28 January, 2021
Today a new Australian movie hits the cinemas.
208 screens Australia wide to be precise.
After nine years in the making, High Ground is finally screening. There were lots of mishaps and false starts along the way. Including an investor dying, the wet season coming early, David Gulpilil, who was going to star in the film, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Jack Thompson almost dying from kidney disease and an international pandemic!
Woopi News was lucky enough to have a chat with the fabulous Jack Thompson, iconic Aussie actor, about High Ground a movie that is very close to Jack’s heart.
We haven't seen the movie yet, so this is not a review but more an explanation of what it’s about and why it is an important part of Australian history.
This movie and the story of the Aboriginal resistance to white settlement is special and important to Jack. He has had a yearning and a love for the indigenous life ever since he was a kid. At about 10 years of age, his dad had been in Arnhem Land whilst working for ABC radio and had brought back some 8mm film of the Yolgnu people living their way on their land.
Jack was fascinated and decided there and then he wanted to learn more. “I just wanted to experience it for myself. I thought, what am I doing at school? I don’t have to go to Africa or Asia or Europe. There is this extraordinary thing right there, outside my door.” So, when Jack was 14 he headed off to work as a jackaroo on a cattle farm in the Northern Territory. This confirmed and strengthened his connection with our first people. He celebrated his 15th birthday there.
Jack has since contributed to and visited Aboriginal communities regularly since. He is a Patron for the Garma Festival which is a celebration of Yolngu culture. He attends this every year and claims it’s more for his benefit than anyone else's. He goes because it’s a reminder to him that this world still exists. “These beautiful people with their own language and rituals, corroborees, initiations and dances.”
At one festival he met Steven Maxwell Johnson who is the director of High Ground. Steven had been living in Arnhem Land since childhood, due to his dad being a teacher there. He was the videographer for Yothu Yindi, the band and foundation of Jack’s friend the late Mundu Yunapingu.
Steven was making a movie Yolngu Boy and asked Jack to play a part in it. It was the only white part and only went for a few minutes but Jack enjoyed it so much he asked Steven "What’s next?" Jack wanted to work with him again.
For a long time, Jack has wanted to make a movie that told the stories of the First Australians, particular one that would speak from the view of the aborigines, rather than the view of the white person. A story that would challenge the accepted notions of settlement in Australia.
There was a particular book that Jack wanted to make into a movie about Pemelwuy the Rainbow Warrior. At the time they couldn’t get the funding to do that particular movie, but High Ground was something they could handle. Hopefully, Pemelwuy will happen soon so keep an eye out for that.
High Ground is based on three true stories that occurred in the early 1900s, gleaned from the book Man Tracks by Ion Idriess which shared stories of the indigenous resistance in the 20s in East Arnhem Land. These stories have been incorporated into this tale about three men who have come back from World War I and find themselves in the Northern Territory as patrol officers. The man Jack plays, Moran, was their sergeant during the war and is now their senior in the patrol.
The movie begins with an incident where the patrolmen are chasing a particular aboriginal man who has been identified as the leader of the rebels resisting the white settlement of their land, burning down houses and spearing cattle, etc. The patrolmen are following the man when it all goes wrong and a patrol man accidently shoots the man. This then turns in to a melee, as Jack describes it, a massacre where the men women and children who were peacefully enjoying their day are killed.
Simon Baker, who plays Travis, head of the patrolmen, has been watching through his rifle scope and helpless to stop what was happening. He was appalled by this and during his sorrowful inspection of the site, he finds a child who had survived by hiding in the reeds of the water pond. He saves the boy, Gutjuk, and takes him back to a nearby mission where he is cared for for years to come. He is believed to be the only survivor of this day but there was also a warrior, Baywarra, who was wounded but alive.
The movie then cuts to twelve years later.
Baywarra is now leading a band of people terrorizing the soldiers who killed his family as his revenge. Gutjuk, played by the very handsome Jacob Junior Nayinggul, has now grown up and is his nephew.
