Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971) is a film about transitions: movement between childhood and adulthood, country and city, pre-modernity and modernity. My analysis of Roeg’s classic is part of a study of the genre of environmental film: representations or re-visioning of the human-nature relationship. I explore Walkabout’s transitions by observing how the film interweaves two coming-of-age stories: an aboriginal youth, Black Boy (David Gumpilil (1)), on a walkabout (a trial to prove his readiness for manhood); and the Anglo children, Girl (Jenny Agutter) and White Boy (Lucien John, the director’s son), he rescues in the Australian outback, especially a girl on the threshold of womanhood. But these rites of passage in turn contribute to the film’s larger fabula (2) told primarily through visual narrative: a critique of the post-industrial world’s attitudes towards nature, including its disconnect from (or repression of) what is untamed or natural in human nature.
Released in 1971, Walkabout shows the influence of 1960s counterculture. Roeg employs motifs typical of “back-to-Eden” stories: the “skinny-dipping” sequence, as in other period films such as Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), is a symbolic shedding of the clothes of the over-civilized world. (3) The use of an aboriginal youth as a guide for the Anglo children reflects the era’s tendency to romanticize tribal peoples. In this sense, Walkabout draws on conventions of older genres, such as captivity narratives, and a history of European literature treating indigenous peoples as “noble savages” (4).
As an intercultural “walk into nature”, Walkabout remains timeless, despite a sometimes dated view of “Third World” peoples. (5) The innovative visual narrative reveals new meanings on each viewing. I will focus on two aspects of this narrative through which Roeg troubles Western preconceptions about what is normative. One is his development of the motif of confinement: modern societies, in Roeg’s view, are constructed according to a logic that confines both first nature and human nature in apparently unhealthy ways. Second, Roeg weaves a comparative representation of the hunting and preparation of meat into the respective rites of passage of the aborigine and the Anglo girl. I want to unpack the “uses of meat” within a visual narrative that concentrates primarily on Anglo-Australian children shedding their inhibitions (or clinging to the conventions of civilization as they know it) during their sojourn in the wilderness.
The Confining of Nature/The Nature of Confinement
My main title suggests a process of walling in or sealing off nature. But it also assigns agency to nature: nature confines us in significant ways. That is to say, living in nature puts certain restrictions on us; many elements of our culture are developed in an attempt to deny or bypass those natural world-imposed limitations. On a third level, the title suggests that humans have a confining nature. It is part of human nature to confine things, including ourselves. Hence, sublimation is a precondition for the emergence of “Western civilization”, as Max Weber, Sigmund Freud and many others have suggested. We might say that confinement is a cornerstone of our culture. (6)
I want to suggest one further dimension of the nature of confinement that is relevant to this film’s debts to romanticism. Confinement is a ruling schema in the romance genre. From Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded to Jane Eyre: An Autobiography and Wide Sargasso Sea, and, into the digital present with Shrek (Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, 2001), women in romance narratives are typically confined: on a remote estate, in a tower, etc. The confinement produces the hallucinations necessary for romance. Thus, when the visered Shrek appears in the tower to rescue Fiona, she mis-recognizes him as a prince in shining armour and breaks out into floral romance language that is hilariously out of sync with the reality of this ill-mannered ogre. (7)
Is there romance without delusion? Hardly, in the West, where love is blind. Yet, it must be acknowledged that breaking free of confinement is also a central part of the romantic attitude. The means by which one may escape confinement in the romance genre are also mostly present in Walkabout, which leads me to consider its rites-of-passage structure as a modified romance:
• By loving the “other” or sometimes through sexuality itself;
• Through sojourns into nature, or an “errand in the wilderness” (Wuthering Heights: A Novel);
• Close encounters with a “less confined” or less-repressed cultures (these “escape-from-confinement” modes are also commonplace in captivity and missionary narratives); and
• Awakening into a spiritual or political consciousness.
The visual narrative of Walkabout suggests that confinement is a precondition to a sort of delusional acceptance of the illogic of modernized urban societies, which promise freedom but enforce a deforming conformity.
Rites of Passage in Cross-Cultural Context
Rites of passage are a ritual means to move people between different types of confinement. They facilitate the breaking of old confinements: strict limitations placed on the movement and behaviour of children are sundered. In the romantic imagination, rites of passage are identified with the liminal phase, a socially sanctioned inbetweenness in which all prior confinements are ruptured. During liminality, possibilities seem unlimited, and identity is in flux. Yet Victor Turner’s use of the term threshold to describe liminality indicates that adolescents are on the verge of adulthood; their temporary freedoms are only a means of breaking old habits, and preparing them to accept the responsibilities (and hence the confinements) of adulthood. (8)
Observing how rites of passage play out in cross-cultural context frames my analysis of Walkabout. The aborigine and the Anglo youths encounter each other after their separation from their respective social orders. The bulk of the film follows them in their liminal phase, a quasi-dreamtime. The re-integration phase raises the question: To what degree can the Anglo girl and the aborigine be said to have successfully completed the rites of passage whose conclusion they had to improvise, after their encounter? By this logic, I divide the film into three parts:
1. Separation: this sets the stage of the urban world the Australian children come from, follows them into the outback for a “picnic” with their father, and, after his death, traces the beginnings of their (unsuccessful) efforts to move back towards civilization.
2. Liminality: this begins in Chapter 10 (“The Boy”) at 34:15, when the aborigine first appears on the horizon, and thus the children begin their movement back towards the coast, the world of “white people” from which they had been separated.
3. Re-Integration: in a symbolic transition at the beginning of Chapter 19, aboriginal youth carries the Australian teenaged girl on his back across a creek, into an area where the settlements and roads of Anglo-Australians are visible. This runs from about 1:02-1:40.
The voices of the actors are not foregrounded until six minutes into the film, and there is no dialogue until about 10 minutes. But although visual narrative dominates, Roeg does use written words, and later radio voices, to frame the narrative. Even before the 20th Century Fox logo and searchlights appear, white letters on a black background explain the title: at age 16, an Aborigine “man-child” is sent out into the land and for months must live from it, and on it. “Sleep on it … Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures.”
Some have questioned the authenticity of this description. Walkabouts are not limited to boys undergoing initiation, Iris Wakulenko notes. He suggests there should have been a disclaimer: the construction of the film “is reminiscent of an opera plot – inspired by real […] situations, but actually a total fantasy” (9). However, I think that the tone of this “inter-title” is tongue-in-cheek. Viewers should be alerted to its satirical intent. Roeg seems to be spoofing the sensibilities of urbanites for whom the notion of killing to stay alive would be shocking. The words foreshadow the killing of fellow “earthlings” for meat by those who still sleep on the earth (the aborigines). In syntagmatic terms, they should also help shape our reaction when we later see the wanton slaughter of “fellow creatures” by Anglo-Australians for mere sport.
Separation – “The Wheel’s come off”
The first image is a cracked rock. We hear radio static and a thunderous sound like a needle being pulled across the record (excerpts from Karl Stockhausen’s Hymnen). Cut to a red brick wall, with a French voice now audible. As with the shot of Indian pictograph art followed by a rocket launch that kicks off Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982), or the sand dune drawing combined with city street sounds at the beginning of Suno no onna (Woman in the Dunes, Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964) (10), this suggests that a primordial form of nature is the bedrock on which the following narrative rests, uncertainly: the radio static and “foreign” voice perhaps signifying how distant the voices of European civilization are from the aboriginal world into which they have been imported.
The brick wall is established as an important visual trope, marking a chasm between the urban and the outback. Yet, sometimes it is only a wall separating the concrete jungle from the sand and stone of the outback, just on the other side. The camera pans right from the brick wall and down to a city street scene, while the sound of the didgeridoo is introduced. The didgeridoo announces: “This is Australia.” It is an authenticating sonic backdrop and yet it also seems to sonically signal a mood of foreboding, or dread. This is the “sound from the ground” that underlies and can undermine the civilized surface.
Almost everything we are shown in first five minutes reinforces a sense of confinement, or rigidity; lives of quiet desperation. Shots of the legs of well-dressed pedestrians are intercut with views of office towers. Several shots here could serve as a source of inspiration for the visual style of Koyaanisqatsi: clouds and blue skies reflected on high-rise windows; the father glimpsed through a passing tram. (11) The visual narrative conveys the sense of Australian society being regimented and militarized. Young women in class, including the heroine, huff in unison during a singing exercise. A young boy is seen watching troops marching, wearing a naval military cap, both important details when we later see the boy playing war games with his water pistol. Teenage boys in their uniforms in a schoolyard look like soldiers-in-training. There is another shot of the teenaged girls engaged in rote learning, and then we glimpse the father (John Meillon) up in his office, shot from below, the angle emphasizing a sense of entrapment. The phone rings; we see the father exiting the high-rise building through glass doors. Only by inference in retrospect, or through hints dropped by the director, can we surmise that this “organization man” may have been fired or laid off. (12)
Then we see an older brick wall; the camera this time pans right to reveal the outback: what lies just beneath the surface of the façade of civilization. This shot also provides a contrast that shapes our interpretation of the following shot of the father, sitting in the courtyard of his office tower, enclosed by glass, steel, concrete, and his own private thoughts.
The following scenes comment on disjunctions in the human-nature relationship. A sign for “Pet-Meet – An Approved Pet Store” advertises “Kangaroo Meat”. A hand grasps ground meat – whether in a Pet Store or butcher shop is not clear. Perhaps people “meet their meat” at Pet-Meet. (13) Louis Nowra argues that “Roeg’s comment on the brutal commercialization of an Australian icon is too obvious.” It has been hard for many critics to avoid concluding that the film reifies a clichéd comparison of “the corruption of European civilization to the innocence of a Noble Savage’s life” (14). Such reactions may be a response in part to prior marketing of the film as a “collision” between “nature and civilization”. At any rate, this sequence does introduce the centrality of “meat” in the culture of both post-industrial and tribal cultures. But, increasingly, what we learn and see about how meat is prepared in Western culture calls into question the very notion of “civilization”.
