The first stanza of “We Don’t Need A Map” is a furious, energetic, punk rock f*ck you, that kicks the audiences arse with a collision of styles and content. Shaun Tan’s “The Rabbits” (an incredible children’s novels that depicts Rabbits as an invading force to a native animal populated land) springs to mind, as Thornton uses metal toy avatars of Captain Cook and his ships as well as the natives, constantly intercut with the puppeteers to remind you of the filmmaker’s hand in creating these scenarios. This documentary feature was a reaction to the controversy that director Warwick Thornton (“Samson and Delilah”) ignited seven years ago when he described the Southern Cross symbol as the new Swastika. Thornton embraces and qualifies his statement but collates a collection of personalities and indigenous elders to weigh in on the topic.
The knee-jerk reaction, the opening chords of this stretched out cultural punk anthem, is to say fuck you to those who would begin to bother to fight. Thornton then takes a more mature examination of the origination of the Southern Cross as a symbol of identification for white Australia (the Eureka Stockade) and from those Nationalistic visions of the John Howard era. But somewhat aptly Briggs (rapper, actor Adam Briggs - hiphop group ‘A.B Original,’ and “Cleverman”) enters and discusses that despite whatever noble intentions one could have tattooing the Southern Cross on their body, prior to the Cronulla Riots, that symbol has now been co-opted by the racist white nationalist historical denier and Hansonists (Pauline Hanson). Like the Swastika before it, the bad guys own it. Thornton also casts his eye back to ‘Southern Cross’ branded windmills that peppered the Australian landscape and extracted the water from the ground and dried out natural underwater springs that indigenous people had used for thousands of years.
As an Australian from two threads of European migrants, I was struck like a lightning bolt with revelatory barbs of white Australia’s culturelessness; the problematic nationalism underpinned by a lack of acknowledgment and hostility. Australia, in principle is bankrupted. An outdoor prison camp on stolen land; we’re a culture that’s like the families in “Goodfellas” benefitting from leading lives of crime and despite the fact that we know we’re trafficking in stolen goods, we’re clawing to it like we originally owned it. It’s like we’re on the precipice of that daunting realisation constantly and the reaction is ignorance. The questions are asked, but Thornton doesn’t have the bandwidth to seek all the answers here.
The middle of the film sags as the reactionary voice begins to seek out some of the deeper explorations on offer. In that transition to the film’s conclusion you transition from a drag race to a traffic jam. Perhaps the more profound messages are to be found in the glimpses into mythology with Indigenous elders. These characters so deeply resonate with the lore, the passage to adulthood and the sacred meanings of the formation of stars to mythology and significant celebrations throughout indigenous life that they find it strange that we would attempt to ‘own’ that symbol by etching it on our skin. Even in sacred exercises, they disassemble their tokens of that image as to never purport to ownership. Thornton and other guests aren’t afraid to admit to the inclination of peoples of all colour to identify with symbols such as the Aboriginal flag; evidently the association short hand that demonstrate support or allegiance are somewhat universal.
The deeper analysis at the end of the film pays off the charged up beginnings. The documentary is going to be translated to NITV; one hopes that they cut it down significantly into a supercharged shorter cut (of an already short film mind you). Right now the message is strong but the delivery method is slightly watered down.
Dir. Warwick Thornton
Writers: Warwick Thornton and Brendan Fletcher
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.