Simon, who had left the Territory back then, due to his disgust over the cover up that followed, is called back to help track Baywarra. This is where Gutjuk and he reconnect.
Then Jack’s deep melodic voice stops and he lightly pushes my arm and says to me … “to find out what happens next you have to go and see the movie.”
Quite frankly I could have sat and listened to Jack all day. He takes a while to tell a story, but we were hanging on to every word.
I mentioned to Jack that I thought parts of the trailer, although beautiful and stunningly filmed looked also scary and heartbreaking. He looks at me and says “it’s not Disney” followed by a gruff friendly laugh. He continues and reassures me that it is more touching than scary, it’s not filmed as a blood bath, but it can be distressing at times. After all, it is based on true events.
I also thought, from the trailers that I had seen, that Jack was a bad policeman. I know, hard to imagine! Jack quickly cleared that up as I was thankfully wrong. He plays the senior patrol officer, “It was all these other idiots that started shooting at the aborigines in an attempt to run them out of the territory.” So even though this was not a authorised operation there was a bit of a cover-up afterwards. Questions were being asked. Like, why were their white man’s bullets in the blacks as well as the whites?
Although I only had eyes for Jack, I had to ask if Simon Baker is actually as nice as he seems. “Yes, he is, he is a really lovely man and a very fine actor. We were very fortunate to have him. He is great in film as he has spent the past five years or more directing some of his own episodes and playing so many different parts. When you see him in High Ground he is just totally different.”
On closing, Jack added,
“The reason I identify with the indigenous people, apart from my early experiences, is also that I am a part of their country that we share now. I am proud of that and I think that the more we know of the truth of our history, the more we will be able to share this country. We should be incredibly proud of the most ancient continuous culture on the planet. Hey, Ancient Greece hadn’t even been thought of when these people established here. I believe it’s something we should embrace and talk about. This is an extraordinary thing we share, that is part of all of us. Because, I’m just as part of this country now as they are, but they’ve been here for a long long time.
We talked for a long while longer about Jack’s life, health, his life in Woolgoolga and why he has a long beard and ponytail at the moment, but I will share that with you in the March edition of Woopi News.
We are releasing this digital story to coincide with High Ground’s opening around the country today and hope you enjoy this great Australian Movie and embrace the reasons behind the making, learn some history and enjoy the stunning scenery of the Kakadu.
Screening at The magnificent Saraton Theatre in Grafton (see sessions http://www.saraton.com/Movie/High-Ground ) and BCC Event Cinemas in Coffs Harbour.
30 January, 2021
Brad and I, along with my dad and step mum, Peter and Ann. went to see High Ground today at the grand old Saraton Theatre.
We all thoroughly enjoyed it. The haunting indigenous music and the beautiful landscape helped us to cope with the sadness of the storyline. It's definitely not a feel good movie but an awakening to the atrocities of our past. Local, Jack Thompson was amazing, and of course almost local, Simon Baker, as was everyone else in particular the aboriginal cast speaking in their native tongue.
A bit of my portrayal above is incorrect but to fix it would spoil the story for those who haven't seen it. Like Jack says ... if you want to find out what's happens next you need to go see the movie.
It only took us 40 minutes to get from Woolgoolga to the Saraton in Grafton and it would only take you 20 or so to go to Coffs Event Cinemas. I'd recommend either but the Saraton is a fabulous experience, being Australia's oldest and largest cinema. The sound, film and seating quality was up to standard and the staff were super friendly, even checking in with us afterwards to see if we enjoyed it. Plus another reason to head north is they are an advertiser in Woopi News.
Woolgoolga Main Beach - December 2019
An early morning in Woolgoolga, the smoke was giving us a reprieve, walkers were enjoying the fresh air, lots of people were out swimming, the Fluro Friday tribe were about to form their anti bad vibe circle when the whole beach’s attention was shifted to a stranded kangaroo at sea.
The roo had been chased by a dog and was struggling in the deep water. Resident Shane Lister grabbed his Stand Up Paddle board and headed out to help the marsupial into shore.
Check out this great video