After the father and children return to their condo, the mother (Hilary Bamberger) prepares their picnic lunch. She listens to a radio program about the confinement of the Ortolan (“European singing bird”) to turn it into a delicacy. Before we see the woman, or hear the radio, Roeg’s visual narrative about confinement has established a counterpoint to this audio narrative. The establishing shot of this sequence shows the condo enclosed within a white brick wall. A tracking shot reveals a black Volkswagen “bug” beside a white wall; behind it, a palm tree and a few plants are squeezed into a triangle of sand enclosed within bricks. The camera pans left and the didgeridoo fades as the female announcer comes on with the narration about the Ortolan. The following minute is dense with visual and aural information about familial and cultural norms. At 4:16, the camera moves in on one window in this multi-story condo, where we see the housewife at the sink. She is watering plants in small pots by window. Everything is potted, confined, walled in – like the Ortolan, we could infer. “When fattened for eating, they are left in dark cardboard boxes …” There is a cut from outside the apartment to a shot from behind the woman, so that outside the window we can see Sydney Harbour. The voice continues: “and packets of grain are pressed to a hole in the box, through which a light is shone”.
As Chapter 2 begins (“Pool by the Sea”), the woman reaches for the radio dial. We hear: “The bird picks at the grain in the hopes of penetrating through to the light, which he mistakes for the sun.” Interspersed with shots of the woman preparing a picnic, the radio continues: “This goes on for several weeks. When it has eaten itself so full that it cannot stand or see …” At this point, the father, in shirtsleeves, walks into the dining room and glances at his wife. They do not speak. The radio gives a mild-mannered but shocking conclusion to the preparation of this delicacy, said to date to ancient Rome: “it is drowned in cognac.”
The father re-appears with a drink in the living room (drowning his sorrow/preparing for immolation, in retrospect); there is a spectacular view of the Harbour. “Gourmets regard it as an exceptional delicacy. You will find vinegar is an acceptable substitute for cognac.” The man walks onto a terrace, drink in one hand, cigarette in another. He casts a sour look down on his kids in the pool. The radio fades away. The pool is like a box of lighter blue between a strip of green, the grey concrete and the darker blue of seawater. The image cuts back to a wide view of the man on a corner of the terrace, looking down on his kids. This perspective emphasizes just how enclosed that body of water is. Back inside, the wife in view, at 5:19 the radio voice returns: “Although there are a few of them available in tins in the better shops now.” The radio narrative functions as “a potent metaphor of captivity”, as Andrew Zielinski has observed – a metaphor that is however dominated by the visual narrative of confinement. (15)
Chapter 3 (“A Picnic”) begins with the newer brick wall. The camera pans right; the black Volkswagen, seen in long shot, is dwarfed by the seeming emptiness of the immense outback. At this point, the film enters its journey motif and begins to adhere to a minimalist script. Since many critics have described the film as “non-linear” or “elliptical”, it is worth pausing here to note that Roeg takes pride in having “never storyboarded anything”. The story is told that after returning from Australia, where he scouted for Walkabout along with his son, Luc, scriptwriter Edward Bond told Roeg: “I’ve finished the script – I think you’ll be rather pleased.” Bond handed Roeg fourteen pages of handwritten notes, eliciting the response: “That’s perfect.” As Roeg emphasizes, his intuitive, improvisational style “probably comes from not having gone to film school”. His style has always been to “shoot a lot of stuff” and to weave into his largely unscripted stories a significant amount of whatever the local environment provides. (16)
There was little in the original screenplay except for some dialogue between brother and sister. Roeg’s commentary for the 1998 DVD release makes clear how much was improvised on site. Yet, Jenny Agutter’s commentary stresses how realized the film was in Roeg’s mind, and how successfully he communicated this vision to his actors, without having much on paper.
The scenes of the children’s separation from their prior social world develop the theme of confinement. This is increasingly metaphorical: the “voices of civilization” confine the children within their own culture. Roeg shows how little this “civilizing” process has prepared them for the beautiful but savage world just on the other side of the wall. Their confinement is first signalled visually: from the long shot of the “black bug”, a dot on the surface of a desert sea, there are cuts to medium and then short shots of the car, showing the father and two children cramped inside. There is a close-up of the father poring over his papers. The visuals and audio combined produce a sense of claustrophobia. Again, the radio sets the tone, underscoring that although these city-dwellers may be in the wilderness, the “civilizing voice” is never far away. As soon as the girl turns it on, we hear the same female announcer continue the aural discourse on “civilized” manners – here declaring that “you have to learn to tell a fish knife from a meat knife, and a fish fork from a meat fork.” The father glances over in irritation, and the sound of a fly buzzing mixes with the radio voice, seeming to indicate the penetration of nature into this little cocoon of civilization. Then a third sound intrudes on this small space in which the father would clearly prefer silence. The boy in the back opens candy wrappers and chatters. The father, seen in extreme close-up, turns around to reinforce the disciplinary, confining nature of the civilizing voice: “Please don’t speak with your mouth full, son.” A reaction shot of the boy’s eyes indicate how oppressive it must feel to be trapped inside the tiny car with this dour father.
Although this is the first “dialogue” in the film, it is clear that the father is not interested in communication. A pan looking out the windshield onto the vastness of the outback reinforces the sense of the isolation of this family in a quasi-lunar landscape. The father irritably brushes the girl’s hand aside and turns off the radio on her lap, then starts the engine. A close-up shows that the gas gauge is empty. For the father (a “representative man” of his civilization), there is nothing left to say, nowhere else to go: he has reached a dead end.
Humans are de-centred in the visual narrative and in the diegetic sounds that come to the foreground. As the “bug” clatters across a piece of the outback devoid of signs of humans, we see and hear two reptiles in close-up on the desert floor. A lizard raises its head attentively, as if hearing the car approaching, then scampers away to safety with a noisy clatter, just as the car enters the scene and rolls to what will be its final resting place.
Such cutaways, common during the sojourn across the outback, contribute to the visual narrative about individual and cultural rites of passage. Let me suggest two ways to think about Roeg’s insertion of such material. First, the use of amplified diegetic sound “alongside these close-ups makes them almost the equal of the human characters in this environment”, as Michael O’Shaughnessy suggests. The “sound leads to the heart of an Australian world”, to the “inner” world of local fauna, as Robert Bresson has observed. (17) Second, this cutaway establishes a visual trope that is an important part of Roeg’s ideological fabula about the nature of the relationship between the Western world and the animal kingdom. Various animals are shown fleeing when humans appear, indicating that they are dangerous intruders onto the habitats of these animals.
Roeg quickly establishes important gendered differences in the ways that the boy and the girl respond to the non-urban world, and how they manifest their respective acculturation in the norms of that world. The father turns off the key and the car has hardly stopped rolling when the boy runs excitedly into the outback. The girl looks at her father with an alarmed expression: “You’ve stopped again.” He does not respond, but announces after a pause: “We’ll eat now.” While the girl sets up their picnic (the domestic sphere), the boy is off exploring and playing war games. We hear and see him imitating the sounds of airplanes, of machine guns, of crashes, and then yelling over and over again: “Bang! Bang! Bang.” And as the girl spreads out the little island of domesticity on top of a head scarf, the boy runs amok with his green water pistol, telling imagined enemies: “Bang! You’re dead!”
Tiring for a moment of his war games, the boy tugs on a plastic toy race car and then yells: “The wheel’s come off!” He approaches his father, still in the car, and repeats twice: “Dad, my wheel’s come off.” But the father, whose wheels are about to figuratively come off, barely glances up from his paperwork. The visuals cut back and forth between the boy outside, and the father inside, marking his geology map and reports. The father is not interested in the land itself, only in its economic value as a resource to be exploited.
The next chapter begins when the girl turns on the radio and we hear Rod Stewart’s song which provides the title and acts as a chorus to the coming tragedy, “Gasoline Alley”. The title’s symbolism soon becomes apparent, when the father comes unhinged, douses his car with gasoline, sets it afire and shoots himself. But Roeg is a director who chooses every image and sound with great care. A close examination of the lyrics reveals that Roeg has used elements of this song both as an accompaniment to the action taking place, and as a choral commentary.
As the girl sets the radio on the scarf, the camera cuts to the father in the car, and we hear:
“I think I know now what’s making me sad
It’s a yearnin’ for my own back yard
I realize maybe I was wrong to leave.”
During this verse, he picks up binoculars and looks at his son putting the water pistol in his mouth; through the binoculars, he pans down to the boy’s toy airplane. As the chorus becomes audible (“going home, running home”), there is a cut to an airplane flying overhead, and we hear and then see the boy shooting at it with his water pistol.
The boy had set his toys on a pile of rocks, and as he says, “Quick men! Duck!” The father opens fire. The boy sees the father aiming a pistol at him from inside the car and thinks it’s a game. They aim at each other; first we see water coming out of the boy’s pistol, and then a rock shattering beside him as his father fires again. The girl leads him into a shallow wash. While they crawl to safety, the father’s derangement becomes audible. After trying to kill his children, and just before self-immolation, time is foremost on his mind: “It’s getting late. I’ve got to go now … We can’t waste time …” And then more uncertainly, “Can’t … waste time.”
As the father takes a gas can out of the trunk, Stewart’s voice again provides commentary:
“But if anything should happen and my plans go wrong […]
Let it be known that my intentions were good.”
