, it is social and geo-political.’ Picnic at Hanging Rock and Palace of Memories are each a meditation on what scholars Ken Gelder and Jane Jacobs have dubbed ‘Uncanny Australia.’ In their book published in the late 1990s, they posed questions about how ‘Aboriginal sacredness manifests itself in the public domain of the modern nation.’ They saw Australia as ‘unsettled,’ disturbed by the recognition of the ‘Aboriginal sacred.’”


Acclaimed Australian scholar and critic Adrian Martin (also a RealTime contributor in the 1990s) has launched a site archiving the accumulation of four decades of reviews, interviews, actor profiles, book reviews and essays about cinema. It’s an extraordinary resource for lovers of film, presented in the low-tech glory of 1990s-style HTML. Here is an especially entertaining and astute take on that beloved Aussie classic, Babe, by George Miller, futher pinpointing the uncanny incongruity identified by Grant in cultural objects made for the global market:

“Babe is not bland, but it is bizarre. A student of Australian culture might take it as the perfect picture of our national, cultural schizophrenia – since it overlays a nostalgic evocation of British pastoralism with a thick layer of sentimental Americana. It is especially disconcerting to see a local comic icon such as John Doyle (of Roy and HG fame) dubbed with an American accent.”


The National Film and Sound Archive has released a new collection of audio-visual and audio portraits of Australian artists from the 1950s to the 80s; each portrait is available to researchers and organisations for a fee. There are pieces on Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Rosalie Gascoigne, Margaret Olley, Olive Cotton, Banduk Marika and Martin Sharp. There’s also some really interesting archival material: home movies from Philippe Mora of the Melbourne art scene in the 1950s and newsreels from the 1960s that cover the controversy surrounding the Blue Poles acquisition and the year when no Archibald Prize was awarded. This is the sort of stuff you’d otherwise have to travel to Canberra to look at — a fantastic resource for artists, writers and culture lovers. A documentary on filmmaker and photographer Tracey Moffat and members of Boomalli Artist’s Cooperative is a particular highlight:

“Moffatt talks about growing up as ‘the only Aboriginal kid in the school photograph’ in the suburbs of Brisbane. She says: ‘In the different mediums I work in, photography and film, I’m basically concerned with contemporary Aboriginal society. Be it people living in a traditional way or living in the cities and … I’m wanting to depart from a documentary or ethnographic mode. I just feel that nowadays people tune out when they think ‘here we go again, another predicable documentary about Aborigines.’”

See excerpts from the collection here.

Top image credit: NFSA Archival image, Boomalli: Five Koori Artists — Tracey Moffatt, 1988

2 August 2017