When singer/songwriter Paul Kelly visited Maningrida community in Arnhem Land for the 2003 music festival, he was already a hero of many of the local children. Ironically it arose from his role as a racist farmer in the film One Night the Moon.
The Years 8, 9 and 10 students had studied the short movie as part of their English program at school. Rachel Perkins directed the 57 minute gem. After an impromptu performance at Friday's assembly, Paul was surprised that this seemingly very adult narrative had captured their interest.
This emblematic Australian 'lost in the bush' story is based on a couple of incidents involving missing children. They involved legendary bush tracker Alexander Riley whose exploits were recorded by his grandson Michael Riley in the 1997 documentary Blacktracker.
The film production was based on Riley's role in the 1932 search for a young boy near Dubbo in New South Wales. He was also instrumental in the rescue of a 6 year old girl in 1918. Writer John Romeril's stage adaptation has been relocated to Gariwerd (aka the Grampians) in Victoria, to which the audience receives a traditional welcome to country.
Composer and musical director Mairead Hannan has included some more songs from Kev Carmody and "created soundscapes using our instruments to fill the theatre with a sense of the landscape." The music and innovative artwork are very effective in the intimacy of the Merlyn Theatre. This version runs about 80 minutes.
Detailed comparisons between the two media would be tiresome. The two female leads, Natalie O'Donnell as lost child Emily's mother Rose and Ursula Yovich as tracker Albert's wife, give powerful performances that are reinforced by their strong singing voices. Mark Seymour as Jim and Kirk Page as Albert give intensely dramatic performances but neither is a strong singer. Nevertheless their key duet, 'This Land is Mine/This Land is Me' loses none of its impact.
The message is clear and simple: the heavy price we pay as individuals and as a society for our blind prejudices.
Director Wesley Enoch has preserved the film's overwhelming sense of tragedy whilst maintaining its hope that true reconciliation can be achieved.
The season finishes at the Malthouse on 3 October. You'd better hurry. Otherwise try to see the video. It's an Aussie classic.
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