Cunnamulla, 800 kilometres west of Brisbane, is the end of the railway line. In the months leading up to a scorching Christmas in the bush, there's a lot more going on than the annual ...
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Cunnamulla, 800 kilometres west of Brisbane, is the end of the railway line. In the months leading up to a scorching Christmas in the bush, there's a lot more going on than the annual lizard race. Here, Aboriginal and white Australians live together but apart. Creativity struggles against indifference, eccentricity against conformity. Written by
Dennis O'Rourke has a reputation for exploiting the subjects of his documentaries (`The Good Woman of Bangkok', `Cannibal Tours' for example), and I can see why he's not welcome back in Cunnamulla. Here, he has picked four or five desperates in a declining south-west Queensland country town, got them to open up and let the camera do the rest. His subjects skewer themselves on the lens as O'Rourke, off-screen, quietly eggs them on.
Actually, there's a bit more to `Cunnamulla' than that. The general atmosphere of the place is well-evoked. We get a concert and a show; it's not all existential angst in the boondocks. People do grow up in such places, and prosper (though often elsewhere). But O'Rourke's main interviewees, the abused teenage girls, the depressed aboriginal boy with a record, and even the local DJ do not face a bright future. There's a bit of humour in the taxi-driver and his chatty wife, the scrap yard man with attitude and the shire dog-catcher who doubles as funeral director, but the overall tone is deep depression.
My real problem with the film is that it doesn't really try to explain how people get to the end of the line or the bottom of the heap like this. Frankly I don't think the director cared very much. It's a well-done piece but with a cold clinical atmosphere - Darwin does Cunnamulla. It seems to me it provides ammunition for the social Darwinists who maintain it's no use helping the losers as that just postpones their inevitable extinction. There are some people who just want to be left alone, like the scrap-yard man, and so he should be. But the young kids need help and could benefit from it. O'Rourke seems to be saying `why bother?' Because it would be good for your soul, mate, if you have one.
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