The Fringe Dwellers tells the story of the cultural conflict experienced by Trilby, a young Aboriginal woman, and her desire to get out of the fringe camp in which she lives and to enter mainstream society.
Colin Johnson examine's the construction of Aboriginal identity in Charles Chauvel's Jedda, arguing that the film is not a realistic depiction of life, or of conflict between European and Aborigine as it is often taken to be, or a mishmash of 'Hollywood' images and romanticism transferred to Australia. Instead it is a film constructed from the ideological position of Chauvel - a position Johnson refers to as 'ideological authenticity.' A number of contradictions arise from his position, he writes. 'One such contradiction involves the positioning of the Aboriginal male in Australian film. From the book, Walkabout, it may be seen that Chauvel had ideas on what constituted a 'true' Aborigine, and this 'trueness' had little basis in reality, but in his holding such notions as 'the noble savage' - a stereotype familiar to us from Tarzan films.' However, while Chauvel sought to project the idea that he had made a quasi-documentary film, a 'true' story though clothed in action, showing what happens when the Aboriginal enters the white world and how it leads to tragedy, the flatness of his European characters, and the strength of Tudawali's role enables us to read the film as an Aboriginal text.'
'When reading the film as an Aboriginal text we see that its central conflict, the stealing of women and its resolution, is an old problem inherent in Aboriginal society. This central conflict enables Aboriginal men to strongly identify with Marbuk. 'Identification' is extended to Aboriginal women, too, especially mission women and station women, in that Christian indoctrination forbade them to have anything to do with such savage myalls as Marbuk. The mission inhabitants, predominantly women, were forced to forego their Aboriginality at least consciously. Only in dreams was it allowed to emerge, and it did. Forbidden, the savage, or the free Black Man became a fascinating sexual object for those women. Chauvel unwittingly transcended his film, for when he depicted the lure of Marbuk for Jedda, he was depicting the lure of Aboriginality for mission blacks... What makes his film rise above a B Hollywood film is not a plot so much as his casting of a black man in the leading role. Tudawali's acting ability and charisma dominates the film.'