During the last line, we hear flames enveloping the car. The girl peeks over the edge and sees her father shoot himself in front of the inferno, just as we hear Stewart’s voice again:
“And if I’m called away and it’s my turn to go/
Should the blood run cold in my veins […]
Don’t bury me here […] carry me back […]
where I started from.”
The “Gasoline Alley” lyrics interwoven with the visual narrative suggest an irremediable self-alienation for the “anti-natural man” (18). He has been so far removed from his “back yard” (or raised without any reference to a yard) that, when “plans go wrong”, he cannot be carried back to the starting point. With all reference to roots elided, self-immolation perhaps takes on a tragic logic – as the girl tells her brother later, perhaps he really was “doing what he thought was best”.
The first third of the film (“Separation”) is full of references to/premonitions of death. I have already mentioned two instances of the use of the radio, both cases involving the death of “fellow creatures” who were trapped by “the good life”. Both bird and man could be said, within the visual logic of the film, to be “victims of civilization”. Roeg also uses the soundtrack to comment on the death of/separation from the world the children have known. As they trek across the outback towards some mountains, a children’s choir sings a fragment of the British nursery rhyme, “Cock Robin”:
“who saw him die / I said the fly
With my little eye / I saw him die.”
The camera zooms in on the rocks the children are walking over; as the zoom continues, a desert locust is revealed, its eyes filling much of the screen. Thus, the father’s suicide is connected with an emerging narrative about the de-centring of humans: here we see the outback (and, implicitly, the death of the father) from the insect’s point of view.
The de-centring is also effected through the “agency” of the radio that the children have brought along. It is both “a signifier of and a link to civilization”, as O’Shaughnessy notes. The radio is almost like a fourth central character in the film, but more on the order of a Greek chorus. “The aural discourse of the radio is juxtaposed against the visual discourse of the outback with disturbing, amusing, or ironic, choric effect”, O’Shaughnessy helpfully observes. (19) One example will suffice. As the children descend from their “mountaintop” view, the heart-tugging romantic strings of composer John Barry accompany the camera’s seeming caress of the mountains as it moves down, revealing the layers of geological ages. As the music fades, the female radio announcer enters with a description of the earth’s “basaltic crust” and molten core. As the camera sweeps over the rock-strewn surface at the foot of the mountain, it comes to rest on the brother and sister, who are faced with the challenge of survival. As the girl tries to open a can of cherries with a rock, the radio announcer declares: “human society will someday come to an end.” The girl’s and the radio announcer’s commentaries intertwine with the visual narrative, inferring an “all is vanity” fabula about human civilization. The girl is proud when she manages to make a hole in the tin can. Meanwhile, the announcer declares her belief that “it is [mankind] who imparts dignity to the planet in which he lives, although not receiving importance from it.” But then she goes on to begin a critique of the “actually existing” civilization: “The idea that man has passed through 10,000 years of trials in order that there might be, at last, a perpetual succession of successful shopkeepers […]” At this point, the girl shuts off the radio – a gesture much like her father’s – announcing that they must “save batteries”.
At one point, as the boy is lying in a sand dune, about to succumb to certain death, the girl repeats the words of her father directly: “It’s getting late. We’ve got to go. We can’t waste time.” This is one of many instances in which the girl tries to carry the “civilizing voice” into the desert. Roeg undercuts her “voice of reason” in several ways.
One humorous instance is after they have found a tiny oasis and have washed their clothes. The radio is in a fruit tree, broadcasting (on Armistice Day) an episode of a “counter-agent” program called “Enemy”. The boy begins asking his sister questions about their father. When a bridge is blown up on the program, there is a flashback to the father’s suicide, but this time we see it in reverse, his bloody head rising from the ground, as if returning to haunt the son.
“Did our car crash?”, the boy asks. The girl, clad only in a bra and a short skirt, ignores him. In motherly clean-up mode, she admonishes him: “You’ve got to look after your blazer. It’s got to last. We don’t want people thinking we’re a couple of tramps.” “What people?”, the boy asks. There is a cutaway to an empty horizon, from whence the aboriginal boy will soon come. From a distance we see how tiny and fragile their oasis is. The girl is seen stepping into her panties, underscoring visually the disjuncture between her own appearance and her advice.
During the separation phase, both children demonstrate how culturally “confined” they are: the boy’s militarized imagination, the girl’s obsession with propriety. Just before the aborigine appears, there are two “dreamtime” sequences, signalling their passage into a liminal state. While sleeping at the oasis, the water disappears and the birds and grubs eat the fruit. We hear a chaos of sounds: insects, radio static, etc. Serpents crawl in the tree above the girl; a koala nuzzles the boy’s head.
The next day, as the children sleep off the heat, the cacophony of sound suggests a passage into a near-death state, which is underscored by successive shots of a partially decomposed animal’s corpse on the sand, covered by flies; a hawk flying overhead; and a large lizard devouring a horned toad. We sense how horribly unprepared these children are, without food or water and in the intense heat, and that they can probably only survive a few hours.
Liminality – The Way of All Flesh and the Path of the Indigene
As the cacophony fades and the radio tone slides down, the boy wakes and looks towards the crest of a distant sandy hill, where he sees a human head appear. Groggily, he whispers “Dad.” This is the product of a “comforting lie” his sister had told him. (20) After the incineration at “Gasoline Alley”, the girl had started off across the desert with her brother, telling him that their father had “said we were to go on ahead”. When the boy insisted that his father had instructed him not “to go out of his sight”, the girl insisted, “He’ll catch us up later.”
When they awake at the oasis to discover that their water and fruit have disappeared, and the boy asks which way they will go, the girl decides: “We’ll stay here.” She voices her utopian hope: “Perhaps the water will come back.” (32:07) At the oasis, where troubled memories of his father began to return with more frequency, the boy had expressed his own utopian hope: that perhaps the father would really “catch us up” at that moment of desperate need.
Both are waiting for a miracle. The miracle arrives, but in a totally unexpected shape and form. Four things are worth noting about this “saviour”:
1. The first glimpse the Anglo children have of the aborigine is how he hunts (he spears a lizard and then clubs it to death);
2. This adolescent expresses great joy and delight; in fact, he dances as he hunts and kills;
3. He is almost completely naked; and
4. He is, from the children’s point of view, “black”.
The siblings blink, unable to believe what they are seeing. The aborigine approaches them, speaking in his own language. He holds up the lizard he has just killed towards the boy. When the boy holds out his hand as if to take it, the youth quickly retreats, startled that the boy seems to be trying to take his lizard. In close-up, flies buzz around several dead lizards, held by their necks under the leather strap of his miniscule “thong”. An extreme close-up shows the flies around the mouths of the lizards. The purpose of these visuals seems to be to defamiliarize Western preconceptions that the aborigine will be some sort of “noble savage”. Although he will become an object of sexual interest, at this moment his loins are clad in death and apparent filth. This sequence also emphasizes an imbalance of power: the lives of the Anglo children are in his hands, but he seems unimpressed or uninterested.
The youth says something and begins to walk off. The boy shouts, “I want a drink!”, and the girl runs after the aborigine, with comedic results. “We’re English, do you understand? This is Australia, yes?”, she offers. The boy is in a near fury with his sister, sensing that her failure to communicate can result in their death. His face contorted, he shouts: “Ask him for water!” The youth says something, and the girl reaches out and touches his chest, saying, “Water”. He looks down at her hand. “Drink. We want water to drink.” Exasperated, she insists: “You must understand. Anyone can understand that.” His face is blank. “I can’t make it any simpler. Water. To drink. The water hole has dried up. Where do they keep the water?”
Blinkered by cultural insularity, the girl insists on her Englishness. Treating an aborigine as if he were an alien, she condescends to him, lectures him on the proper name for the land he stands on, berates him for not understanding English and then, to top off her comedy of misrecognition, assumes that water is a resource that “they” keep somewhere, just out of sight. But the boy is too young to have been fully acculturated into the “colonial mentality”. Out of desperation, he improvises a gulping motion and sound. The aborigine smiles broadly in recognition, repeating “Gapé”. He plunges a hollow reed into the damp soil and demonstrates how they can drink out of it. He talks to them as they drink, but Roeg has made a decision not to translate any of his speech – presumably, so that we will see this experience from something like the children’s point of view. The aborigine remains “other”, although the boy will develop a means of communicating with him in a mixture of sign language, aboriginal words and English.
This sequence sets the terms for the intercultural relationship: the aborigine is an “ecological indigene” whose immediate role is as the man who brings the water back. Later, the aborigine will function in some of the archetypal ways that Shepard Krech III has described as typical of the “Ecological Indian”, including an implicit critique of “white civilization” (21). I have adopted this concept to indigenous peoples in a broader sense, including aborigines. As a proto “eco-indigene”, the most immediate function of the aboriginal teen is to show the Anglo youths how to live on the land, “to eat of its fruit and flesh”, starting with knowing “where the water is kept”. This something the Anglo children could not do because they don’t know how to look beneath the surface, to the sources of water, and life. Like the character Niki Jumpei (Eiji Okada) in Woman in the Dunes, they became trapped in the sand because they “didn’t know the local geography”.
Previously they had “walked by faith and not by sight” (22). As the girl led her brother away from the burning car, he asked: “Do you know where to go to?” “Yes, of course”, she assured him. Later he asks, “We’re lost, aren’t we?” She bravely denies the obvious. But, from the beginning of their trek, it is obvious that “the eyes see, but they don’t see in truth”, as J. M. G. Le Clézio remarks regarding how most Westerners relate to nature and to indigenous cultures. (23) The outback sees them, but they don’t see it. Roeg often cuts away to show what is going on at ground level, or just beneath the visible surface, of the outback. That underlying reality, invisible at first to the city-dwellers, is a world in which the desert and its inhabitants devour the flesh on its surface.
