last week in the paper I read about walkabout. it was on at acmi, a cinema centre at federation square. david gulpilil was at the premiere, I think. I skim-read the article, getting all excited and decided I had to take princess to see this wonderful movie.
I saw walkabout, the movie, when I was about her age or a little older. I remember not understanding much of it, but being impressed by all of it.
i wanted to share with her this movie, which was a part of my childhood. along with the drover’s wife, a short film, walkabout signified the beginnings of consciousness in my child-brain. it was this movie that introduced me to the idea of the Other – difference.
Today I happened upon the piece of paper I had scribbled the screening details on.
I called the ticket office.
MelbourneGirl – hi. I’m calling about ‘Walkabout’. Can you tell me the rating?
Bookings Girl – I’m not sure we have a classification for it
MG – maybe it came out before the classification system [laughs politely]
Bookings Girl - let me just check
[leaves the phone for a few minutes]
Bookings Girl – um, we are using a General Admission
MG – okay, I want to bring my almost-nine-year-old daughter. Also, does it start at eight exactly?
BG – yep, usually.
[MG and Princess get on the tram at 6.19pm. It takes 45 minutes to get to Fed Square. We go to the ticket office]
MG – can I have two to Walkabout please?
Ticket Girl – sure
[usual routine, MG hands over plastic, blah de blah]
[MG picks up high-end DL promo card which reads:
“Chambermade’s Walkabout. Richard J Frankland’s stage and screen response to the Nicolas Roeg film. Written, composed and directed by Richard J Frankland, after the film script by Nicholas Roeg and play scri…”
MG – what are we seeing here? Isn’t it the film?
TG – no it’s a stage, multi-media play
[MG’s jaw drops]
MG – what??????!!!!!!
Princess – mummy, what’s wrong
MG – nothing sweetie, I thought it was the movie but it’s a play
TG – do you want me to cancel the tickets?
MG – um
[we have caught a tram, it’s late on a SCHOOL night, I am the bad parent keeping her child out late, all in the cause of culture and learning]
MG – no, we’ll still go
[Princess and MG walk around town eating maxi bon ice creams. Princess keeps stirring her mother, asking about how long until the ‘film’ starts, and laughing. She makes quote signs in the air when she says film. It is all very amusing. MG laughs indulgently but feels like a dick. ette.]
Eight o’clock sees us in the queue.
Princess – there are no other kids here
MG – well you’ll be the most sophisticated child after seeing this stage play
Princess – you mean “film” [and she does the hand quote thing.]
We get into the theatre. There is an orchestra on stage. The stage is covered with red sand, there are some boulders, some fire wood.
The production is wonderful. I relive the movie anyway. I cry and cry. When I said before how I didn’t really understand the movie, now I do. It filled in the gaps.
There is a scene, at the beginning, where the father takes the two children into the desert. When we were on the tram I had told Princess about the story.
MG – there are two children, an older girl and a younger boy. They’re in the outback. I can’t remember how they get there, but then they meet an indigenous boy who helps them and they make friends. I couldn’t remember how it ended either.
So, the scene. The father asks his daughter to get the food out for lunch. She spreads the picnic rug and readies the hamper. Behind her, the father pulls out a gun. He points it at her. She is kneeling there, vulnerable in her school uniform. Somehow it all goes wrong, or right, and the two children escape and the father kills himself. Princess was recoiling physically in her chair; her back straight and head up to the ceiling in a grimace. She couldn’t watch it.
Princess – what’s happening?
MG – I’ll tell you later, I’ll explain later.
And at the end, the aboriginal boy sings himself to death. Watching the movie, I probably just thought he’d gone mad, with no thought, no attempt to see that it’s never that simple. Tonight showed me that he had become as lost as the children, he had strayed too far from his country, that there were no songlines for him to follow.
In the tram on the way home, Princess sat on my lap and snuggled her chin in underneath my chin. I clutched her to me.
MG – did you learn something tonight?
[Princess nods her head]
Princess – I liked everything except the bit with the father.
I know she misses her own dad. What does her mind make of a man who would kill his own children? How can she hope to understand that?
For her, this is the most disturbing thing she saw tonight.
For me, it was the statistics screened at the end of the show. The numbers of black deaths in custody in this country, the age expectancy, infant mortality, levels of incarceration. It was the way the school girl and the black boy on the brink of manhood, on walkabout for his initiation, talk at cross purposes, don’t understand each other. Completely miss each other. They see a shooting star. She says how romantic it is, and starts to see him as a potential lover. He sees it as meaning that someone has died, perhaps from his tribe, and because he is away, he cannot be there for the mourning and burial. This separates him from his kin, and is the beginning of him becoming lost.
We are so many of us lost.
My heart aches.