Dramatically Black - Green Bush: 'I'm a black Australian'

Dramatically Black - Green Bush: 'I'm a black Australian'
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Kenny puts on a cassette tape. He moves through the radio station to the sound of the music. It is a speech by Gary Foley with music playing in the background. Kenny pauses to sing the words to the Indigenous people gathered in the radio lounge area. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

A powerful moment in the film, and filmic brilliance in that writer and director Warwick Thornton uses music to convey the essence of this film. The speech made by political activist Gary Foley spoken over music lists the foremost issues experienced by Aboriginal peoples as a result of oppression. Cinematically, Foley’s speech functions as the inner voice of all those present in the radio station, and we get the sense that the people gathered in this small remote building are the living embodiment of the societal and political issues that fuel Foley’s rage.

Green Bush synopsis

A short film about an Indigenous radio DJ who struggles to keep his community functioning. Kenny (David Page) does the nightshift at a remote radio station, and must negotiate the nightly drama while still spinning the music.


Green bush curator's notes

A simple short film from writer-director Warwick Thornton based on his experience as a DJ earlier in his life. Using minimal locations, it sets out to tell a beautifully crafted story about a DJ whose job is not confined to making the music happen. Green Bush speaks of community responsibility through the central character Kenny (David Page), and makes a statement on manhood with a directness that is culturally relevant to all Indigenous communities.

According to Green Bush producer Kath Shelper, Warwick wanted to write a film that speaks of the role the media plays in Indigenous communities. The radio station then, is both a conceptual and physical gathering place that connects the community; those who are physically present, and those who are absent. The overlapping themes at the core of this film are about the community responsibility of those involved in media, and the physical accessibility of the radio station to the community members.

Green Bush won Panorama Best Short Film award at Berlin International Film Festival 2005, and at the 52nd Sydney International Film Festival it won three of the festival’s Dendy Awards for short films: Best Fiction Over 15 Minutes, The Rouben Mamoulian Award, and The SBSLanguage Services Award.

Thornton’s other directing credits include Mimi (2002), Photographic Memory: A Portrait of Mervyn Bishop (1999), Rosalie’s Journey (2003), Yeperenye Federation Festival: The Road Ahead Concert (2003). Thornton began his film career as a cinematographer and moved into directing and writing. His work captures a unique perspective on Indigenous cultural experience and storytelling. Thornton’s visual aesthetic complements his storytelling strengths, and he is an Indigenous filmmaker who will have a positive impact upon Indigenous film and filmmakers of the future.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education notes

This clip shows scenes of an Indigenous radio station. It includes some Aboriginal people gathered around a table in the station’s lounge area, and an Indigenous DJ introducing tracks that provide the background soundtrack for the visuals. The DJ moves through the station to the sound of Aboriginal activist Gary Foley making a speech, with music in the background. The DJ repeats phrases of the speech to those in the lounge and to himself as he selects the next record. The scenes of the DJ are intercut with visuals of the group in the lounge. A new track of traditional Indigenous music accompanies the final images, which show the DJ standing in the station doorway.