The consumption of flesh and the desire for flesh are prefigured by a visual narrative about the way of all flesh. Death is mostly out of sight in Western urban cultures, but it is a part of everyday life in nature, and in indigenous cultures. But the Westernized children cannot see this substratum, at first: their eyes have been confined or constrained within the myopia of their Western education. No sooner had the girl given her brother the (false) assurance that she “knows where to go” than the camera cuts to a close-up of ants already swarming over the fruit of their abandoned picnic. This is what happens to “Western fruits” in the wilderness, which is far from the pastoral imagination. Roeg sometimes seems to re-inscribe this romance, but more often interrogates it. As the children begin their trek, there is a cut from the feet of the girl to an extreme close-up of the face of a snarling lizard, while the score signals “imminent danger”.
There are numerous instances of a developing visual narrative about the preponderance of death in the natural world and how what remains of life is sustained only through the consumption of flesh. For instance, at 17:30, as the children are crossing a mountain, we see a dead lizard with ants running over it. When the boy succumbs to exhaustion and dehydration at a sand dune, the amplified sound of a fly buzzing, the close-up of a scorpion and a shot of a hawk circling overhead signal the fate which awaits them if they linger.
The children are in need of “a re-education of the senses” (24). There are some inferences that prior to meeting the aborigine, the outback and the traces of aboriginal culture inscribed on its surface are beginning this process. During the first night passed on an outcrop of rock, there is a double exposure of the children sleeping, and of rock paintings, indicating that “dreamtime” is seeping into their unconscious. This is confirmed the following day when the boy stops in front of rock paintings and tells his sister that he had a dream. Finally, when the girl has to carry her brother, he returns to consciousness while hanging upside down. It is from this position that the camera reveals his first view of the oasis. This signals that the children are entering a carnivalesque world, in which prior norms will be inverted. But it requires a native guide before they will be able to “read the signs”.
These signs often contest romanticized notions of what indigenous peoples, or life “in the wild”, are like. This revisionist perspective begins as soon as the aborigine enters the narrative. The flies and the dead lizards around the youth’s groins seem to indicate the inter-relationship of desire and death. The importance of meat continues to be central to the narrative: something to be desired and consumed; hence, the inter-relationship of flesh with life and death. As the Anglo children follow the aborigine at the beginning of their shared journey, there is a shot from above an eagle’s nest looking down on the three humans passing underneath her tree. As in many other instances, we are shown an inversion of the human-centred narrative of mainstream film, often looking at humans from the point of view of an insect, a reptile, or a bird of prey.
Soon a visual narrative about the sexual desire for flesh is introduced. As they walk in single file, there is a shot of the youth’s buttocks. The girl is checking out human flesh as they walk, while the boy is attuned to the camels nearby. Then the camera takes a position showing the aborigine’s face, but the girl behind him, looking down at his flesh. This is another of the film’s inversions: what we have here is the “female gaze”. The camera cuts to another close-up of the youth’s buttocks. We can also see the boomerang in his left hand. If he has been “objectified”, it is both as hunter and as sex object.
While they walk, there are cutaways to the remains of other kinds of flesh: a desiccated camel, then cattle corpses – all human-introduced and all having apparently died of thirst. Again, death is represented as omnipresent in the desert. But, now that the eco-indigene guides the Anglo children, death does not seem like such a threat. Death is, in fact, represented as life-giving, because the aborigine is not only a guide (to water; towards “home”), he is also a provider of the meat that sustains them. His hunting occupies a privileged place during the liminal stage; it not only keeps them alive, it is also a primary means of agency through which the children (and, presumably, viewers of the film) are called upon to question the norms of their culture.
On their second day together, considerable attention is paid to the aborigine’s tracking, killing and cooking a kangaroo. One thing that becomes apparent during the hunt is that there is a form of communication between the hunter and hunted. The aborigine uses a sort of sign language, as if he is entrancing the kangaroo. He engages in ritual cleaning motions. After he has first speared the kangaroo, the animal turns to face the hunter and appears to plead for mercy. No mercy is shown, although respect is clearly a part of the hunt. This is a long ways from the kangaroo meat we saw earlier in the film.
As the youth clubs the kangaroo, there are a series of four cutaways to a butcher dividing a carcass with a cleaver. When the youth takes out the heart or liver, the butcher does the same. Both the youth and the butcher pull out sinew/cartilage. What is waste for the butcher is useful for the aborigine. He is lashing the cord-like cartilage to a piece of wood as a male voice comes on the radio, a maths program. The audio suggests a way of reading the visual: a comparison of the abstractness of “Western” knowledge versus the practicality of aboriginal knowledge.
Some critics argue that these comparative cutaways are heavy-handed. (25) However, given the limits of exposure amongst Roeg’s audience to how meat is caught, or prepared, I think this is necessary. Many viewers express a visceral displeasure at the “brutality” of the native way of killing. The comparative approach makes the point that this brutality is a matter of perspective and cultural relativity. Roeg notes that, in fact, the aborigine seems to have no capacity for cruelty in his relationship to animals. How Westerners treat their animals compares unfavourably to him.
A persistent doubleness runs throughout Roeg’s narrative about animals and meat. The pet shop doubles as a meat-seller. The bird that gives pleasure to humans through its song also provides a different sort of pleasure as a delicacy, after it is tortured. At the picnic, the sister asks her brother if he wants chicken or ham, and he says both. During the radio broadcast, the announcer goes on at parodic length about the important difference between fish knives and meat knives, and fish forks and meat forks. Cumulatively, these repeated “meat doubles” seem to suggest a certain schizophrenia in Western attitudes towards animals.
This narrative may also suggest that civilization is a clothing we use to hide our “true inter-relatedness” with animals, or to mask our own animal instincts. (26) This seems to be the subtext at a campsite, while a kangaroo cooks over an open fire. The boy runs a toy car over the legs of the aborigine, who laughs. He continues his labour with kangaroo parts as the meat cooks; the girl plays with her hair. Still in her domesticating role, she commands her brother:
“Put your shirt on.”
“He hasn’t got a shirt on”, the boy points out.
“He hasn’t got a shirt”, she responds. Whereupon the boy offers:
“He can have mine.”
The girl checks out the aborigine. The camera follows her eyes, down his chest to the stomach and his thighs. With a strange half-smile, she looks up and says: “It wouldn’t fit him.”
The youth throws a rabbit on the fire, its guts open, and the girl looks away – she cannot bear to look at the carcasses of animals, but she cannot avert her eyes from the youth’s flesh.
Shot from across the campfire, we can see the smudges on the girl’s face and smoke partially obscuring her. She is taking on the hues of life in “the wild”. We see what is apparently her memory of the Volkswagen engulfed in flames, and then what triggered the memory, the guts and the legs of the rabbit expanding as it roasts on the fire. Then the boy begins wrestling with the aborigine, demanding a piggy-back ride. Soon the girl joins in, voicing her semi-serious primitivism: “Watch out. He’ll roast you and eat you for dinner.”
As the youth holds the boy upside down, the camera pans down from above, showing two limbs of the gum joined in a slit, which ends in a knob, looking like a vulva. Soon the children climb the tree. There are intercuts to some topless aboriginal women gathered around the shell of the burnt-out Volkswagen. A few squeeze inside the vehicle to play, as the children play in the tree. There are intercuts between the girl as she hangs from a limb, tugging on her skirt as her white panties are exposed, and the buttocks of an aboriginal woman clambering over the car. Soon all three children are hanging from tree limbs like monkeys. The “tribal” music reinforces the sense that the Anglo children are in the process of “going native”. There is a marked contrast between the teenage girl’s concern with propriety and the unconfined nature of the aboriginal women, whose nakedness is natural and draws no attention from anyone in their group.
The camera zooms in on the charred corpse of the father, now draped, crucifixion-like, across some brush. For the moment, the teenage girl seems to have forgotten about what she is exposing and gives herself fully to play. The camera cuts from her gleeful face to the ample breasts of the aboriginal women, as the boy yells, “Swing me!” Swing takes on double-voiced meaning here, as the girl is letting go of her inhibitions in a way that has sexual connotations.
This interlude ends with a joke as the aborigines in the car fiddle with the radio, and it comes on. They hurriedly exit and file off down the wash as an announcer says: “If you’ve got a good, clean, low-mileage car you’d like to sell, Waldo’s Motor Mart will help you turn that car into cash.” The effect is slapstick, but the subtext seems to further burlesque the “civilized” lifestyle as something incompatible with a “natural” lifestyle.
As the announcer concludes, “And now, back to ‘Night Beat’”, the scene cuts to a night-time shot of the youth’s back. He lies back and the viewer can see the girl sitting about eight feet away, observing him. The camera tracks left, showing the two teens on the sand in a triangular relationship with the campfire. The aborigine speaks and the girl immediately says, “Good Night”, as if to foreclose any attempts on his part to continue intimate communication.
As the girl begins stroking her legs, rubbed raw by the earlier rumpus on the tree limbs, a close-up shows the youth opening his eyes to observe her. The camera angle changes to a shot from his feet, looking up to his head, resting on his clasped hands, the full length of his flesh glowing in the moonlight. As he speaks, the girl brings her legs together, as if to avoid the potential for a misunderstanding. As he continues to speak, the viewer suddenly gets the sense that the language barrier has been bridged, perhaps by some combination of desire and empathy. “I’ll be alright in the morning”, she assures him. “It got a bit sore from […]”
At this point, she looks up towards the tree; the camera zooms up on the leg-like tree limbs and then shows the “vulva-like” slit at the intersection of the limbs. There is a cut to the youth’s chest rising and falling as he breaths deeply, and then to the girl’s face, who suddenly seems to have “put two and two together”. She intuitively leaps beyond innocence, and into the “knowledge of good and evil” that the tree and the boy, in combination, seem to have provided, both as forms of “forbidden fruit”. “Oh dear”, she says, rising suddenly, apparently fearful of the implications of this freighted situation. The youth also rises, walking towards her and speaking softly as she gathers some of her loose things. He takes the things from her and lays them neatly at the sleeping boy’s side. Taking a spear, he returns to the girl. Standing close, he speaks softly.
