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Legacies of Indigenous Resistance

Pemulwuy, Jandamarra and Yagan in Australian Indigenous Film, Theatre and Literature


Matteo Dutto

This book explores the ways in which Australian Indigenous filmmakers, performers and writers work within their Indigenous communities to tell the stories of early Indigenous resistance leaders who fought against British invaders and settlers, thus keeping their legacies alive and connected to community in the present. It offers the first comprehensive and trans-disciplinary analysis of how the stories of Pemulwuy, Jandamarra and Yagan (Bidjigal, Bunuba and Noongar freedom fighters, respectively) have been retold in the past forty years across different media. Combining textual and historical analysis with original interviews with Indigenous cultural producers, it foregrounds the multimodal nature of Indigenous storytelling and the dynamic relationship of these stories to reclamations of sovereignty in the present. It adds a significant new chapter to the study of Indigenous history-making as political action, while modelling a new approach to stories of frontier resistance leaders and providing a greater understanding of how the decolonizing power of Indigenous screen, stage and text production connects past, present and future acts of resistance.

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Chapter 5 “Keeping story alive”: Screening the voice of Bunuba Country in Mitch Torres’ Jandamarra’s War and Keepers of the Story


Chapter 5

“Keeping story alive”: Screening the voice of Bunuba Country in Mitch Torres’ Jandamarra’s War and Keepers of the Story

This is the story I carry. This is the story that was told to me by my old people.

— George Brooking, Bunuba elder and senior custodian of the Jandamarra story

In the first shot of Mitch Torres’ documentary Jandamarra’s War, the camera flies over a dry riverbed and heads toward the imposing Napier Ranges. Massive walls of limestone are interrupted only by a small canyon leading to Windjana Gorge, where the story is enshrined and where director Mitch Torres is taking us.10 For the Bunuba people, these ancient ranges are a place of sacred significance; they are the embodiment of the living law that has been passed down across generations from the creation time. For the white settlers who arrived here following the Alexander Forrest expedition in 1879, this part of the Kimberley was an impenetrable fortress looming over their stations and the Windjana Gorge known as the Devil’s Pass. The two sides of the Jandamarra story – Jandamarra as a tracker for the white settlers and as a Bunuba freedom fighter – are present in Jandamarra’s War from its opening as the voice-over narration of Indigenous actor and television presenter Ernie Dingo tells viewers how a young man came to be considered as an outlaw by the white men and a freedom fighter by the Bunuba people. A close-up of Jandamarra, played...

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