Beauty and emo­tion stand the test of time

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

LONG be­fore the Hindmarsh Bridge saga, long be­fore any white per­son set foot on the Coorong in South Aus­tralia, pel­i­cans and many hun­dreds of other types of birds used the wet­lands as a breed­ing and rest­ing ground. It was a sum­mer hol­i­day for some of them, who came ( as they still do) all the way from Siberia.

There are few great Aus­tralian movies for fam­i­lies and for my money Storm Boy tops the list.

The story is sim­ple: a 10- year- old boy lives with his fa­ther, Tom Kings­ley, a reclu­sive fish­er­man. The boy, Mike, spends his time col­lect­ing drift­wood and ex­plor­ing the windswept dunes and wa­ter­ways around his home on the Coorong.

One day he meets a young Abo­rig­i­nal man liv­ing alone in a camp on a river­bank. To­gether they scare off a pair of shoot­ers aiming at the pel­i­cans, which are big and slow- mov­ing and make a great tar­get. The boy res­cues three pel­i­can chicks and hand- rears them: one, Mr Per­ci­val, be­comes his con­stant com­pan­ion.

The three main char­ac­ters have tal­is­matic names. Mike ( Greg Rowe) be­comes known as Storm Boy; his tac­i­turn fa­ther ( Peter Cum­mins) is Hide- Away Tom; and a young David Gulpilil plays Finger­bone Bill.

Storm Boy was pro­duced by the South Aus­tralian Film Cor­po­ra­tion in 1976 with a bud­get of just $ 260,000. The ever- chang­ing light, stark seascapes and peace­ful wa­ter­ways of the Coorong, 80km from Ade­laide, are a cin­e­matog­ra­pher’s dream. Ge­off Bur­ton’s cam­er­a­work is sub­lime, un­der­scor­ing the boy’s iso­la­tion with wide shots and swoop­ing ae­rial pho­tog­ra­phy taken from a hang- glider.

On the sur­face, this is a story about a boy and his pel­i­can. But it’s also a para­ble about this coun­try and the never- end­ing con­flict be­tween na­ture and peo­ple, es­pe­cially white peo­ple, who seem­ingly ven­ture into the Coorong only to kill and ter­rorise the oc­cu­pants, leav­ing a scat­ter­ing of beer cans in their wake.

It’s also a story about Aus­tralian men, circa 1960, when Colin Thiele wrote Storm Boy . Hide- Away Tom is a moral man. ‘‘ Ly­ing is as low as a man can go,’’ he tells his son. The pain Tom ex­pe­ri­enced from the break- up of his mar­riage, and the sub­se­quent death of his wife, has turned him into a refugee liv­ing in a shack in the wilder­ness. But his si­lences, and his emo­tional awk­ward­ness, his stub­born re­fusal to talk to the boy about his mother or let him have com­pan­ions amount to cru­elty. It takes a cathar­tic episode, and the kind­ness of strangers, to un­lock the strong­box of his emo­tions.

Finger­bone Bill is an­other refugee — he’s bro­ken the law of his tribe by lov­ing the wrong wo­man — but in the Coorong he takes on the role of pro­tec­tor and strides through the reeds like a war­rior.

Ros­alie Hig­son

Re­united: David Gulpilil and Greg Rowe at a Storm Boy screen­ing in 2002

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