Her eyes reveal a certain doe-like vulnerability. There is a long, wordless gaze exchanged and then the boy walks off into the pre-dawn light. The next shot is the iconic image of the youth standing on one leg, stork-like, his left knee raised, one hand balancing with the vertical spear, his body and the spear a dramatic silhouette out against the colours of the rosy dawn.
If the image of the aborigine guarding the dawn is read in isolation, it does seem romanticized, the “noble savage” promising to reveal the beauty and wonder of nature in a pristine setting untrammelled by “Western Man”. Within the context of the preceding section of the film, many viewers might presume that he is “standing vigil” over the Anglo youths, protecting them from the dangers of the beasts of the outback before they continue their journey back to “civilization”. However, when read through the lens of the subtext about the palpable sexual tension between the two teens, one might also infer that the youth is standing in vigilance over his desire.
He seems to have inferred the girl’s message, as she inferred his concern about her abrasions, and he has determined to keep a safe distance, so that she will feel comfortable and/or he will not be tempted by her proximity.
This interpretation seems to be encouraged by a tendency in promotional materials such as posters and DVD covers to link the “vigilant” iconic image of the aborigine with what has become an iconic image of Jenny Agutter: a skinny-dipping shot with only her head above water, her arms spread in an angelic pose, yet her under-water body suggesting untapped pleasures just beneath the (civilizing/masking) surface. One poster seems to suggest a sort of inter-epochal Romeo and Juliet (“30,000 years apart … together”). Yet, both the racial politics of the era, and perhaps the cultural logic of aboriginal culture, makes the actual enactment of inter-cultural attraction in this film unlikely, if not impossible.
We should bear in mind the sexual attitudes of aborigine teens. In a novel for adolescents from which the film was loosely adapted (The Children, 1954), James Vance Marshall wrote that the girl’s fears were unfounded, because in aboriginal culture there is a progression towards achieving the status necessary to choose a mate. The aborigine in the midst of his walkabout would not conceive of trying to take a sexual partner. That would be to violate the norms of his culture, the very laws of nature, as it were, which dictate that the young man only moves to take a woman after returning from his successful rite of passage, upon the achievement of manhood. (27)
The film follows a similar logic. Although we can infer the aborigine is expressing some degree of interest in the girl, he does not demonstrate an open courtship until after what he seems to interpret as the successful completion of his walkabout. That is precisely when he delivers the Anglo children back to the world of the cities, of Western society, of “white people”.
This raises an interesting issue: the respective rites of passage of both adolescents change after their encounter, the aborigine’s most markedly. There is a clear degree of intercultural identification going on amongst the three children, so I do not think Roger Ebert’s perspective is entirely accurate, that “the two teenagers never find a way to communicate, not even by using sign language” (28). It is true that the Anglo boy communicates with the aborigine much more successfully than his sister. And it is largely true, as Ebert writes, that the girl “remains implacably middle-class and conventional” (29). But there is clearly a great deal of communication going on between the two teenagers, although it is mostly non-verbal.
Before considering the re-integration phase of Walkabout, I will note some key moments in which Roeg reveals a partial inter-penetration of the respective rites of passage. This process leads the girl to glimpse an existence beyond her confinement within middle-class Anglo-Saxon conventionality. But the narratives about confinement and rites of passage are increasingly mediated through the visual narrative about meat and animals. Meat becomes a mediator between the aborigine and the Anglo children. But, in the end, differing cultural attitudes towards animals and meat seem to symbolize the incompatibility of these two cultures, or world views.
In the “Sunburn” chapter, the voice of the father returns: “I’ve got to go now.” This occurs while the boy is suffering intense pain from his over-exposure to the sun. The aborigine strides in, takes some steaming guts out of a dingo cooking on a fire and spreads blood on the boy’s red back as he whimpers. The girl, in a scarlet scarf, holds the boy in her lap and tells him: “I told you to keep your clothes on.” She continues to be the civilizing voice, while the aborigine “anoints” the boy and pulls him increasingly into his cultural orbit. Both teenagers take on quasi-parenting roles here, indicating that they are becoming a familial unit. Some degree of fractured, minimalist communication transpires between the two teens. The aborigine talks to the girl as he “heals” the boy. “What?”, she asks, and he talks again, as if he understands that she wants clarification. After a pause, she gives a monosyllabic response: “No.” It is not clear whether or not she has actually understood anything he has said, but her response seems to symbolize her general attitude to the youth and his culture. She will cleave to him as long as survival is at stake.
The aborigine reaches further into the culture of the Anglo youths he has taken on as a mission than the girl is capable of penetrating his world. As they move through tropical scenery, the aborigine carries the radio and wears the girl’s jacket around his hips. Another view from behind the youth walking indicates that this is most or all of what the girl sees about him.
In the chapter “Painting Wall”, the bodies of both Anglo youths have been covered in paint designs by their guide. The paintings signal the different ways in which they are responding to the presence of the aborigine. The boy is shirtless, his back covering with the painting of a kangaroo and his face covered with a cat-like mask. But the girl is still properly attired, with only a snake painted on her arms. She tries to draw a house to serve as a map back home for the aborigine. But the boy’s mind is on a very different, emergent home. He is focused on his relationship with the aborigine and the nature of the “new world” that the aborigine is revealing to him. “Why did you say that we were the first white people he’s ever seen?”, he asks his sister. While his sister had joked that the aborigine might roast and eat him, the boy’s fantasy life shows that he has identified with the youth as a father figure who is capable of delivering the sort of knowledge and adventures that were beyond the reach of his real father. Looking at the aborigine’s paintings, he remarks to his sister: “I think he might take us to the moon.” Then: “By the look of that, I think he’s going to take us to Mars.” But the aborigine seems to grow frustrated. He tosses coloured dust in the air and brushes the drawings with a leafy branch. Perhaps he is coming to understand the futility of trying to communicate with the girl about anything besides a path that takes her forever away from him.
The “Heat and Desire” interlude about Russian, Italian and Australian climatologists gives us a picture of the increasingly multi-ethnic nature of the modern Australia. It shows how close the sojourners are to “civilization”. And it demonstrates that sexual desire continues to flourish even in desperate circumstances, and perhaps especially in intercultural contexts.
The following chapter, “Ecstasy”, is the climax of the liminal phase. Only here does the girl seem immersed in the aborigine’s world. This skinny-dipping sequence has quickened the pulse of many viewers over the years, both those who were excited by glimpses of actress Jenny Agutter au natural and critics who have accused Roeg of prurience. I want to draw attention to a primary structural feature of this sequence: Roeg’s repeated intercuts to scenes of the aborigine hunting while the girl leisurely swims, while John Barry’s score suggests that indeed this is the film’s central Edenic moment. But what is the “true nature” of that Eden?
First, a viewer’s emotional response to this montage is likely to be over-determined by the musical theme. The “stunning […] main theme […] drives the listener to the edge of tears with its melancholy heart-rending sound”, writes Caryl Flynn in Strains of Utopia. (30) Writing as both fan and critic, I agree with Michael O’Shaughnessy that the music is “intensely pleasurable” but also that it places “a particular cultural slant” on what we see in Walkabout. There are commonalities to some of Barry’s best-known scores, such as Born Free (James Hill, 1966), Out of Africa (Sydney Pollack, 1985), and Dances With Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990). As O’Shaughnessy notes, Barry’s romantic themes play “over the spectacle of the great outdoors, ‘other’ landscapes” – African and indigenes – “which are being ‘visited’ by white westerners”. (31) The full theme lasts one minute, and is played “with melancholy variations” in four parts of the film. The theme plays three times during the montage of Agutter swimming and Gulpilil hunting. Roeg privileges it as “the primary melody through which to feel and understand the landscape, the characters and the story”, O’Shaughnessy argues. (32)
The repetition of such themes amplifies the pleasure on re-hearing it: as with re-versioned Jamaican riddims, it “takes us back to the past, to the times we first heard the music”. Repeated themes acquire layers of resonance; there is a “built-in nostalgia factor when we listen to music we already know”, writes O’Shaughnessy. (33) Flynn suggests an inherently nostalgic “utopian function” of such music, which offers “the promise of a retrieval of lost utopian coherence”. (34) This utopian nostalgia has already been prefigured by the two previous uses of this theme: first, the magnificent view from the mountaintop; and, second, as the aborigine first leads the Anglo children into the outback. We are primed to interpret the music as the aural soundtrack of the glimpsing of Eden, the movement towards Eden, and finally, the arrival in Eden’s “natural state”.
The swimming/hunting montage functions like a music video. Using music over montage is commonplace in film, but “Ecstasy” seems to prefigure visual narrative techniques developed during the MTV era. The sequence is suffused with nostalgia, but irony and cognitive dissonance are equally important. The camera lingers in voyeuristic fashion on Agutter’s nubile body, in the “sex sells” fashion of popular music videos. But this pleasure is repeatedly undercut by cutaways of the aborigine hunting. The visual narrative in fact interrogates viewer expectations aroused by the music and a quasi-soft porn gaze of Agutter in a state of apparent (mostly under-water) bliss.
