Adapted from James Vance Marshall's novel The Children, Walkabout begins with a father-of-two driving his fourteen-year-old daughter and six-year-old son into the desert. Overwhelmed by the pressure on his life, he plans to kill them and then commit suicide, but his plan goes wrong. The siblings wander the desert aimlessly until they meet a young Aboriginal boy who is on a solitary walkabout as part of his tribal initiation into manhood. The three become travelling companions. Gradually, sexual tension develops between the girl and the Aboriginal boy. When they approach white civilisation, the Aboriginal boy dances a night-long courtship dance, but the girl is ignorant of its meaning. When she and her brother awake in the morning, they find the boy dead, hanging from a tree. The brother and sister make their way to the nearby mining town, where they receive a cool welcome from the townsfolk.
Marshall's Walkabout and Nicolas Roeg's adaptation of that novel appeared at different points in Aboriginal trauma narrative constructions. Works often appear before a trauma narrative is complete. In this article, I employ an analysis of the imperial gaze as a way of evaluating the two works. I investigate Nicolas Roeg's 1971 adaptation of the novel in the context of the evolving Australian Aboriginal trauma narrative and also in the context of the Aboriginal narrative being one narrative among many in the larger global civil rights narrative. The source novel is itself the product of a stage in the Aboriginal trauma narrative. As the trauma narrative evolves, it opens up new definitions of the experience represented in the novel. Roeg examines and engages these developments in his adaptation. Roeg revises the racial and domestic logic of the novel, exposing its civil rights ethics as a product of arrested development. His film is best understood if one understands that it exists as part of the building of a larger trauma narrative.
'This article discusses the term ‘sacred’ in relation to the work of nineteenth-century sociologist Émile Durkheim, for whom the word denoted the objects, practices and assumptions that sustained communal solidarity and fostered dynamic energies, whether or not they were conventionally described as ‘religious’. I then turn to the work of more recent scholars of ‘critical religion’ suggesting that the terms ‘religion’ and ‘the sacred’ derive from a predominantly western, patriarchal and colonial context, forming part of a complex network of interconnected categories that represent a distinctive and dominant discourse of power constructing a privileged identity through hostile Othering or exclusions. Arguably, in the Australian mainstream, a discourse of ‘religion’ imported largely by Christian settlers from the west over the last two hundred years has been employed to exclude Aboriginal ways of understanding the world, for example by promoting the category of ‘land’ as an exploitable, God-given human possession. Nevertheless, drawing on the work of Julia Kristeva, I understand that an encounter with the Other—whether the Aboriginal or the balanda—can be viewed differently: as a zone of properly disturbing but also creative possibility. It remains very important, however, to acknowledge the power imbalances that are still embedded within such encounters, and the consequent risks to indigenous Australians, of further dislocation and dispossession. This idea is explored through a consideration of the collaborative film-making of David Gulpilil and Rolf de Heer and, in particular, of two films: Ten Canoes (2006) and Charlie’s Country (2013).' (Publication abstract)
'Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout opened worldwide in 1971. Based on the novel of the same name by James Vance Marshall, it is the story of two white children lost in the Australian Outback. They survive only through the help of an Aboriginal boy who is on walkabout during his initiation into manhood. The film earned itself a unique place in cinematic history and was re-released in 1998.
In this illuminating reflection on Walkabout, Louis Nowra, one of Australia's leading dramatists and screenwriters, discusses Australia's iconic sense of the outback; and the peculiar resonance that the story of the lost child has in the Australian psyche. He tells how the film came to be made and how its preoccupations fit into the oeuvre of both its director and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, and its screenwriter Edward Bond.
Nowra identifies the film's distinctive take on a familiar story and its fable-like qualities, while also exploring the film's relationship to Australia and its implications for the English society of its day. He recognizes how relevant the film is to the contemporary struggle to try and find common ground between blacks and white.' -- Currency Press (2003)