Within Charlie’s (David Gulpilil’s) sorrowful gaze is an encapsulation of a people denied the land and culture that is theirs. The discourse around this denial and its ramifications is generally driven by white people under the assumption that Indigenous Australians are a problem to be solved. The draconian “intervention” is the largest example of this ideology – as demonstrated by our Prime Minister recently describing Australia as “unsettled before the arrival of colonialism.” On the other side of the debate are admirable texts like John Pilger’s Utopia (2013) that, though impelled by justifiable anger, are often dominated by white voices.
Charlie’s Country breaks out of that paradigm, thanks in large part to the contributions of David Gulpilil, whose impressive career stretches from Australian New Wave break-out Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971) to Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008). Credited as both co-writer and star of the film, and as co-creator by the film’s director, Rolf de Heer (of Ten Canoes and The Tracker fame), Charlie’s Country is a film by Gulpilil and about Gulpilil, concerned with the legendary actor’s recent problems with alcohol and incarceration. More significantly, it is a realisation of Aboriginal actress and activist Rosalie Kunoth-Monks’ memorable proclamation on the ABC’s Q&A earlier this year: “[We are] not the problem.”