Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
Menu
December 17th 2008 print

Michael Connor

Australia – “the prosaic facts of history”

Ross Douthat at the National Review (December 15) has reviewed Baz Luhrmann’s movie of last week – Australia: The overall effect is Little Black Sambo by way of Dances with Wolves: The condescension is intended to be favorable, but it’s condescension all the same. Professor Marcia Langton thinks differently.

Ross Douthat at the National Review (December 15) has reviewed Baz Luhrmann’s movie of last week – Australia:

And God, how I hated him [Nullah]. Not the actor, who brings a kilowatt smile and an androgynous charisma to a role he’s not responsible for crafting, but the character, who occupies the peculiar zone where political correctness shades into precisely the sort of racial stereotyping it’s supposed to counteract. Nullah grins and gambols; he chatters in a cloying patois (“we gots to drive-um them cheeky bulls, Mrs. Boss”); and he comes equipped with a mysterious medicine-man uncle (David Gulpilil) who’s a pure Noble Savage cartoon, bearded and bare-bottomed and rich with hocus-pocus. The overall effect is Little Black Sambo by way of Dances with Wolves: The condescension is intended to be favorable, but it’s condescension all the same.

Marcia Langton is professor of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. In The Age she saw Gulpilil’s character, and Luhrmann’s bizarre  mangling of historical facts, somewhat differently. Her combination of modish linguistic ritual and irrationality is a fair representation of the foolishness abroad in our universities:

… he subverts the idea of the lurking savage made famous in much colonial literature and, as the hunted and despised ritual leader, represents the power and fragility of Aboriginal religion and culture.

She also said this:

The scene in the Darwin cinema is especially delightful for me. The Wizard of Oz has come to town, and Dorothy’s escape from Kansas to the dream world is a metaphor for Luhrman’s own artistic struggle with the prosaic facts of history.

And this:

The film provides an alternative history from the one John Howard and his followers constructed.

What Langton says is seriously meant, it is not a satire.

Instead of concentrating on how universities are to be financed and how student numbers are to be increased we should be investigating the poverty of what is being taught.