A special reunion at the Sydney Film Festival

BY PETER WHITE

Wrong Side of the Road is screening in Perth at the Gimme Some Truth Music Documentary Festival on 30 November 2013 and in Canberra at Arc cinema from 8 February 2014

The premiere of the digitally restored groundbreaking film Wrong Side of the Road at this year’s 60th Anniversary edition of the Sydney Film Festival gave the NFSA a unique opportunity to not only celebrate the restoration of this important film, but to recognise the achievements of those involved and to honour the memory of those that have passed.

Wrong Side of the Road cast and crew reunion at the Sydney Film Festival, June 2013

 

Working with director Ned Lander and producer Graeme Isaac, the Indigenous Collections team embarked on the ambitious task of bringing the ten surviving Aboriginal cast members back together in Sydney to conduct a series of oral history interviews to capture some of the stories about making the film as well as explore the impact this film has had on their lives and that of communities across Australia.

The significance of this event was evident when everyone arrived in Sydney, with pioneers of Aboriginal music and members of the bands No Fixed Address and Us Mob joining friends and associates.

It was a very emotional experience for everyone involved; for some, reconnecting after a 20-year period and for others reflecting on the shared experiences of the trials and tribulations of challenging adversity through music, experiences that became the foundations of the film.

For the Indigenous Collection team, it was an honour to work with these legends of Aboriginal music and a humbling experience to have them share their stories with the NFSA.

No Fixed Address and Us Mob’s music gave voice to the concerns of the Aboriginal community at that time. Their uncompromising and politically charged music and lyrics challenged mainstream society views about Aboriginal people and this was reinforced by the release of the film.

The oral history project undertaken by the Indigenous Collections team highlighted the significance of capturing these stories. The interviews gave band and cast members an opportunity to tell their stories about their involvement in the film, its social and political message and the connection with their music. A wide range of issues was discussed ranging from racism, deaths in custody, identity and land rights.

These stories, entwined with the powerful messages portrayed within the film, ensure that a greater appreciation and continued understanding of the film and its important message comes from the essential element of the Aboriginal voice. The importance of the NFSA in facilitating this appreciation and understanding was highlighted during both the oral history project and the screening of the film.

While there was cause for much celebration and reflection during the event, there was also a deep sense felt by many that now more than ever there was a need for the challenging messages within both Wrong Side of the Road and the music of No Fixed Address and Us Mob.

Many felt deep disappointment that in the 32 years since the film was made, not much has changed in the experiences of many Indigenous Australians from those conveyed within the film.

The Indigenous Collections team will continue to work with the members of No Fixed Address and Us Mob to capture more of their stories, ensuring that their legacies can be found within the national audiovisual collection.

Interviews from the evening

The below clips are part of the NFSA Indigenous team’s Wrong Side of the Road Oral History project. They were recorded in June 2013, as part of the reunion at the 60th Sydney Film Festival.

Bart Willoughby, Carroll Karpany and Graeme Isaac are interviewed in these clips.

Bart Willoughby is an Aboriginal music legend – a singer, songwriter, drummer and multi-instrumentalist who has been playing music for over 30years. Willoughby is a founding member of the South Australian Aboriginal band No Fixed Address, and participated in the 1981 film Wrong Side of the Road.

Carroll Karpany is a founding member of the South Australian band Us Mob, and participated in the 1981 film Wrong Side of the Road.

Graeme Isaac directed Wrong Side of the Road.

Bart Willoughby: How and why I wrote the song 'We Have Survived'