Directed by Warwick Thornton
Starring: Bill Harney, Phil Dennis, Ken West, Adam Briggs, Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, Warwick Thornton
“When I look at that constellation… it can’t be touched. Nobody can touch it. And nobody can own it. What they can own is it in its symbolic form. And that’s the illusion”.
– Dr. Romaine Moreton on the Southern Cross.
We Don’t Need A Map is the search for a way forward together as a nation that has to acknowledge it has a history of racism. No nation doesn’t, but this is about the journey we have to make and it starts, as always, with looking back. Acclaimed writer/director of Samson and Delilah Warwick Thornton was in the running for Australian of The Year in 2010 having been named Northern Territorian of The Year. When asked what he thought about receiving the nation’s highest honour he said, “I’m concerned that the Southern Cross is becoming the new swastika.”
Thornton was not named Australian of The Year, but the reaction to his statement prompted him on a new filmmaking journey. What is the Southern Cross both practically and culturally? What does it mean to anybody in particular and to us as a whole? Has that changed over the years? As an Indigenous Australian, the director takes us on a unique journey to openly discuss these questions in a film that may sometimes slow its pace too much but mostly remains fascinating.
A grass roots effort, the search takes us from inner city Sydney to the Outback with ideas unfolding unrushed through calm and thoughtful discussion from a series of interviews. Its true academics, rappers, rockets, artists, writers, advertising executives are interviewed more than say people who might identify as conservative or offering other viewpoints. Even with astronomers and historians on hand, these are a range of people offering opinions that are not exactly subject matter experts.
Subject matter experts that do feature are a series of Aboriginal elders who allow the crew to film sacred ceremonies and discuss the importance of the Southern Cross to Aboriginal spirituality. These scenes resonate with the privilege of being able to listen to these elders in their country telling their tales. As they speak of the past at night lit by campfire, Thornton adds a feast of visual images whether it is men cutting off bark to make a canoe or showing starlit heavens move across the night sky.
Shot on digital out in the sticks by the director, his son filmmaker Dylan River and regular camera collaborator Drew English, this film made with very little is simply beautiful. On a bigger budget it may have been nice to have some animation included but maybe that would have spoiled the effect. There are a series of ‘Bush Toys’ sequences where toys made out of local scrap show the colonisation of Australia by the white man with Thornton doing great voice work.
It feels a little like Thornton has asked some really thoughtful provocative questions but only of people who would have a similar viewpoint. This does mean that the conversations are open and relaxed and conductive to reframing thoughts rather than needing to have your argument be triumphant. At one point Bill Yidumduma Harney, a senior elder of the Wardaman people and a former stockman takes them through a field and shows them a wreck of an old Southern Cross Windmill. These brands of outback windmills were vital for drawing water out of the ground for the cattle traversing such vast distances. The director respectfully points out the windmills took away the water supply from Aborigines. Harney agrees and goes quiet in thought; the windmill is a symbol of two things he has lost. The windmill served a time and a place taking over what had been there before. Now it lies on the ground as wrecks from an era gone by, having been replaced itself. We are all windmills and we have to decide what we want our legacy to be.
We Don’t Need A Map is screening at a special Q&A session, with director Warwick Thornton and producer Brendan Fletcher (Mad Bastards) on February 24 at the Luna Outdoors. Tickets are on sale now.