The girls walk into a cafe for milkshakes. They are told to drink them at the counter. Trilby (Kristina Nehm) urges her family to sit down in a booth. The white patrons taunt them with racist remarks. Summary by Romaine Moreton.
This scene establishes how Trilby and her family are positioned within society, and the racism that informs this experience.
A young Aboriginal girl dreams of life beyond the blacks’ camp that sits on the fringe of white society.
Based on a 1961 novel written by Nene Gare, The Fringe Dwellers tells the story of the cultural conflict experienced by Trilby (Kristina Nehm), and her desire to get out of the fringe camp and enter mainstream society. The film rights to the book were purchased by director Bruce Beresford and the film was made in 1986, so the autobiographical account of Gare’s novel is transposed to a different era.
The Fringe Dwellers is remarkable in that it features an Aboriginal ensemble cast, though it remains a narrative based on a Western woman’s experience of an Aboriginal community. The Fringe Dwellers belongs to a generation of films that suggests that, for an Aboriginal person to join mainstream society, individualism comes at the cost of belonging to a community. Gare was writing about the 1960s, and problems arise when the social issues of the 1960s are transferred into the 1980s, the era in which the film is set.
The Fringe Dwellers is acclaimed as being the first film featuring Indigenous actors in all the major roles. It explores the social restrictions placed on Aboriginal people at that time, although it does not really examine the motivational depths of these characters. The Fringe Dwellers won the AFI award for best adapted screenplay in 1986.
Notes by Romaine Moreton
This clip shows the interactions between a young Indigenous girl, Trilby (Kristina Nehm), members of her family and non-Indigenous residents in a small Australian country town in the 1980s. It opens with Trilby encouraging her companions to enter a cafe where Indigenous people do not normally go. Their presence is greeted with hostility although one customer defends their right to be there. This scene is intercut with a scene in the local hospital where Trilby’s sister Noonah, a nurse, is embarrassed when her mother arrives to see her.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
A group of Aboriginal girls stands indecisively outside a diner.
Girl 1 Trilby, come on down the other one.
Trilby No law against it, is there?
Girl 1 We got our own place.
Trilby There’s no law against it.
They enter the diner and the white patrons stop talking and stare at them.
A large overdressed Aboriginal woman searches around a hospital.
Mum Noonah! Noonah!
Noonah drags her mother outside.
Noonah Mum, how many times have I told you not to come here when I’m on duty? Matron doesn’t allow it.
Mum That’s real nice – not allowed to see me own daughter.
Noonah It’s even worse coming in Auntie Hannah’s coat.
Mum Why? I reckon it’s real flash. A bit tight underneath the sleeves there.
Noonah Mum… Mum, you’re the third person that’s come to see me wearing that coat this week.
Mum You mean they come after I told them it wasn’t allowed?
Noonah That includes you, Mum.
Mum They come to borrow money, I suppose. Just because you’ve got a job. And you give it to ‘em, too. Oh, well.
Noonah Mum, I’ve still got a few dollars.
Mum Don’t worry! I’ll borrow some from Hannah. She made enough renting out this rotten old coat.
Inside the diner, the Aboriginal girls stand at the counter waiting for their drinks.
Girl 1 Hey, look. There’s Old Skippy.
Trilby I thought he was inside for stealing chickens.
Girl 2 He told the magistrate he found them out in the bush. They couldn’t prove nothing.
Girl 1 Mum reckons he’s king of the Wirriji. At night, he can turn into a dingo.
Trilby That’s rubbish, them stories.
Girl 1 No! Dad told me about the time Skippy went up…
The waitress slams their drinks down.
Waitress Just drink ‘em at the counter, will you?
Trilby defiantly leads her friends to a vacant table. A white girl at the next table can be clearly overheard amid the general hubbub of conversation.
White girl What do you think of that?
White girl 2 Their own place must have burnt down.
White girl Thought they only drank metho.
White girl That looks like my brother’s shirt we put in the second-hand shop.
White girl Nah. I hope they disinfect their glasses then.
White girl Why do they call Aboriginals boongs? Because that’s the noise they make when they hit the roobars.
Man at counter addressing white girl You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I’m talking to you. Those kids have got as much right to be in here as anybody.