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Our African Roots

Australian, Documentary, Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

In the documentary, Our African Roots, author/journalist Santilla Chingaipe brings to life the stories and details of Australia’s Black African history. While everyone knows of the First Fleet, they may not be aware that there were at least ten men of African descent who arrived onboard in 1788.

This documentary, part of SBS’s Australia Uncovered series, highlights just a few people in our history who were of African heritage and how they have contributed to Australia’s history.

John Randall, John Caesar, William Blue, John Joseph, Fanny Finch, William Davies, and Ernest Toshack are a few people from Australia’s history who helped shape the country today. They are all of African descent and while many of us would not have heard the names before, this documentary highlights the struggles and accomplishments which they achieved in our history.

John Randall’s ability to hunt with a rifle set him apart from the local indigenous community. He could then be viewed as someone coming from being oppressed to being an oppressor. Slave and convict labour was very profitable, but in Australia, almost immediately, convicts began to resist. Our first convict bush ranger wasn’t Ned Kelly but John Caesar in 1789, but he wasn’t as highly celebrated as Ned Kelly simply because of his race. William (Billy) Blue is credited with creating the first licensed ferry service. Governor Lachlan Macquarie was friends with Billy and saw him as the ideal type of reformed convict.

The Eureka Rebellion in 1854 is a well-known event in Australian history. John Joseph allegedly fatally wounded the British officer who was leading the offensive. He was arrested and charged for high treason in Victoria’s Supreme Court but found not guilty. Fanny Finch was a single mother of four and the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election, on the 22nd of January, 1856. She was able to do this due to a loophole in the suffrage law which stated that any rate paying person was able to vote. The loophole was closed in 1865 when “persons” became “men”.

In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act passed into law, which marked the beginning of the White Australia policy. At a 1916 conscription rally, Billy Hughes says to go and fight for White Australia in France. While the enlistment laws stated that the person must be of European descent, because of high losses at war, race was ignored when people were enlisting. This is where William Davies goes to fight in Gallipoli. Ernest Toshack was a cricketer during 1946-48 and was part of the ‘Invincible’ team with Don Bradman, nicknamed “The Black Prince”.

Due to the White Australia policy, most of our non-white history is not shared with Australians, and this documentary keeps these historical figures alive in an entertaining way, with the potential by-product of allowing us to escape our racial past and to progress towards a truer multicultural society with a shared history for all.

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The Justice of Bunny King

Australian, Festival, Film Festival, Review, Streaming, Sydney Film Festival, This Week 1 Comment

In her debut feature film The Justice of Bunny King, Gaysorn Thavatt affectionately portrays the eponymous character as a victim of a faceless welfare system, while her life spirals out of control through a series of unfortunate decisions and incidents.

In this character-driven drama, Bunny (Essie Davis) lives up to her namesake, with an energetic but combustible personality, as she struggles to maintain dignity in her life. She pockets tips from washing car windshields, while living with her sister whose new partner Bevan is reluctantly hospitable.

Pertinently though, Bunny is motivated to resume a normal life with her estranged children that have since gone to live with foster parents after a violent incident renders Bunny incapable to raise them. Bunny endlessly haggles with government and welfare agencies, but they insist she must get a job and find a house to even be considered a viable parent for her children.

The film resembles Ken Loach realism by dissecting the grim depths that the lower-class are subjected to in order to survive. In this case, Bunny utilises all the resources around her as she imposes a staunch sense of justice, although mainly justice to herself. For instance, just as a pathway to a normal life emerges, Bunny witnesses Bevan committing a potentially horrendous act with his stepdaughter Tonyah and absconds with her. Not only this, she is able to slither into sleeping in a vacant high-rise apartment after hoodwinking a real estate agent. Her ability to deceive off-the-cuff might raise an eyebrow to her moral ambiguity, but her resourcefulness keeps the film constantly on edge.

The screenplay by Sophie Henderson is particularly adept at only doling out information about Bunny’s past when her current mistakes and shortcuts force them to reveal themselves. This effectively prevents any pre-meditated judgement about Bunny and allows sympathy and compassion for her plight. Even in its dramatic ending, where Bunny will try anything to celebrate her daughter’s birthday, the life-threatening twists feel palpable and earned.

Particularly noteworthy is the phenomenal acting by Essie Davis, but also the supporting role of Thomasin McKenzie as Tonyah. Davis is placed once again in a maternal role, but varyingly to, say The Babadook, Bunny is unafraid of the contours of her desperation as laid bare with a ruggedness of appearance and rapid-fire bluntness in the way that she speaks.

While Bunny oscillates between doing right and wrong, each of her decisions compound with greater consequences on other aspects of her life. This renders Thavatt’s film a penetrative glimpse into lower-class realities, with a self-destructive central character hell-bent on regaining her family.