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Movie propaganda

Life and love at the end of the line.

Cunnamulla, the latest film by the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Dennis O'Rourke (The good woman of Bangkok, Cannibal tours, The shark callers of kontu, Half life: a parable for the nuclear age), is a portrait of a small and isolated community in outback Queensland - a town where white Australians and Aboriginal people live together, but are very much apart. In the time leading up to a scorching Christmas in the bush, a group of marginal but compelling characters play out the daily drama of their lives, in ways that are alternately shocking, sad or hilarious.

These are people who have been made marginal by the forces of a colonial history and the harsh environment of the inland. Violence and failure shadow them, yet they still yearn for compassion and happiness.

Arthur the taxi driver patrols the sun-baked streets, making terse observations on small-town life. Neredah, Arthur's talkative partner, lets us in on all the scandals. Cara, a 13-year-old Aboriginal girl, and her white friend, Kelly-Anne, have dropped out of school; their biggest wishes are to not get pregnant and to escape to the big city. Paul has just turned 18; he is about to go to jail for the first time. Ringer, the town's official dog catcher and undertaker is at odds with Herb, the scrap merchant who lives near the rubbish tip with his dogs and guinea fowls. Marto, the DJ at the local radio station, idolises Kurt Cobain and dreams that his heavy metal band will one day get a recording contract. Pauline is Marto's girlfriend; her parents do not approve of Marto whose has rings in his nose and ears and eyebrows. Jack is the pensioner who adopted Marto as a baby; he's black and Marto is white. They argue after the police raid Jack's house, looking for Marto's drugs.

In addition to this cast of characters, there are town poets and town drunks, "good" women on committees and "bad" women hanging around the hotels; there are shearers and opal fossickers, wealthy farmers and shopkeepers. There is the priest, the town band and the visiting concert pianist. There is Slim Dusty, the famous country and western singer and there is Santa Claus.

Cinematic intelligence sources

  • Awards and film festivals:
    • Hollywood Film Festival 2001: outstanding documentary
    • Film Critics Circle of Australia 2000: best Australian documentary
  • Studios and distributors:

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Austrayans all let us rejoice
for we are poor white trash,
we're boongs and wogs and reffos, too,
we like to smoke good hash.

Our lawn is dry, our garden's dead,
our dog is struck with flies,
thank God we've got the dole up here
a job is not in sight!

We'll shout until our voice is hoarse
let's keep Austraya white!

Well, it's not quite that bad but by golly, by jingo, by crikey, it's not far off. The Little Aussie Backlash against the cultural cringe has been seen in several big films (eg The dish) and shows no sign of abating. Acknowledging the lives of the battlers of Struggle Street in Struggletown and the traditions of an earlier, more basic time that they keep alive is as important to Australia's sense of self as inflatable kangaroos humping lycra-clad cyclists.

What Dennis gives you is the ultimate warts-and-all stickybeak into the life (or is it death?) of rural, small-town Australia. Even though Cunnamulla is in Queensland it stands in well as a microcosm for the rest of the country. It's the end of the line at the arse end of the Earth, everyone is in everyone else's pockets and everyone is in everyone else's family.


The heat turns you crazy, the boredom makes you mad and the nosey neighbours drive you nuts. The flies are at the dog and next door's having another one of their screaming matches. Your daughter's a slut, your son's in jail and your ex-de facto hasn't paid maintenance in three months. The roof leaks, the train don't run no more and some bastard from the council wants you to chop down the only tree in your backyard. What a country! What a life!

Technically, there's room for improvement (unless you like the raw, low budget, digicam look) and there's been a measure of artistic licence (are those Christmas Carol chimes real or were they added for effect?) but the too bright, too dry, too hot, too sandy hell hole that is inner Australia is writ large on the big screen to remind you why you live in an urb with a postcode lower than x050.

A good little documentary that'll make you proud to be an Aussie. Aussie. Aussie. Oi. Oi. Oi.

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (Adult themes, medium level coarse language)

Surveillance time

82 minutes (1:22 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

DVD retail: 2 July 2001

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