I’ve seen a few films in the past two weeks that have changed my view on something or at least given me a profound insight. This Australian documentary joins those ranks. I mentioned that Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad made me think of the displacement of Australian Aboriginal people and this commonality has been reinforced by today’s film, Putuparri and the Rainmakers.
Nicole Ma got to know Tom Lawford, or Putuparri, ten years ago when she visited Fitzroy Crossing to pitch an idea for a film. She said the locals weren’t interested in that but one Elder, Spider, said he was about to visit his Country and invited her along. What she discovered was a 15-year-long fight for native title recognition for a remote part of the Great Sandy Desert where Spider and Tom’s grandparents, had come from. To prove continued connection with the land, they must visit it, with cameras and anthropologists in tow.
The film traces several visits to this inaccessible waterhole in the desert and we watch as the Elders perform rituals and dances to warn the snake spirit they are coming and to make rain. To prove connection, people from several language groups combine to paint an enormous canvas that is, effectively, a map of the land. This beautiful artwork is tendered to the High Court as a legal document in the native title claim.
What this film gave me is a deeper understanding about the connection to Country that Aboriginal people have. I realised that Country is like family to them, it’s a reciprocal relationship, and they can live apart but it is as if a loved one is missing. I can see how this is intellectualised by non-Aboriginal Australians but not felt. There is a beautiful moment where we see the huge canvas being exhibited by the National Gallery. When it is being returned, Tom comments about how carefully the gallery have treated the artwork – white gloves, carefully rolled and carried. He laughs that his people just throw it on to the ground, walk on it, he even throws a dead turkey into the back of the car with it. For them, it is a part of their lives, not something to be kept separate.