The aborigine serves a double function here. As an “ecological indigene” he introduces his Anglo guests to “alternative ‘countercultural’ lives”. (35) But he also is the “savage” who does the killing that makes such leisure possible. While the girl swims in a setting that conveys innocence and rebirth (a symbolic baptism), the aborigine’s hands are covered in blood (another, more carnal baptism). He is providing for the survival and enjoyment of the Anglo children, who experience the aborigine’s domain almost as a sort of theme park, the film suggests. The visual narrative has already hinted that the girl prefers to avert her gaze from the killing that makes her survival possible. Here the relationship between aborigine and girl has developed to the point that through his manly activities, he can enable her domestic ecstasy, without her having to concern herself with the “dirty work” that sustains her leisure.
Just after an establishing shot of the girl scissor-kicking beneath the surface of a pond at the bottom of rock cliffs, the camera moves up and zooms in on the boy, his white shirt open. The string theme enters. A close-up of the boy’s face is super-imposed on the image of his body. He scrambles away and his face with meditative eyes is super-imposed on a long shot of the girl backstroking in the shadows, just below a cliff, into the sunlight. Perhaps we are meant to see the following images from the boy’s point of view. This inference is reinforced by the swelling strings, which convey in this context a sense of regret or nostalgia for innocence lost.
The relationship between the two activities (swimming and hunting) is made explicit by a series of match cuts or visual parallels. At 58:38, there is a cut to the aborigine standing calf-deep in water. He throws a spear into the water; the diagonal trajectory of the spear, from upper left to lower right, is then matched precisely by the motion of the girl diving below the surface, her buttocks and feet momentarily flashing in the sunlight. The camera lingers on her spread legs as she swims several feet beneath the surface. Then, when the aborigine pulls a three-foot fish by the gills out of the shallow water, it is as if he were “fishing the girl”. This parallel is reinforced by a cut to the aborigine throwing the fish on the ground; the motion of the fish falling and flopping is visually echoed by the subsequent shot of the girl “corkscrewing” on the surface of the water (58:48-58:49).
At other moments, Roeg establishes parallels through creative fades, as when a shot of the girl swimming amidst thick underwater greenery fades to the youth partially obscured by the foliage of what looks like a fig tree (59:24), where he is still following the script of the walkabout, to which we were introduced in the inter-title: “Eat of its fruit and flesh.”
Roeg makes a link between the ecstasy being experienced by the girl (and by extension viewers) and the agony of animals as the aborigine kills “his fellow creatures”. After the youth twists a stick to make fire, things become more violent. Cognitive dissonance is produced when the tempo of the montage slows to a languorous pace, marked by a slow harpsichord. Just when the girl seems most relaxed, the youth is portrayed as most brutal. In rapid sequence, we see the deaths of four animals. After the girl is seen swimming beneath lilies with long stems, the youth throws a spear into tall grass; a lizard with a spear in its back keels over (1:00:03). A kangaroo is speared and falls violently to the ground; the girl is shown surfacing three times, as if in contrast to the falling animals. After a close-up of the girl’s rump and legs, we see a close-up of the kangaroo’s carcass, its hindquarters cut open. Then the aborigine brings two bloody kangaroo legs and tosses them on a fire. The third death is another lizard being speared and we hear it groaning as it expires. This comes right after a shot of the girl’s breasts surfacing in the sun. After the lizard’s death throes, we see the girl floating on her back, a blissful expression on her face, which is followed immediately by a shot of the aborigine clubbing a kangaroo on the head.
Finally, there is a shot from ground level of the youth tossing a lizard on the fire. The camera looks up through the flames to the aborigine’s face. He looks satisfied, a job well done. Then a topless Agutter is seen fastening her skirt. This moment of frontal nudity is followed by an extreme close-up of the pink guts of a lizard bubbling up out of the hole where it was speared, as it roasts, back down, its almost human-like finger-claws dominating the screen. The camera then returns to Agutter pulling her shirt on, which accentuates her nipples momentarily.
In this montage, Roeg infers correlations between the ways in which we look at women and the way we treat animals – as “pieces of meat”. The aborigine procures meat as a way of wooing this woman. But, in the fabula, this montage also continues the critique of Western civilization: “we” think we are superior, yet we often use darker peoples to do our dirty work: to harvest for us, to run our slaughterhouses. Beyond that, the aborigine and the girl are enacting a ritual as old as time itself. There always has been a correlation between the beauty of women – the cosmetics industry, fashion, etc. – and the brutality of the “man’s world” which women often prefer not to look at, but on which they rely for their security, their leisure, etc.
“Ecstasy” also hints at how much the two rites of passage have become intertwined. It is evident by this point that the three youths have become a virtual family unit. But the strongest link in this quasi-family is between the young man and the boy, not between the male and female teenagers. To the degree that the aborigine has successfully become a man, it is arguably through playing a father role to the boy. During the montage, we see the boy attempting to hunt alongside the youth, while his sister swims. At the end of this sequence, he is seen covered in mud, carrying a spear. The aborigine looks over his shoulder at the boy, father-like.
Two codas to the montage shed light on the nature of this “family”. The first shows the youth and boy in silhouette walking towards the camera against a horizon aflame at dusk. The aborigine’s head is superimposed on the image of the magnified setting sun, making him seem a god-like figure, at least to the boy, who carries spears that intersect the sun. Then, the brilliant sunset fades to a gray dawn. The children’s clothes hang from a tree. The aborigine wakes and rises from beside the girl. He touches the girl’s scarlet scarf tenderly on the tree. He turns on the radio and adjusts the receiver. A German voice becomes audible. The youth listens with one hand on a spear, once more standing vigil. But, as the liminal section ends, he seems to have achieved some synergy with the Anglo children. The boy hunts with him, while the youth listens to their radio. A degree of affection has grown between the aborigine and the girl.
Re-integration – Homesteaders and Hunters
The liminal phase ends when sojourners cross a stream into a settled area. There we encounter servitude, abandoned homesteads (the call of the not-wild), hunters (uncivilized Westerners) and the moral order of the Caucasian world re-asserting itself, from which the “other” must be excluded. The song “Los Angeles” plays during their crossing, perhaps commenting (like the Rod Stewart track) on the extent to which American and British popular culture has penetrated Australia. The children are in high spirits. One is struck by a division of labour: the boy carries the group’s belongings, including the spears, the radio and even the girl’s bowler hat. The aborigine carries the girl, who wears the scarf around her head in hippie fashion. There is a sexual subtext as he hikes and rocks her on his hips, grasping her bare thighs.
One could read this passage as a post-colonial instance of European representations of the “black man” as a beast of burden. Why couldn’t the girl take off her shoes and cross? In the diegesis, the aborigine clearly wants to carry her. One can infer that the feel of her inner thighs (and from what we can see, probably even more intimate parts) rubbing against his bare skin is pleasurable. This scene could also be read as an instance of “white women” being put on a pedestal. It can also be placed within a history of westerns and captivity narratives in which a white woman is escorted across the wilderness to safety: for instance, Mabel as a sort of future “queen bee” when she is escorted across Indian territory in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pathfinder: or The Inland Sea.
The girl’s own words suggest a reading of this scene. As soon as they crossed the creek, she demands: “Put me down.” Now that they have entered the realm of the settlers, he has served his purpose. The girl now distances herself from her aboriginal guide. Once within an outpost of “white civilization”, she will decide to strike out on her own. The “Plastic ‘Roos” chapter shows why the aborigine could not integrate into the Anglo girl’s world. This interlude takes place just out of sight of the youths, who are moving through some rocky hills nearby. (36) This first thing shown are the words “GENUINE AUSTRALIAN ARTICLE” being painted on plaster statues of kangaroos, figures of bearded aborigines, etc. These are being produced by aborigines in Western clothes who work in slave-like conditions, supervised by a white man who bosses them: “Move it! Quicker!” This ironic glimpse of what is being passed off as “authentic” may also be Roeg’s way to establish critical distance from his own representation of aboriginal culture.
Repeatedly Roeg focuses on the “uncivilized” nature of “the West” and its often-ugly underbelly. We see a tailings pond “wasteland” – perhaps the source of the “Genuine Australian Articles” and the sort of landscape that Edward Burtynsky would do. (37) We see the girl standing on the pocked, chalky surface next to a thicket of dead trees. The red balloon earlier released by the climatologists descends. The aborigine appears holding the string of the balloon and offers it to the girl. Ignoring him, she surmises that it is a weather balloon indicating their proximity to “home”. The balloon pops and the youth leaps back in terror, cowering. Perhaps this symbolizes the futility of his hopes for a relationship with the girl. She is amused by his unfamiliarity with artefacts of her world and again instructs her brother to ask how long it will be “before we can get anywhere”. Using a form of sign language, the boy determines: “We’ll be there today!”
Animals and meat play a crucial role in shaping the ways in which the two teenagers do or do not integrate into the Westernized world. As they come out of the woods, the youth carries a large bird, whose purpose (meat) will shortly be tragically distorted (feathers for a mask during a dance of death) when he is confronted with how people in the girl’s culture treat animals.
The “Home Sweet Home” chapter begins with the girl’s fingers running tenderly over a wire fence. She caresses the fence post, a symbol for what gives order and meaning to her life. She longs to be fenced in once again. She sees the abandoned homestead and then dashes for it full-speed, as brass instruments sound – seemingly a triumphant re-entry is at hand. We see termite hills on the left and a wind generator on the right: the homestead is a bridge between worlds that did not succeed in establishing a foothold. The girl walks through the house and sees old photos of movie stars or models on the wall. After shots of family portraits, we cut to purple flowers creeping over the frame of the house; then, an extreme close-up of ants consuming a dead honey bee. How quickly “wildness” reclaims these tenuous incursions of the civilized world, we infer. The girl goes outside and finds two grave mounds; there is a cut back to a photo of a settler on the wall. The aborigine appears, bird still in hand, grinning broadly at the seated girl, who has a rather forlorn look on her face.
