Yolngu Boy Film Essay Examples

Australian cinematographer Dean Semler is perhaps best known for his work (and some say co- direction) of "Dances With Wolves" (1990). He got his start with the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit (a kind of half-arsed government propaganda body) and was involved in Ian Dunlop's striking ethnographic documentary,"Marrakulu Funeral - Yirrkala" (1974). That film tells the story of the funeral ceremony for an Australian Aboriginal clan leader.

The film was made at the request of the tribal elders, who wanted to ensure that a record remained of the "old ways", available for future generations.

At one stage of the film, the funeral is interrupted by some drunken young boys. They are told, in no uncertain terms, to leave immediately. There is no place for the profane in this sacred ceremony.

That problem is the narrative core of "Yolgnu Boy".(The Yolngu are an Indigenous Australian people inhabiting north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Yolngu means "person" in the Yolŋu languages. The term Murngin was formerly used by some anthropologists for the Yolngu)

It tells the story of the different life courses embraced by three young aboriginal boys, Lorrpu, Botj and Milika, who have undergone the initial rites of initiation given to young children.

Lorrpu and Milika are about to undergo the final rites conducted by the tribal elders that initiate boys into manhood.

The rites of initiation are described in the book that laid down the narrative structure for the first three Star Wars films of George Lucas. (Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces" Fontana 1993 pages 137-142, 154-55, 174-5). They are a very serious undertaking. The well being of the clan group relies on the law and ritual imparted during these ceremonies. Those who are responsible for their administration are respected and feared (with good reason) by the community as a whole.

Milika is more interested in becoming a star player for the Essendon Australian Rules Football Club in Melbourne, at the southern extremities of Australia.

Botj, a rebel without a cause trouble maker has been refused initiation because of his errant ways. In fact he has just returned from jail in Darwin when the film begins, and after a night of petrol sniffing, vandalism and injurious self harm, is about to be sent back to there.

Lorrpu wants to stop this happening. He believes that if the tribal elders will not seek to reform Botj, then he should. He interrupts the tribal initiation rites to "go bush" with his two friends on a journey to Darwin. If he can make it to Darwin, he can argue Botj's case with tribal leader Dawu. They travel through much of the land seen in the Crocodile Dundee film.

Sadly, when they make it to Darwin, the errant Botj acts according to his worst instincts and self destructs, again, this time fatally.

The real significance of the film is its (perhaps) oblique depiction of a vibrant, all encompassing, tribal Australian Aboriginal culture that continues to exist as it has done for forty thousand years or more. Regardless of the encroachment on European civilisation, it is still possible for those who are willing to practise their cultural beliefs to do so. Those who are seduced by the squalor of the worst excesses of European culture will fall by the wayside. But the film presents a view that it is possible for Aboriginals to take what is good from both cultures.

From 1787 until 1971, the European colonists who had settled in Australia treated the aboriginal population as an illusion. The legal doctrine Terra Nullius claimed the land was empty when they arrived. (Search on Mabo and Wik in Wikipedia for details as to how that doctrine was overturned). The aboriginal culture was strong enough to resist the barbaric depredations of the white settlers. In the area in which this film was made, a Yolgnu leader, Noel Pearson, is in the process of creating a new way for the original owners to deal with the relatively new European culture.(Check him out in Wikipedia too).

The film was partly funded by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, and there a quite a few of the Yunupingu family (the driving force behind the Yothu Yindi band) involved in its making. You may recall the song (and video clip) "Treaty" which is used in this film.

While Australians have a great deal to be ashamed of in their treatment the indigenous population, but this film suggests that a mutually beneficial accommodation can be reached between two vastly different cultures.

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Lorrpu, Botj and Milika are three Yolngu (Aboriginal) teenagers who once shared a childhood dream of becoming great hunters together. But as teenagers they changed: Botj did bad things which landed him in jail one time, and Milika is more interested in being a good football player and in chicks. Only Lorrpu is still closer to Aboriginal traditions and to their common dream. One night Botj goes too far and he's about to return to jail. Lorrpu must weigh up his own future against saving the future of his friend. Therefore the three boys start to trek to Darwin to argue Botj's case with tribal leader Dawu. To survive during their hard journey in the bush and the forest, they must use the ancient Aboriginal knowledge, Botj's street instinct, and the bonds of their friendship. Written by RJ

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Plot Keywords:

aboriginal|friend|friendship|hunter|tradition| See All (29) »


Adventure | Drama

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Official Sites:

Australian Children's Television Foundation (english) [Australia]





Release Date:

22 March 2001 (Australia) See more »

Also Known As:

A bennszülött srác See more »

Filming Locations:

Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Company Credits

Production Co:

Australian Children's Television Foundation, Beyond Films, Burrundi PicturesSee more »

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Color (Cinevex)

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