Act­ing on a dream in the face of prej­u­dice

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

IT was ex­actly one year ago to­day that Kevin Rudd stood in the na­tional par­lia­ment to make his well-re­ceived apol­ogy to the stolen gen­er­a­tions. It cer­tainly seemed to come from the heart, and for many it for­ti­fied Rudd’s place as some­thing akin to a spir­i­tual leader, as well as a newly elected po­lit­i­cal one.

Most com­men­ta­tors rightly saw it as a beginning; a true start­ing point. Only a very cyn­i­cal few saw po­lit­i­cal wall­pa­per de­signed to cover the vast cracks that ex­ist be­tween the qual­ity of life of white Aus­tralians and that of their Abo­rig­i­nal coun­ter­parts.

In cel­e­bra­tion of what has be­come known as the Na­tional Apol­ogy, SBS is screen­ing the vivid, if slow-paced, doc­u­men­tary River of No Re­turn.

While it might seem the as­pi­ra­tions of a Yol­ngu woman from the Gu­papuyngu tribe of north­east Arn­hem Land, who once dreamed of be­com­ing Marilyn Mon­roe and is now a grand­mother with two suc­cess­ful films to her credit, hardly speaks of the white ad­dress to the stolen gen­er­a­tions, the sym­bol­ism is strik­ing. The as­pi­ra­tions of Frances Dain­gan­gan, the ob­sta­cles she meets along the way and her determination to over­come them can be seen to rep­re­sent the strug­gle of all in­dige­nous Aus­tralians just to walk out on to a level play­ing field.

Be­fore she was born, Dain­gan­gan was promised to a Yol­ngu man. How­ever, like Nowalingu, the char­ac­ter she played in Rolf de Heer’s Ten Ca­noes , Dain­gan­gan was ab­ducted, in real life by a se­nior law­man from the Liya­gawu­mirr tribe of Echo Is­land. She bore him three daugh­ters, and now has six grand­chil­dren.

Af­ter her act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Ten Ca­noes , which in­cluded a promo-

Late bloomer: Frances Dain­gan­gan in tional tour to Mon­roe-es­que des­ti­na­tions such as Paris, Dain­gan­gan felt a lit­tle lost among her own peo­ple on re­turn­ing home. Some gave her a hard time for act­ing too much like a white per­son.

We get a glimpse of the enor­mity of the task in­volved in some­thing as seem­ingly sim­ple as ap­ply­ing for a the­atre course in Queens­land. Dain­gan­gan has to have proof that she is Abo­rig­i­nal, for ex­am­ple, a re­quest she finds gig­gle-wor­thy. She needs ref­er­ences from peo­ple who can vouch for her the­atri­cal tal­ents, so we hear calls to a very charm­ing Rolf de Heer, and a dis­tantly help­ful Phillip Noyce. Will this in­stinc­tive grand­mother go off to learn the nuts and bolts of the­atre? Will she leave be­hind the beau­ti­ful an­ces­tral home she loves, her house and grand­chil­dren, to take up the hard­ships and in­se­cu­ri­ties of the job­bing ac­tor? And, if she does, will she en­counter ‘‘ a fu­ture where we harness the determination of all Aus­tralians, in­dige­nous and nonindige­nous, to close the gap that lies be­tween us in life ex­pectancy, ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment and eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity?’’

Ian Cuth­bert­son

River of No Re­turn

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