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Amanda Dweck

JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS: An Antithesis between Australian media and culture - Part One of Three

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I would give you a date but nothing has changed. Stay tuned until The End.

I met Ben, a handsome guy who sat in the seat behind me, on a bus traveling back to Alice Springs from visiting Uluru. I started chatting to him while the other passengers got on board the bus. About eight transvestites go on board and sat behind Ben. Two or three sat on the backseat and they reminded me of the tough chicks at school who would sit on the back seat and smoke. Once or twice at school, I was given the honour of being able to sit on the back seat but it was only so they could take the piss out of me. So at school, I tried as hard as I might to find a seat nearer the front next to someone nice. It was not that I was scared of them. I found life easier if I just became invisible. I thought that there must be some sort of mystical power the back seat of a bus gives to those who sit upon it.

As the bus traveled towards Alice Springs it became clear that these transvestites were not your quiet unassuming types and as luck would have it one of them had a crush on Ben. Ben as it turned out had no idea about this, his back was towards them and because I was turned towards Ben, I could witness everything they were doing. But I was not interested in anything they were doing. Suddenly one of them said from the back seat, "Chrissy, Chrissy I'd like a pillow please, its so uncomfortable back here." So Chrissy manoeuvered her way past Ben and leaned in front of me to grab one of the small square pillows in the overhead compartment. As she brought the pillow down she hit me in the head with it. "Oh" said Chrissy and hit me again. Not hard but I felt like she was warning me off something, I did not understand what was going on. As she went past Ben she smiled a long lingering smile and Ben blushed. I could not say anything to him about it because they could see my facial expressions. So Ben and I continued chatting, he was visiting Australia from Lincolnshire, England - "the best arable farmland in Europe" according to Ben. His father owned one thousand acres. Knowing very little about farming , apart from what my mother had told me about growing up on a farm, I said, "Farmers are the salt of the earth"

I did not climb Uluru the rock because it was drizzling and dangerous on the day of the climb. I do not think I would have climbed it even if it had not been raining because, according to the tour guide, Aboriginal people did not climb it. I thought that it was wise to listen to this because I had seen a telemovie about Cyclone Tracey. When the main white woman character is trying to clean up her house after the devastation, she sees her Aboriginal neighbour and says "Did you suffer much damage?" The Aboriginal woman says to her "Nah we're all OK, we left Darwin, just got back today" White woman says, "How did you know to leave?" suggesting there must be some magical force that only contacts Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal woman said, "I heard it on the radio, they said we all had to leave Darwin." So I figured if Aboriginal people are perceptive enough not to climb the rock, neither do I.

In 1967, Kamahl wrote a letter to his wife, Sahodra, about Alice Springs where he was acting in the film Journey Out of Darkness; "Last night ... I saw things that opened my eyes. Right in the middle of the city there were dozens upon dozens of natives who were drunk and abusing themselves. Some were lying in the gutter groaning, some were fighting, one couple were even doing things in the street that should be done in private with dimmed lights - not that I mind people making love but surely there is a time and place for everything. [...] I used to feel sorry for the natives but hadn't seen them ... You've got to see it to believe it. They look so dirty and filthy. It made me sad to see people wasted in this way." He wondered how long such tragedy could be allowed to continue.

At that time Kamahl, and most non-Aboriginal people, could only guess at how the Aboriginal people felt about the enforcement of English laws - the theme of Journey Out of Darkness. Just as writer/director James Trainor's protagonist in the film, set in 1901, Constable Petersen (Edward Matthaei) did not understand anything about the Australian landscape or the people. I suggest, if Trainor had more of an understanding of Aboriginal people, he would have cast them for the main roles and the script would have had a greater impact upon the audience. According to Christopher Day's book Kamahl - An Impossible Dream (1995), Trainor had talked Kamahl into doing the film by telling him that he would be "the next Clarke Gable" Kamahl had only just been accepted as an Australian citizen in 1966. And the point is clear, he had to talk Kamahl into doing it. Aline Scott-Maxwell in Making Sense of Kamahl, argues; "The capacity of Australians to conflate African-Americans, Aborigines and, in this case, Tamils into generic 'blacks' enabled Kamahl to get some film work early in his career. He played an Aborigine in the 1967 feature film, Journey Out of Darkness (James Trainor, 1967) an American-Australian co-production set in Central Australia."

Christopher Day writes that after The Premiere of Journey Out of Darkness in 1967, Kamahl stated, "it turned me almost everlastingly off acting. I have no happy memories about that movie" Commentary critiquing the film found on the internet agrees that casting a non-Aboriginal was wrong. This demonstrated on the Creative Spirits website, which states; "Despite the liberal message of the plot, Journey Out of Darkness was curiously archaic in its casting [...] For this reason, the film was unpopular at a time when consciousness of Aboriginal affairs was growing stronger in the Australian community."

Denis Byrne in Nervous Landscapes - Race and Space in Australia (2003) states; "Until 1960, racism against Aborigines had a low visibility in Australian public discourse." When the film was made, the Australian government had not recognised Aboriginals as citizens - they were invisible. James Jupp (2007) in From White Australia to Woomera when discussing the White Australia policy describes that the government's understanding of Aboriginals was based on "Social Darwinism". In short, "the government believed in a hierarchy of races with Caucasians at the top and Australian Aboriginals at the bottom" The Australian government of the early twentieth century believed that aboriginals were "a dying race"
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  1. Mick Pacholli's Avatar
    Thanks Amanda, great start!

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