Ablaze (2021)

Image via miff.com.au

Ostensibly a deep dive by singer, and now filmmaker, Tiriki Onus into the history of his grandfather, Bill Onus, the result gives us important insight into the difficulties faced by Australia’s First Peoples over the past century.

Tiriki Onus is from a family of creative people with a keen sense of social justice. His father, Lin Onus, was a celebrated painter and his grandfather, Bill, a showman, politicial activist and it seems, after the discovery of an intriguing photograph, a film maker.

The movie tracks Tiriki’s hunt for films made by Bill, long thought to have been destroyed in a fire. In the depths of the National Film and Sound Archive, he finds silent footage that shows rare scenes of Aboriginal soldiers, political theatre advocating for Aboriginal citizenship and Bill throwing a boomerang. He speaks with film historians, aunties and uncles, Aboriginal actors and activists and unearths a story of his grandfather’s life that is full of joy and tragedy.

You can’t explore the history of Aboriginal people without revealing a century of oppression, brutality and sorrow, and Bill was at the forefront of trying to agitate for change. He tried to use film to show the inhumane treatment of Aboriginal people but came up against a government working secretly to keep the status quo.

The film ends with Tiriki, wrapped in a possum-skin cloak, singing in language to his Country. It’s a powerful coda that shows the resilience of Aboriginal culture and people.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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