Have you been to Australia? It’s pretty far away from where I am, but not far from my thoughts recently. I have ideas about it; we all do. A lot of people think it’s a dangerous place. Like nature really stacks it against you there. If you aren’t torn apart by dingos or eaten by a great white shark, you may be frightened to death by a cockroach the size of an ice cream sandwich. I don’t know how mean the dingos are, how hungry the sharks are, or how big the cockroaches are, but sometimes, in the Australia of the mind, these things seem menacing. I mean, if what I learned from cartoons is true, kangaroos are more than willing to step into a boxing ring and fight you to a 12 round no decision. We have the idea that everyone from Australia is a tough badass, a la Crocodile Dundee. But that can’t be right. I recently met Molly; she’s Australian and she’s not rough around the edges at all. She’s decidedly princess-y. So maybe everyone there doesn’t shave with a knife, use a log for a pillow, drive dirt bikes through the desert wearing an eye patch. Maybe they’re kinda like us, kinda like me.
I haven’t seen many Australian movies. The number is definitely one I could count on both hands. But of these, one of them is truly unforgettable, and it’s the odd and moving Walkabout from 1971. It’s directed by Nicolas Roeg, who I think may be crazy. His movies are wild, and Walkabout is plenty strange. There’s the dad who snaps and starts shooting a gun at his kids, a roomful of panting schoolgirls, a businessman’s corpse in a tree, a group of weather balloon perverts. Nicolas Roeg is English, and the two kids who are the first main characters we meet are English. But make no mistake about it, Walkabout is Australian. There is some very Australian shit in this movie: there’s a didgeridoo on the soundtrack (hooray! I love this), there’s John Meillon, the most well known Australian actor that nobody knows, kangaroo meat for sale at the butcher, and some very beautiful scenery.
Jenny Agutter as the girl. Getting lost in the outback as a teenager must be so……….boring.
Walkabout tells the story of two kids who have an accident and wind up alone having to survive in the wilds of Australia. When it seems like all hope is lost, they meet an Aborigine played by David Gulpilil. He’ the coolest part of the movie. The credits simply call him Black Boy (don’t get mad, the white boy is called White Boy). He saves the kids from dying of thirst, and is generally pleasant and cool as shit. The actor Gulpilil is a real Aborigine. He hunts animals in the Aboriginal way, with spears and boomerangs and clubs and such. This might be a little tough for the faint of heart, so I’ll warn you now: he really kills some animals, and it’s graphic. Sorry, some movies are like that. I don’t mind, though, because that’s how I am.
Luc Roeg as the white boy and David Gulpilil as the black boy.
So this Australian movie begs the question, how far away can movies take us? If you want to quantify it, Walkabout is 41 years and about 10,000 miles away from where I am. But you can’t quantify that. Movies can take a person as far as they’re willing to go. I’ve been deeply moved by some movies, and not affected at all by others. Who knows when a transformative movie will strike? It doesn’t have to be from a far away land or time. But, I’ve been thinking of a far away land, and watching a movie from there is a nice way to feel close to it. I’ve been in the mood for Australia, and Walkabout does as well as a movie can to satisfy that yearning. It’s special to me because the scenery, the kids, the oddness and the pure Aussie-ness of it.