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"Walkabout"

by Jan Chandler


Cinematographer/Director: Nicholas Roeg

Girl: Jenny Agutter
Brother: Lucien John (Roeg's son)
Aboriginal: David Gulpilil (credited as Gumpilil)
Father: John Meillon


An Australian film from the early 1970s is being re-released in a brand new 35 mm print.

It is amazing that it so often takes an outsider to show us as we really are: "Walkabout" was photographed and directed by an Englishman, Nicholas Roeg which perhaps explains both the loving depiction of the Australian outback and the strong political statements contained in the film.

Produced in 1971 "Walkabout" tells the story of a 14 year old girl (young English actress Jenny Agutter) and her six year old brother (played by Lucien John, one of Roeg' s sons) who are lost in the outback after their father attempts to kill them and then commits suicide.

There they meet up with a young Aboriginal man (David Gulpilil - "Storm Boy", "The Last Wave") who is on Walkabout as part of his initiation into manhood. He helps them to survive, hunting for food and finding shelter, whilst guiding them back to civilisation. The experience brings the young girl, in particular, face to face with the difficulties and tensions that arise when people are thrown together with neither culture nor language in common. Added to this are the sexual tensions that emerge between her and the young aboriginal man.

"Walkabout" is a significant Australian film and its re-release is timely. The film makes a passionate, if rather heavy-handed statement about the ways in which civilisation has impacted on this land to the detriment of all, black and white.

But while the heaviness of the political message may prove more than a little off-putting, the poetic beauty of the cinematography and the way in which the relationship between the three young people is depicted more than makes up for this.

Roeg was a cinematographer before he turned to directing and it shows. There are slow pan over wonderful landscapes. One especially stunning image is a shot of the rising sun reminiscent of the Aboriginal flag . A sequence in a deserted homestead where Gulpilil performs a courtship dance is extremely powerful and has stayed with me since I first saw the film.

Roeg is a filmmaker who deals in symbolism and metaphor rather than straight story-telling, but his films have always proved to have a strong impact. His first feature, "Performance" (1970) starring Mick Jagger was banned in Australian until 1973.


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