Educational value points

  • The clip features a speech by Gary Foley, a central figure in Indigenous activism in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. The speech, which was recorded when Foley was invited by British punk band The Clash to accompany them on their 1982 Australian tour, brings to the fore the thematic issues in Green Bush, including Aboriginal land rights and the oppression of Indigenous peoples. The central character’s perspective on these issues is implied by his word-perfect recitation, but the attitude of the silent seated figures is ambiguous. Their apparent helplessness is juxtaposed against Foley’s passionate words and call to action.
  • Gary Foley (1950–) is known for co-founding the Aboriginal Tent Embassy at Parliament House in Canberra in 1972, raising the profile of Indigenous Australian issues. He was active in organising protests against the South African rugby team’s tour of Australia in 1971 and led Commonwealth Games protests in 1982. Foley helped establish the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern and Aboriginal health services in Sydney and Melbourne. He was the first Indigenous Director of the Aboriginal Arts Board (1983–86), and has occupied other senior posts.
  • Foley had been inspired by Malcolm X and the political movement of Black Power in the USA, which emerged among African-Americans in the mid-1960s. These ideas took root in Australia when the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League invited Dr Roosevelt Brown, a Caribbean academic and activist, to give a talk on Black Power in Melbourne in 1968. The Australian version of Black Power, expressed by Foley, was about Aboriginal people defining their own problems and seeking self-determination without non-Indigenous interference.
  • Foley’s 1982 speech exhorts Indigenous people in Australia to march in the street to achieve land rights. That same year, Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo claimed ownership of Murray Island, and in 1992 the High Court of Australia decided in his favour. The Mabo decision established the existence of native title and was seen as a great victory for Indigenous peoples. Since then, however, land rights claims by the Wik and Thayorre peoples have not been upheld. Notwithstanding, in September 2006, a federal court judge approved a limited land title claim after determining that the Noongar people are the traditional owners of a 6,000-square-km area of Western Australia, including land on which Perth is built.
  • The clip is an excerpt from the short film Green Bush, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 and won the Panorama Best Short Film Award at the Berlin International Film Festival the same year. Funded by the Australian Film Commission and SBS, it was directed by Indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton and is based on Thornton’s experiences of working as a DJ at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), an Indigenous radio station in Alice Springs. The film explores the role the radio station has within the Indigenous community. While 'Green Bush’ is the name of a radio program for Indigenous prisoners, the station itself is used as a refuge for community members.
  • Indigenous Australian broadcasting developed at the grassroots level throughout the 1970s, with the first Indigenous-produced community radio program going to air on 5UV in Adelaide in 1972. In 1980, Australia’s first Aboriginal-owned and controlled radio station, CAAMA’s 8KIN, started broadcasting. In 2006 there were approximately 120 capital city, regional and remote community radio licensees as well as an Aboriginal-controlled television sector. For many Indigenous communities, Indigenous radio is their only source of information and entertainment, and this places great demands on broadcasters and station programmers.
  • Green Bush is an example of the work of Warwick Thornton. Thornton (1970–) is Kaytej, from central Australia. He trained as a cinematographer, first with CAAMA in Alice Springs and then with the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. After graduating, he was engaged as a cinematographer on the film Radiance (1997) before making the award-winning films My Bed Your Bed (1998) and Promise (1998). Thornton has written and directed two other short films that screened at festivals in Australia and overseas, Mimi (2002) and Payback (1996). He has also directed numerous documentaries, including The Good, the Bad and the Loud (2003) about the history of CAAMA music.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Kath Shelper
Warwick Thornton
Warwick Thornton
Teddy Egan Jangala, Audrey Martin, David Page, Leo Jampinjinpa Wayne
Produced with the assistance of the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission

Kenny puts on a cassette tape. He moves through the radio station to the sound of the music. It is a speech by Gary Foley with music playing in the background. Kenny recites some of Foley’s words along with the cassette. As he walks through the radio station, he occasionally speaks some of the words aloud to the Indigenous people gathered in the radio lounge area.

Radio announcer You’re listening to Country Radio, Aboriginal radio in Aboriginal country.

Gary Foley (on tape) I’m Gary Foley and I’m a black Australian. I’m here to tell you a little bit about what’s happening to Aboriginal people in this country. Let me tell you a little bit because this is not just a night for music. It’s a night for understanding people who are oppressed and in this country it’s Aboriginal people who are oppressed. Our people have lived in this country for 50,000 years. Everything was cool until 200 years ago some bloke by the name of Captain Cook come out here. Now 800 million Aboriginal people lived and died here before any white man come to this country. When you arrived, when white man arrived in this country, he shot the blacks, poisoned their waterholes, murdered them left, right and centre, and those that were left were rounded up like dogs and cattle and stuck in these places called Aboriginal reserves, which were nothing less than concentration camps, and there they stayed until very recently. It’s only 14 years since you people gave us the vote in this country and we still have not got the land to give us economic independence. We need land rights and we need it now. It’s not good enough just to come and listen to music. If you people can afford the time to come to a Clash concert, then you can afford the time sometime soon – when Aboriginal people march in this town for their land rights – then you should be there. See you.

Kenny, radio announcer Gary Foley back in 1982 there, telling you how it is. Now here’s some traditional stuff for you mob.

As traditional Indigenous music plays Kenny ejects the Gary Foley cassette from its player, goes outside and leans against the wall.