The film HIGH GROUND
with Witiyana Marika, Simon Baker & Jack Thompson
Review by Ian Browne Shamrock News
Link to film trailer https://tinyurl.com/1mhvzkl6
If you have never been to the NT Top End, or perhaps never will, then this is your chance to feel like you are there (minus the 37c heat). From the first scene I was transported back through time to my eight-years in a place that will always be home. Every sound I understood; every bird & amphibian call I knew well; every plant spps. enjoyed. The Yolngu Matha (“Yoong-oo matta”) words/meanings also very familiar to me. The two main locations are places I frequented & loved: Kakadu’s Gunlom & Nourlangie Anbangbang/ & its billabong.
Acted by, or including other input into the film, I know the siblings of a few of the Yolngu families involved. Simon Baker plays a wonderful role, Jack Thompson himself adopted into the Yolngu life in ‘real life’ himself, making it all the more strange how he doesn’t bother to pronounce the title properly! Witiyana Marika pretty much steals the show as clan leader! All actors are grand; love the lady (Caren Pistorius) who adopted Gutjuk, I must say, and Magnolia Maymuru’s role as Wak Wak is brilliant! Callan Mulvey always does well, Ryan Corr (met him in Byron) – too. The avenging Baywara (Mark Garrawurru) in the earlier scenes, very reminiscent of the energetic showman Yolngu teenagers I once taught.
High Ground is raw, gritty & hopefully it made a few rednecks blush! By the time one of the murderous sprees of one of the white ‘gentlemen’ ceased, my blood was boiling, and I sung out “Good Work” when he was felled. Most of the patrons in the cinema in Byron Bay laughed at this. You know a film has touched hearts when everyone stays back to watch the credits & enjoys the Indigenous songs.
This film will bring home some truths. I spend a lot of time in SE Queensland and some of complete ignorance & racism I hear/bear is vile. It is everywhere, of course, but it is always perpetuated by people who have never travelled to places like the Top End: easier to ‘tar all’ with the same brush. Dumb! But the film isn’t, it is clever in its showing of the strengths of people on country. Did you know (doubt it) that the Brit/Oz government brought in the regiment that ‘won’ the Zulu War - but they failed against the Yolngu (taught in schools? Well, I do!) One thing that is ‘over done’ is the boisterous calls of birds between scenes. The bar-shouldered dove especially, which also resides in my Nth NSW. But the film is designed to make you feel like you are ‘nowhere else’ but right there in the Top End savanna land (early-mid dry season) …and the birds themselves, especially the whistling kites, are symbolic of totemic relationship to Gutjuk, played well by a very likeable Jacob Junior Nayinggul.
Go and see High Ground, pity if you don’t!