Acting on a dream in the face of prejudice
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?’’
River of No Return