When the boy enters the house, the aborigine talks to him and then to the girl in an animated fashion. He is at first joyous. He seems to feel he has been successful: this is what the girl wanted; he has completed his mission, and now he can claim the girl. But, when he later observes the girl emotionally looking through a box of family photos, he becomes sombre. The house brings out something in her that he does not know. It confines her and excludes him. He begins to realize that what he had expressed to the girl in un-translated words cannot be realized, after he witnesses her emotional reaction to the relics of the white people’s world.
As the girl begins to tidy up the house, she seems to confine herself within an imaginary space to which the aborigine does not have access. She and the youth pass each other like an old married couple who occupy the same space, but avoid each other. Yet, there are indications that they have learned something of a shared language. The youth sends the boy out for “jonge” – firewood. As the aborigine walks outside, sobered, the girl leans out of a window, waving a pot. She tries to speak in his language, saying “akú”, “gapé”, and “makula”. Still waving the pot as he approaches her, she says “water. Lakú. Water”. He takes the pot from her; a close-up shows him saying “water” clearly. He gives her a meaningful look, as if to say: “I understand much more than you realize.” She merely affirms, “Yes, water”, and turns back inside. He looks back toward her, his eyes full of a knowing expression, almost like “father forgive her, for she knows not what she does”. The man who brings water becomes the “boy” who fetches water. (38)
A pivotal moment moving the film towards dénouement is a comparative representation of aboriginal and “white” styles of hunting in the “Blood Lust” chapter. The aborigine has just wrestled a young ox to the ground and is about to club it with a stick when he is bowled over by the vehicle of a “Great White Hunter”. The hunter barrels across the plain, a large ox with its throat slit in the cart behind him, and pulls to a stop, where he takes a high-powered rifle and fells an ox. The visual narrative for the remainder of the chapter weaves together four elements:
1. Repeating shots of oxen being shot;
2. Repeating images of animals in headlong flight from humans;
3. Reaction shots of the aborigine; and
4. Reaction shots of the Anglo boy.
Cumulatively, the chapter illustrates a fall from grace with nature, the consequences of a form of hunting that is a vainglorious “blood sport” or simple slaughter, rather than a procuring of meat for consumption. This is one instance in which Roeg’s narrative follows the template of writers such as Charles Eastman who “contrasted Indians who kill animals because they need them with whites who kill them wantonly” (39). Sound is used throughout to underscore the change in dynamics. We see and hear shots of geese in flight as gunshots sound again. An ox falls in the water; there is a repeat from a closer angle of the ox in the field being shot. In close-up, the aborigine, the sun behind him, observes this with great sadness.
As gunshots continue, we see all manner of animals fleeing the danger of man. After a repeat of the ox falling, the backlit shot of the aborigine reappears. Through his eyes we see a slow-motion image of the ox-shooting. This time the camera zooms in to a grainy image of the ox falling, as the gunshot echoes. A super-grainy image of the ox, feet up, fills the whole screen, as presumably the repercussions of this brutal scene fill the aborigine’s consciousness.
The boy walks through the termite towers. Suddenly, there is a loud squeal; the startled boy sees a pig fleeing. Other animals flee the boy’s approach. With pigs, kangaroos and birds, there is a stop-time image followed by movement. This is an epiphany for the boy, who has come out of Eden and is now in the realm of the white man. He can no longer be one with nature, which now fears him as a predator. He is the son of the “great white hunter”, not of his adapted father, the ecological indigene. This visual narrative de-familiarizes our tendency to feel superior to cultures which still hunt and kill with their hands.
I can only give cursory attention to two chapters Roeg viewed as key: “Last Dance” and “Suicide”. But I want to make a counter-intuitive argument for a sort of “success” of David Gulpilil’s character. This requires going against the grain of what Roeg suggests in interviews, and what the film seems to make obvious about the very different outcomes of the two teens.
Scholars of Australian film such as Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, and more recently Garry Gillard, have pointed out that Roeg cast Gulpilil for his skills as a dancer. Gulpilil would become known for his roles as a tracker (inaugurated here as a guide to lost children) (40), but he was not cast for that ability. Gulpilil had already been a member of an Aboriginal dancing troupe and had toured overseas. (41) Gulpilil had also taught dance at a mission school. Knowing of this experience, Roeg cast him specifically with what he called the “mating dance” in mind. (42)
Re: what he has also called a “courtship dance”, Roeg claims: “David gave it [to] us […] for the film.” In the director’s mind, the purpose of this dance was explicit: “The boy is rejected and the boy dies.” But Roeg also opens the door to other interpretations when he notes that Gulpilil “became a bit depressed afterwards”. Agutter also observed the depression that came after the performance of this dance. (43) We do not have the actor’s testimony, but there are several plausible explanations. Gulpilil may have felt that there was not a fair trade when he “gave” this dance to Roeg. He may have felt he was misrepresented. Perhaps the suicide scene was a graphic reminder of the suffering that white colonists had caused aborigines. It is also possible that he felt guilty for making public something intended to be performed in private.
Both Gulpilil’s reaction, and the film’s narrative logic, suggest that Roeg’s interpretation is too simplistic. When the aborigine returns after witnessing the devastation wrought by white hunters, he does not respond to the girl. His body language and a teardrop indicate that his spirit has been destroyed. The girl’s response in the abandoned homestead, and how she treated him like a servant, surely played a role in his change of heart. But the visual narrative goes much further. At 1:19:44, the aborigine looks out and sees a barren field devoid of life. There are animals left by the white hunters to rot. A close-up shows maggots swarming in the mouth of the dead ox left in the muddy water. This is the youth’s vision of what the “white world” is about.
We do not know what the actor had in mind as he danced. But the visuals do not suggest a “mating dance”. After the youth’s traumatized reaction to the white hunter’s slaughter, the next time we see him is in a bone yard – the remains of countless oxen that have been slaughtered. The youth has painted himself in a design that blends with the bones. He lies amongst them as if dead. As the didgeridoo plays, he suddenly opens his eyes wide, an exaggerated expression that seems half clown, half zombie. This precedes the dance he performs for the girl. In context, it seems more convincing to call it a dance of death than some sort of self-defeating courtship.
Watching the youth and girl react to each other, I sometimes felt that the aborigine was mocking her fear of him. I could not believe that this character saw his dance as a way to win her – he seemed to know her “true heart” too well at this point. It seems more probable that, out of his trauma, he decided to make a “final statement” about the girl’s culture, and the lengths to which he was willing to go in order to reject its script for him and his “fellow creatures”.
The movie’s script for aborigines is problematic and has inspired considerable criticism. Iris Wakulenko expresses this objection: “However grateful [the Anglo children] are to their black saviour, they cannot help but kill him, just through contact.” (44) However, it could be argued that a more hopeful outcome would be untrue to the history of Anglo-aborigine relations.
My interpretation of the conclusion takes it as a given that the film is primarily concerned with the experience of the Anglo children. So, my analysis of the re-integration phase must focus primarily on them. Yet, I also want to be attentive to religious and mytho-poetic symbolism, such as the afterlife that the aborigine has in the imagination of the children he has guided. The children react differently to the aborigine’s suicide. The boy was distraught by the girl’s plan to leave the aborigine behind. “He likes being with us”, he insists during the “Last Dance”. For the boy, the suicide is a trauma that will linger in his memory.
The girl explains this action as she did their father’s suicide: “I suppose he thought he was doing the right thing.” Her response to the youth hanging crucifixion-like from a tree is strange: she gathers fruit as she looks up at this “strange fruit” and then her civilizing voice returns in an incoherent way, suggesting that she has repressed the traumatic effect this has on her: “You should always sit down when you eat. You shouldn’t wander about.” She brushes off some of the loose paint on his chest before leaving, a gesture that fuses tenderness with obsessive tidying.
The aborigine’s rite-of-passage was unsuccessful, in a literal, monocultural sense. He has not been re-integrated into his society and he has failed if he aspired to integrate into the world of the girl. However, the question of the “success” of his coming of age is more complex. Garry Gillard remarks that the aborigine “unfortunately, has literally failed to ‘come-of-age’. He lives on, however, in the girl’s memory and, of course, in ours.” (45)
In closing, I would like to pursue this line of reasoning. Given that the film aspires to the status of fable, and that it styles itself as a “dreamtime” experience, from a British perspective, of life down under, I think that the question of the aborigine’s persistence in memory is valid. How much of the memory of/influence of the other, and of the liminal retraining, is retained once the girl is re-integrated into her world?
The aborigine’s significance in memory – as an icon with an afterlife – exceeds either the director’s reductionist framing (“The boy is rejected and dies”), or the Eurocentric way in which the film has been marketed. One poster pictures the film as challenges that a boy and girl face at “the world’s last frontier”. This seems quite Eurocentric: there is no doubt that our gaze will be that of the Anglo children. And yet, once again, the visuals suggest a much more nuanced perspective. The flaming car on the right gives the sense of a post-apocalyptic narrative. The children move away from the world of the European father and towards the aborigine’s world. The aborigine on the left is by far the largest figure, suggesting that his importance in the narrative far exceeds that of the Eurocentric framing of the “lost children”.
The last chapter before the credits, “In Her Mother’s Shoes”, is more ambiguous than the title, or first appearances, might suggest. We see the girl in the future in the same apartment, like her mother a domestic wife preparing food for her corporate husband. She wears heavy eye make-up, smokes a cigarette and is cutting what looks like liver – all suggesting a consumerist decadence. She has become a trophy for her husband; her re-integration seems to be into the confining world of her parents. But we quickly sense that there is another reality just beneath the surface: as she cuts the meat, she has a flashback to the aborigine picking up a kangaroo leg. Just at the moment, her husband walks in, calls her “doll” and begins bragging about his promotion.
