On Wheels - Confessions of a Headhunter: Cousins
Vinnie (Kelton Pell) is sitting beneath a tree in the park, sketching from an old photograph. Franky (Bruce Hutchison) approaches him with a photo of his own. In the photograph are both their mothers, who it turns out, are sisters, and the two men cousins. Summary by Romaine Moreton
All of the elements of the eventual disclosure of Franky and Vinnie being cousins are present; the elder who knew both the parents and the grandparents (oral tradition), and the photograph that is evidence that the two men are related (textual tradition).
A drama about two Indigenous men – Frank (Bruce Hutchison) and Vinnie (Kelton Pell) – who seek revenge for the repeated beheading of the statue of their ancestor warrior Yagan.
Title Curator's Notes
Based on the short story of the same name written by Archie Weller, Confessions of a Headhunter is a film that speaks about the conflict between Indigenous people or Noongar of the Perth area, and colonial culture. The symbolic violence that is the artefact of an actual war that took place – and as the film suggests – is still taking place, is represented here by the Indigenous characters, who retaliate to the disrespect shown to their ancestor warrior Yagan, an important part of Noongar heritage and culture.
Yagan, a member of the Whadjuk Noongar people and believed to have been born around 1795, was a warrior who resisted the colonisation of Perth. The real Yagan’s head was smoked and sent to England as a trophy, where it was on display in Liverpool until 1964 as an 'anthropological curiosity’. In 1993 Yagan’s remains were repatriated, but remain unburied due to a disagreement between the Indigenous people of the Perth area over issues of proper burial.
Weller was inspired to write the short story after the statue of Yagan itself was beheaded twice. Sally Riley and Archie Weller’s adaptation won the script category of the 2001 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, and was the winner of the Cinema Nova Award and the 2000 Australian Film Institute Awards for Best Short Fiction Film. Riley’s other films include Fly Peewee Fly, and In Search of Archie.
Other films in the AFC Indigenous Branch drama initiative On Wheels are Dust and Road (both 2000).
This program has also screened on NITV, National Indigenous Television.
Notes by Romaine Moreton
This clip shows an encounter between Vinnie (Kelton Pell) and Franky (Bruce Hutchison) in which the two men learn that they are cousins. Vinnie is sitting in a park with an Elder making a sketch from a black-and-white photograph when Franky approaches with a photograph of a group of Indigenous women. Franky says his foster parents gave him the photograph when he turned 18 years old and told him that the women were his family. Vinnie recognises his mother in the photograph and the Elder tells the men that Vinnie and Franky’s mothers were sisters. Vinnie warmly embraces Franky, calling him ‘Cuz’.
Educational value points
- This clip depicts both Franky and Vinnie experiencing a mixture of emotions as Franky discovers his Indigenous family using a photograph that his foster parents gave him. Franky responds with some bitterness that ‘all I’ve got is a bit of paper’ when the Elder says that he knew his mother and grandparents. Franky’s face is at first expressionless when Vinnie, who had shown puzzlement and disbelief at the situation, suddenly laughs and hugs him. A smile then appears on Franky’s face as he gradually understands the meaning of Vinnie’s words ‘How’re you going, Cuz?’.
- In the clip Franky and Vinnie represent the losses experienced by many of the Stolen Generations and their families. Franky says that all he has is a ‘bit of paper’, not his family or community. Extended family and kinship ties are central to Indigenous identity and help define social relationships and obligations, as well as a person’s connection to and responsibility for the land. In each Indigenous community, heritage about kinship is passed on by Elders, and the older man is able to identify Franky’s family.
- The Elder refers to Franky’s mother as being fairer-skinned than Vinnie’s mother, and in doing so he passes on knowledge in the oral tradition. Her fairness, inherited by Franky, might explain why he was removed while Vinnie remained with his family. Indigenous children who were adopted or fostered by Anglo-Australian families tended to be ‘fair-skinned’. The government felt that children with light skin or of mixed European and Indigenous descent could be more easily assimilated through acculturation and intermarriage.
- The clip uses a range of techniques to tell the story of cousins finding each other. The background, which includes a big tree and traffic noises, situates the story in an urban setting. Through dialogue and the use of Franky’s photograph, the revelation of Franky’s kinship is made. The final use of the term ‘Cuz’ reflects the revealed relationship. Both ‘Cuz’ and ‘deadly’, also used in the clip, are Aboriginal English words.
- Confessions of a Headhunter is based on a short story by Archie Weller, an Indigenous novelist and playwright. Weller wrote the screenplay with director Sally Riley. The film won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Short Fiction Film in 2000. Weller, who grew up on a farm in south-western Western Australia, has published short stories and poems in a number of anthologies. His work focuses on issues such as racism, prejudice, police harassment and dispossession.
Notes by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia