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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 6 Defacing colonial sovereignty in Sally Riley’s Confessions of a Headhunter


Chapter 6

Defacing colonial sovereignty in Sally Riley’s Confessions of a Headhunter

Our history is still reverberating into the present and what people don’t realize is that the history of the colonisation of this country is still affecting Indigenous people now. The filmmakers with whom I have been working for all the years that I have been doing this job all draw from personal experiences. There’s a genetic memory that we all have about these things and so you always are drawing from history but we want to make these stories contemporary so that an audience would want to watch them.

— Sally Riley, director of Confessions of a Headhunter (2000)

How can the story of a resistance leader who died in 1833 be made contemporary through a short drama that blends the murder mystery and the road-trip genres through a unique Indigenous perspective and a good dose of humour? How does the legacy of Yagan influence the ongoing fight for sovereignty against a settler colonial state that continues to deny and attack his memory? In her 2000 film Confessions of a Headhunter, Wiradjuri producer and director Sally Riley does not set out to tell the story of the Whadjuk Noongar leader directly. Instead, the short drama tells the story of Frank and Vinnie, two Noongar cousins who retaliate against the beheading of Yagan by becoming modern day “headhunters,” embarking on an interstate road trip to collect the heads of symbolic figures of...

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