As he talks, her eyes go vacant; his voice and image fade, replaced by the swimming hole and the theme music. But this time the memory is integrated: the three of them swim together, a family unit. The cutting of meat and her husband’s empty words conjure this memory. As the aborigine became the boy’s unconscious father, perhaps in unguarded moments he remains the girl’s soul mate, or unconscious lover. It seems that in some way meat has become linked in memory with a different vision of masculinity, and of her own freedom in the flesh.
As the aborigine pulls her from the water, we hear the “Shropshire Lad” lines about “the land of lost content … where I went, and cannot come again”. Does this infer that the alternatives glimpsed in the outback are forever foreclosed? Roger Ebert argued for this moral: “all of us are the captives of environment and experience” (46). But Gulpilil’s character has achieved an agency beyond the conception of his director, or many critics. One thinks of the afterlives of martyrs such as Martin Luther King, Jr. His memory shapes the destiny even of future presidents who hear his words in foreign lands. The memory of a youthful adventure with “the other” might influence the woman to vote in support aboriginal rights. As a “return of the repressed”, it might cause her to later push against the walls of her bourgeois confinement. It is part of the artistry of Roeg’s film that it allows us to write our own afterwords to his richly suggestive parable.
- Editors: The film credits the actor as David Gumpilil. On subsequent films, the actor is credited as David Gulpilil or simply Gulpilil. David Gulpilil will be used from here on.
- David Bordwell distinguishes between the syuzhet (the subject or plot), and the fabula, a metanarrative or “big picture” inferences we draw from the actual narrative. Narration in the Fiction Film (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), pp. 49-50.
- Walkabout shares the road genre’s “ride into nature” frame. Michael Ryan and Douglass Kellner, Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), p. 23. For a critique of the romanticized representation of a New Mexico hippie commune in Easy Rider, see Pat Brereton, Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema (Bristol and Portland: Intellect Books, 2005), pp. 104-7, 109-10, and David Ingram, Green Screen: Environmentalism and Hollywood Cinema (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000, 2004), pp. 145-6.
- Karen Jennings, Sites of Difference: cinematic representations of Aboriginality and gender (Melbourne: Australian Film Institute, 1993). “Noble savage” is often attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but the term appears in John Dryden’s The Conquest of Granada (1672). Wikipedia lists much earlier templates, including the character Hayy in Ibn Tufail’s Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (12th century) and Kamil in Ibn al-Nafis’ Theologus Autodidactus (13th century). Twentieth century examples include the character Tonto from the radio/television series Lone Ranger, and the Kalahari Bushmen in the 1980 film, The Gods Must Be Crazy (Jamie Uys). As audiences have become sensitized to such stereotypes, noble-savage qualities have been projected onto space aliens. Influential literary studies include Hosie Neal Fairchild, The Noble Savage: A Study in Romantic Naturalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928). This is a variant of what the (post)moderns call primitivism, which has been the subject of extensive anthropological inquiry, dating from Lois Whitney, Primitivism and the Idea of Progress in English Popular Literature of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1934), and George Boas, Essays on Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages (New York: Octagon, 1966 ).
- Criticism of Roeg’s representation of aborigines includes Gary Gillard, “Walkabout: simply a road movie?”, Australian Screen Education, No. 32 (Spring 2003), p. 96(4); Garry Simmons, “VCE Film as Text”, Australian Screen Education, No. 29 (2002), and Alexis Wright, “Walkabout: Seeking the Silenced Voice”, RealTime, No. 58 (December 2003), the latter from an aboriginal perspective. But some aborigines have found inspiration in the film, such as filmmaker Richard Frankland: “Frankland’s Walkabout”, The Age, 18 August 2005. Both as a film-maker and critic, David MacDougall has long interrogated the problematics of the “first world” representation of “third world” subjects. See his collection of essays Transcultural Cinema, Lucien Taylor (Ed.) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).
- Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Spirit of Capitalism (1904-5); Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents (New York: W. W. Norton, 1962 ).
- See Pierre Bourdieu’s comments on misrecognition in Kenneth Rufo, “Rhetoric and Power: Rethinking and Relinking”, Argumentation and Advocacy (September 2003), and Kelly Oliver, “The Look of Love”, Hypatia (June 2001). Confinement in Jane Eyre: An Autobiography and Wide Sargasso Sea: see, for example, Carine Melkom Mardorossian, “Double (de)colonization and the feminist criticism of Wide Sargasso Sea”, College Literature (March 1999) and Michael Vander Weele, “Jane Eyre and the Tradition of Self Assertion; or, Brontë’s Socialization of Schiller’s “Play Aesthetic”, Renascence (Fall 2004).
- Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage”, in The Forest of Symbols (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1967).
- Iris Wakulenko, “Walkabout”, International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers (2000).
- Gregory Stephens, “Sisyphus in the Sand Pit: On the Iconic Character of Sand, and how the ‘anti-natural man’ Catches Water in Woman in the Dunes”, Kinema (Spring 2009). On the use of the “ultra-modernist” music by Karlheinz Stockhausen in this score, see Michael O’Shaughnessy, “Walkabout’s music: European nostalgia in the Australian outback”, Metro Magazine, Vol. 140 (Spring 2004), p. 82(5). Marj Kibby and Neuenfeldt Karl, “Sound Cinema and Aboriginality”, in Rebecca Coyle (Ed.), Screen Scores: Studies in Contemporary Australian Film Music (New South Wales: AFTRS, 1998), pp. 69-74.
- Gregory Stephens, “Koyaanisqatsi 25 Years On: The Visual Narrative of Environmental Film”, (under review, Cinema Journal, 2009).
- Roeg’s comments about the father having possibly lost his job are on the DVD Special features of Walkabout (Criterion, 2000). William Whyte, The Organization Man (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002 ).
- Meet Your Meat is the title of a documentary widely distributed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
- Louis Nowra, Walkabout (Sydney and Canberra: Currency Press and Screensound, 2003), p. 41. Another example of the critical attention to the film’s apparent fixation upon a noble savage-corrupt society binary is Jan Dawson’s review in Monthly Film Bulletin, quoted in Dan Edward’s review of Nowra’s book, “Skimming the Surface”, Senses of Cinema (June 2004).
- Andrew Zielinski, “Visitor Films: Four Films Produced by Overseas Filmmakers”, Screen Education, No. 49 (2002).
- Jason Wood, “His Brilliant Career”, The Guardian, 3 June 2005.
- O’Shaughnessy. Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer (London: Faber & Faber, 1980), quoted in O’Shaughnessy.
- Contemporary humans/Westerners as “the antinatural man” whose “nature is to have no nature”: Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995), pp. xxviii, 3-5.
- Michael O’Shaughnessy, “Walkabout’s music”.
- On the relationship of “Comforting Lies, Uncomfortable Truths”, see footnote 33 of Gregory Stephens, “The Borderlands as Mirror: Projection and Interpenetration in Carlos Fuentes’ Gringo Viejo”, Latin American Literary Review (Summer 2009).
- Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 21.
- Faith, not sight: 2 Corinthians 5:7.
- J. M. G. Le Clézio, Haï (Genève: Skira, 1971), p. 22. This is my translation of a Spanish rendering by Yvonne Cansigno Gutiérrez, El Indio y la Indianidad en la Obra de Jean-Marie Gustave le Clézio (Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán, 2002), p. 45. A more colloquial translation would be “don’t really see”.
- Cansigno-Gutiérrez, p. 46, my translation.
- Heavy-handed: see for instance Ernest Callenbach’s disdainful review in Film Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Summer 1973).
- Ralph Ellison insisted on the “true inter-relatedness of blackness and whiteness”, “Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke”, Partisan Review, No. 25 (Spring 1958), reprinted in John F. Callahan (Ed.), The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (New York: Modern Library, 1995), p. 107.
- James Vance Marshall, The Children (London: Michael Joseph, 1959), reprinted and revised as Walkabout (New York: William Morrow, 1971). Reprinted, Heinemann Educational Publishers (London, 1977).
- Roger Ebert, “Walkabout”, review reprinted on the DVD sleeve (Criterion 1998).
- Caryl Flynn, Strains of Utopia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 63. This is a study of the use of 19th century romantic classical music in 20th century film.
- O’Shaughnessy. “lost utopia”, Flynn, Strains of Utopia, No. 50. Retrieval, internet reviews of John Barry’s Walkabout soundtrack, quoted in O’Shaughnessy.
- Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian, p. 20.
- Editors: This scene was not in the original theatrical version of the film, but was reinstated for the DVD.
- See Manufactured Landscapes, a cinematic portrait of Edward Burtynsky, primarily during his encounter with China, directed by Jennifer Baichwal (Zeitgeist Films, 2007).
- The white woman at the “Genuine Australian” workshop encountered the aborigine in the hills beyond her house and addressed him as “boy”. This is one of several indications in the “Roos” chapter of how the white settlers had infantilized the aborigines around them.
- Eastman, a Native American writer, is quoted in Krech, Ecological Indian, 19.
- Louis Nowra discusses “the peculiar resonance of the lost child story in the Australian psyche” in Walkabout (Currency Press & Screensound, 2003). Quote: Alex Wright, “Walkabout: seeking the silenced voice”, RealTime, No. 58 (December 2002-January 2003).
- Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1980). Garry Gillard, “Walkabout: simply a road movie?”, Australian Screen Education, No. 32 (Spring 2003), p. 96(4).
- Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer and Ina Bertrand, The Oxford Companion to Australian Film (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1999).
- Garry Gillard, “Walkabout: Simply a road movie?”, and DVD commentary tracks.
- Gillard; my emphasis.
- Roger Ebert, review reprinted on the Walkabout DVD sleeve (Criterion 1998).