A Frustrating Riddle
The legend of Lasseter's Reef is revisited in Luke Walker's documentary 'Lasseter's Bones', a moving film that tries to answer the mystery of Australia's lost gold.
The legend of Lasseter's Reef has attracted followers of all forms in the years since Harold Lasseter first claimed to have made the discovery in the late 19th century. From nutters and cranks to gold-diggers desperate for the tale to be true, the mystery of the seven mile long quartz reef filled with gold has captured the imaginations of people from all over the globe. As the story goes, Lasseter discovered the reef somewhere between the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and spent the rest of his life trying to prove its existence to his many disbelievers. He died many years later trying to get back to the reef.
Luke Walker first heard of Lasseter's Reef from a friend while living in London years ago. It quickly became an obsession for the young Englishman. His latest documentary Lasseter's Bones is the end result, a film seven years in the making. "I was fascinated by the prospect that there could be a reef of gold that big, just lost in the middle of Australia," laughs Walker. "This is what I was filling all my spare time with - this ludicrous obsession really."
The more Walker read, the more he wanted to dig deeper into the story. He tracked down Lasseter's son Bob, and after much deliberation, decided to call him. Bob Lasseter had spent much of his 85 years trying in vain to find his father's reef, still heading into the desert each year in the hope that he'd be able to vindicate his father against all his detractors. Hesitant at first, Bob soon bonded with Walker, providing the turning point in Walker's documentary.
"Bob is a beautiful, noble old man," offers Walker. "The thing about Bob is that he's a very quiet, gentle fellow and he always has been. And he has been really hurt by the things that have been said about his father over the years. And his dad died when he was six, so he never really knew him. I think that the reason he keeps going out year after year is to try and perhaps fill that void, to try and make a connection and understand this man that he never knew, and to vindicate the family name and vindicate his father.
"And he's done it in a very quiet and determined way because that's the kind of man he is. He hasn't jumped up and down trying to get attention, he hasn't argued his father's case in a public forum because that's not his style. He has just quietly gone out year after year and tried to find it because that's all that he needs to do. And there's something so incredibly noble about that - such a quiet determination and such a quiet dignity."
Bob's determination clearly moved Walker, and is the driving force of his film. With so many doubters, it would be easy to approach the project with too much scepticism. After finally completing his labour of love though, Walker is convinced there is at least an element of truth to the story. The unresolved questions surrounding Lasseter's death and the random Elvis-like sightings of the man himself only add to the mythology. In the end, Walker's search became about much more than just the lost treasure.
"Originally it was about gold," admits Walker. "That was what drew me to the story, and that's what draws everyone to the story. But then it becomes about truth, about getting to the bottom of this frustrating riddle, getting through this fog and trying to clear it away and to see what really happened. There always seems to be another strand, there's always another door to open, there's always another place to go. But then as I came toward the end of the filmmaking process, I realised it was really a film about faith and why we put faith into things that we haven't got a shred of proof for. It's really about the power of an unfulfilled narrative, and what happens when stories don't end the way we want them to... then we have to complete them.
"That's why you enter so many strands into the Lasseter story," Walker says. "Lasseter can't just die in the desert for nothing. It has to mean something. We have to add another strand to it to make it make sense to us. Otherwise it's so futile and sad."
Lasseter's Bones will screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Sunday, August 12 at 4pm. To find out more or buy tickets, head here.