Storm Boy: 'Wild things should be free'

Storm Boy: 'Wild things should be free'
South Australian Film Corporation
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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Mike (Greg Rowe) is overjoyed when Mr Percival, his pet pelican, returns after being set free. Summary by Paul Byrnes

Some of the most charming scenes in the film as boy and bird become inseparable.

Storm Boy synopsis

A 10-year-old boy (Greg Rowe), living with his father in the wild Coorong wetlands of South Australia, rescues a baby pelican orphaned by hunters. With the help of an Aboriginal man, Fingerbone Bill (David Gulpilil), the boy and the bird become inseparable, until the outside world encroaches.


Storm Boy Curator's notes

Storm Boy, based on a novel by Colin Thiele, is one of the most cherished of Australian classic films. It has a deep emotional clarity that appeals to children and adults alike, making it timeless. The landscape of the Coorong wetlands, bleak and beautiful and windswept, becomes a refuge for the broken, the loveless and the outcast – an alternate Garden of Eden, in which a different version of Australia might seem possible – a kind of hermit’s utopia.

The film is clearly about much more than the boy’s love of the pelican, which he calls Mr Percival. It touches on race relations, ecology, the breakdown of families, white and black law and questions of prior ownership, but the themes are seamlessly woven into the story. Much of the power comes from the elemental beauty of Geoff Burton’s camerawork (his work on Sunday Too Far Away, with a different colour palette, has a similar expressiveness), and from director Henri Safran’s sensitive handling of the performances. The film was made for $260,000 and was a success at the box office, both in Australia and overseas, where it sold to more than 100 countries.

Notes by Paul Byrnes


Education notes

This clip shows 'Hideaway’ Tom Kingsley (Peter Cummins) trying to comfort a despondent 'Storm Boy’ (Greg Rowe) after he has released the pelican Mr Percival into the wild. As Tom gruffly explains to his son that wild things should be free, Mr Percival’s call is heard. Storm Boy rushes up the beach toward the bird, while his father looks on. This is followed by a sequence showing Storm Boy and Mr Percival together, which demonstrates the bond between the two but also underscores how important Mr Percival is as a companion to Storm Boy.


Educational value points

  • The clip shows scenes from the feature film Storm Boy. Released in 1976, the film was an immediate commercial success in Australia and overseas. Based on a popular children’s book by Australian author Colin Thiele, it uses the overlapping themes of alienation, marginalisation and loss that connect Storm Boy, his father Hideaway Tom, Fingerbone Bill and the pelicans to tackle issues such as black and white relations, family and environmentalism.
  • Storm Boy’s dependence on Mr Percival and the symbiotic nature of their relationship are well illustrated. Until Mr Percival’s appearance, Storm Boy lives a secluded life with his reclusive father in an isolated coastal town, where he has no companions of his own age and his only entertainment is self-made. When Storm Boy rescues and rears Mr Percival, the bird provides the boy with companionship and an emotional bond.
  • The orphaned pelicans that Storm Boy rears and then sets free provide a powerful allegory about the use and respect of the natural environment, and the need for people to coexist with, rather than spoil, this environment. Hideaway Tom shows he understands this when he says 'Wild things should be free’.
  • The exteriors of Storm Boy were shot in the Coorong wetlands, south-east of Adelaide in South Australia. The wetlands cover 140,500 hectares and consist of a long, shallow lagoon more than 100 km in length that is separated from the Southern Ocean by a narrow sand dune peninsula. It is one of Australia’s most important wetlands, providing a habitat for many animals and a refuge for waterbirds.
  • The clip celebrates the pleasure Storm Boy takes in his environment. While he eventually has to accept the incursions of the outside world, the film suggests that the wetlands are as much of a sanctuary for the boy as they are for the wildlife, with the wetlands allowing him to pursue simple pleasures such as sailing a homemade wooden raft with Mr Percival.
  • Mr Percival is an Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), common to Australian wetlands and recognisable by its distinctive elongated bill, with its massive throat pouch, which is used for feeding. Pelicans grow up to 1.8 m long with a wingspan that can extend to 2.5 m, making them Australia’s largest flying birds. Three pelicans were trained for several months before production of Storm Boy began.
  • Actor David Gulpilil is shown in the role of Fingerbone Bill. Storm Boy was one of the first Australian films to cast an Indigenous Australian as a central character and in a positive role. Fingerbone Bill teaches Storm Boy about the land, the sea and Indigenous people and the friendship that develops between the two offers an alternative model for black–white relations based on cooperation and respect rather than distrust.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
South Australian Film Corporation
Matt Carroll
Henri Safran
Sonia Borg
Based on the novel by:
Colin Thiele

Mike is walking along the beach with a sad face.
Mike’s father There’s no use fretting, son. Didn’t know you’d be upset that much. Anyway, wild things should be free.
Mike looks up and sees his pet pelican standing on a pole.
Mike He’s come back! Dad, he’s come back! Mr Percival’s come back!
Mike runs towards Mr Percival and the pelican flies off the pole to greet Mike.

Mike pulls out the sail on his boat and the pelican joins him out at sea.

Mike is on the beach with Fringerbone Bill and Mr Percival. Fingerbone Bill is twining grass into a cat’s cradle-like formation which he shows to Mike.
Fingerbone Bill This is where Mr Percival appear. See? What’s that, Storm Boy?
Mike It’s a pelican’s nest.
Fingerbone Bill Right.

In a succession of short scenes, we see Mike and Mr Percival playing and sharing each other’s company on the beach and in the water.