Donny (Yorna) Woolagoodja
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
… a spiritual journey for the viewer …
This understated documentary achieves a lot in its short running time. Gorgeously filmed and focused on a pilgrimage by a community of First Australians, it turns out to be a spiritual journey for the viewer as well.
“Having created the world, the Wandjinas retired to the caves within the landscape,” explains Donny (Yorna) Woolagoodja, a Worrorra man. In those caves in the remote Kimberly coastal region of Western Australia are depictions of Namarali – the “big boss” Wandjina, or rainmaker spirit, who is a prime creative force.
Donny – a grey-haired artist with a somewhat boyish face – is the documentary’s narrator and the leader of the spiritual journey. He tells of the Worrorra being moved off their land (near Fresh Water Cove), south to the town of Derby – it’s another country, far from the Namarali caves.
His task is to travel with his community from Derby to the caves, and repaint and refresh the Namarali rock art. He does it to carry on a tradition, to replenish his culture, to keep the spirit of Namarali alive – and to pass on the knowledge to young Worrorra people. Bringing Namarali into the wider world is also part of Donny’s mission.
Donny’s father, Sam, led a filmmaking expedition to the caves in 1972. In 2002 – when this documentary was filmed – Donny returned, continuing his father’s work. The 1972 footage provides some of the archival images in this film that is 21 years in the making.
The depictions of Namarali are incredible – non-Indigenous Australians will recognise him, the illustration of a face with no mouth, a mystical kind of halo wrapped around his head. He was at the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, a huge figure that rose to the sky – designed by Donny.
Between the haunting soundtrack, the rich colours of the landscape, the earthy colours of the Indigenous art, and watching Donny meditatively repaint Namarali, the film is like a therapy session. Donny’s serene presence and devotion to task are inspiring.
Director Tim Mummery – who co-produced this with Donny – appears to have had delays and other projects that protracted the making of this film. But with the Indigenous Voice to Parliament soon to become a national talking point, perhaps the delay was fortuitous. This could be the perfect time to experience Namarali.