Storm Boy: 'You run like a blackfella!'
While his father takes a catch of fish to sell in town, Mike (Greg Rowe) discovers some illegal hunters shooting birds. An Aboriginal stranger, Fingerbone Bill (David Gulpilil), drives them away with a warning shot. Mike tried to hide but Bill asks him to come and see if the hunters hit anything. Summary by Paul Byrnes
A striking and romantic introduction of the Aboriginal character as a man of action, courage and humour, and overall protector of life.
The use of long lenses on the shots of Gulpilil approaching across the marshes makes these shots very powerful and symbolic. Interesting also for the way it situates the two characters within the landscape, as part of it.
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
This clip shows Mike Kingsley (Greg Rowe) meeting 'Fingerbone’ Bill (David Gulpilil) in the Coorong wetlands, after Bill drives away two illegal hunters. Fingerbone Bill tells Mike 'You run like a blackfella’ and dubs him 'Storm Boy’. The two trek through the wetland to see if the hunters have shot anything and discover a pelican’s nest with three freshly hatched chicks and, nearby, a dead adult pelican. These scenes are intercut with shots of fisherman 'Hideaway’ Tom (Peter Cummins), who is Mike’s father. He is shown unloading the morning’s catch from a small boat and carting it across the main street of the town to a fish shop.
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.
- Fingerbone Bill’s heritage as an Indigenous Australian influences his response to the land. The traditional relationship of Indigenous Australians to the land is based on coexistence and is characterised by a deep affinity with, and understanding of, the environment. As a custodian of the land, Fingerbone Bill teaches Storm Boy about the land, the sea and Indigenous people. The friendship that develops between the two offers an alternative model for black and white relations, based on cooperation and respect, rather than distrust.
- The hunters’ shooting of the mother pelican is symbolic of a disregard for the environment. The consequences of their actions are made clear by the orphaned and helpless pelican chicks, while Fingerbone Bill explains that the killing of a pelican will cause a huge storm as it is a disruption of the natural order.
- Storm Boy was one of the first Australian films to include an Indigenous actor in a central role and to present a positive portrayal of an Indigenous Australian. Until the 1970s the few roles for Indigenous actors tended to be marginal and to reproduce negative stereotypes or clichéd representations of a people frozen in time and unable to cope with the modern world. Fingerbone Bill is shown to possess both a physical power and knowledge that makes him at home in his environment. In this clip, Bill fills the screen as he moves through the wetlands towards the camera, which films him from below, conveying a sense of authority and strength.
- The film subverts negative stereotypes of Indigenous Australians and the scene shown in this clip plays with the audience’s sense of possible threat. After the gunshot is heard, Bill, who is carrying a gun, is shown moving towards Mike and the audience, but then not only strides past the boy but knows he is there and acknowledges him.
- The exteriors of Storm Boy were shot in the Coorong wetlands, south-east of Adelaide in South Australia, which the author called the 'wet underbelly of the world’. 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, some endangered, and a refuge for waterbirds.
- The three pelican chicks, which Storm Boy rears, are Australian pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) and are common to Australian wetlands. In the breeding season the female builds a shallow nest on the ground and lays up to three eggs, which hatch a month later. Both parents feed the chicks for about 14 weeks until they grow feathers and are ready to fly. After 12 months the chicks reach adult size and are up to 1.8 m long, with a wingspan that can extend to 2.5 m, making them Australia’s largest flying birds.
- The scene illustrates the isolation of this part of South Australia. Apart from the hunters, Storm Boy and Fingerbone Bill are alone on the marshes, while Hideaway Tom is shown wheeling his cart of fish down the town’s deserted main road with the only sounds of life coming from an unseen, barking dog. The township featured in the film was Goolwa, a river port close to the wetlands of the Coorong National Park.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
Two hunters are walking out of the water towards some bushes when they are shot at. They run for cover. Mike is in the bush when Fingerbone Bill walks towards him holding a rifle. The boy ducks down in the grass.
Fingerbone Bill Are you coming boy? See if they hit something.
Mike’s father walks down a pier and jumps into his fishing boat. A man greets him from the pier.
Man Good morning.
Mike’s father Morning.
Man What have you got today?
Mike’s father Cockles and mullet.
Man Could you spare us a couple of mullet?
Mike’s father hands over some fish.
Man Ah, good. How much do you want for them?
Mike’s father Oh, you can pay me on my way back.
Mike is following Fingerbone Bill in the bush.
Fingerbone Bill What’s your name?
Mike does not respond.
Fingerbone Bill Storm Boy! You run like a blackfella – like the wind. I’m Fingerbone Bill. Do you live here with your people?
Mike Just my dad. Mum’s dead.
Fingerbone Bill Lonely place.
Mike I don’t mind.
Mike’s father is walking through the centre of town with his catch, heading towards the fish shop.
Mike and Fingerbone Bill are approaching the place they spotted the hunters. There is a sound of chirping birds. They find a nest with newly hatched baby pelicans.
Fingerbone Bill Got a big fright. All that shooting going on.
Mike Do you think the old ones will find ‘em?
Fingerbone Bill points to a dead bird in the water.
Fingerbone Bill Big blow coming up tonight. You kill pelican, the sky come up with the storm.