Collective Amnesia of the Spotless Mind

"One advantage of amnesia as a plot device is the space it allows us to ponder what has been forgotten" — J. Wilson, Australian Book Review, Oct 2016.

Those of you who read my blog might remember my commitment to doing weekly updates. You might also remember not seeing a new one last week because, well, I didn't do one.

I don't want to give excuses but... I'm going to anyway. I was in Geraldton last week, fairly unwell and had two assignments to complete by the end of it. So it wasn't the most productive week at a time when I was meant to be productive.

In the first assignment I had due, I wrote about the two Australian films Sunday Too Far Away (1975), about Jack Thompson as a sheep shearer in the 1950s, and Red Dog (2011), about a dog in the 1970s. Both films are regional Australia(ns) who live and work on the land in the past. Should that be past tense? Lived and worked? Things have changed.

But we haven't forgotten. We haven't let these past stories/myths/legends become part of our lost histories and we've recorded them and allowed them to be taught to the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that if they adapt the films to virtual reality. It's kind of nice to have these films about us Australians.

Except. Well. They're not films about Australians.

Except. Well. They're not films about Australians. I'm not just saying that because the hero of Red Dog is an American, I'm saying that because the people in these films are white men called Jack and John. This is coming from a male WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), so I tread on thin ice red dirt here.

Seriously though, Sunday Too Far Away has two women in it. Red Dog is a little better with maybe a dozen, one of which is a main character so that the hero can have a wife. Neither of the films feature Indigenous Australians. Neither of the films feature Indigenous places or histories or even a mention.

Now representing Aborigines is difficult because it requires a lot of work with Indigenous members of the community. After all, who am I to represent another person's culture? Some might say I have no right, I'd argue that I do have some as long as I don't resort to offensive stereotypes and untrue representations. Indeed, many "white constructions of black identity in Australian films" resort to two main showing Indigenous people as either: part of the past, the land or of our guilt, or as "average blokes" (Heckling-Hudson 1990, 269). But that's besides the point.

The point here is that these two films, and many other films, do not represent Australians. They represent the majority (WASPS) but not those who make up our Australia — Indigenous Australians, Arabs, Asians, Africans etc. By doing this the films state that these people are not part of Australia. It creates a collective amnesia since we forget what these people have done and do and are.

On the flip side of the coin, how do filmmakers/writers/artists represent the 'other'? Do they have any right?

Whatever way that coin falls, the one positive is that when films decide to forget Australians, "it allows us space to ponder what has been forgotten".

Similarly, when I miss a weekly update, it allows you to ponder what I might have posted that week. Or you might not realise and simply forget. That's dangerous.

JR




Photo of my Week

Where I post a photo that sums up an aspect of my week.

Let me first say that this photo was not taken by me, though I did edit it (with one click). This photo was taken by Harry, who came with me and Cameron to Geraldton. During the trip, he and Cameron engaged in a contest of who could make the most 'edgie' photo. This term for me has now become synonymous with crooked horizons, close ups of objects like posts and bricks, and the consequences of being apathetic as to who uses your camera. That apathy was partly because I was sick and the fact that I've taken images at many of the places we've been. Admittedly, they did get a couple of reasonable pictures (out of the hundreds they took, but that's photography for you) and some interesting results (see above). Some of their shots may feature in an upcoming post about our short trip there, a post which I envision being more about photos than words since not much really happened. Stay tuned.


Reference (yes, I know that's unusual)

Heckling-Hudson, A. 1990. "White Construction of Black Identity in Australian Films About Aborigines". Literature/Film Quarterly, 18(4), p263-274.

Joel Gibson

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Perth, Western Australia

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