Dialog Box

Environment | History | Indigenous | Rural
The Lake of Scars


$15,305 Raised of
In a corner of Victoria exists a link to an ancient culture, unlike anywhere else in Australia. A place of astounding beauty and rare archaeological and environmental significance, it is being degraded on an annual basis. As the clock ticks, an unlikely partnership could see it saved for future generations, while providing a moving example of reconciliation between white and black Australians.

The Lake of Scars is as much a portrait of a hidden facet of Australian history and environment as it is a musing on what reconciliation can look like in Australia. While exploring the beautiful, mysterious scarred trees, middens and stone scatters left at one remarkable site (one main seasonal lake and several smaller nearby) in a quiet corner of country Victoria, we meet the people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who are working against the clock, and against the odds, to preserve and promote what they can. With organic relics at its heart - hundred year old scarred and dying trees - the film examines the preservation of culture and environment as our protagonists fight for scarred trees to be preserved, for middens and stone scatters to be protected and recognised, for environmental flows of water to be allowed into the seasonal lake, and for a ‘keeping place’ to be built.

Within the keeping place they hope to put remarkable already deceased trees, as well as dozens of artefacts stored in the white former farmer Paul’s garage, with the clan’s permission. But also being stored are the remains of several Yung Balug/Dja Dja Wurrung ancestors; the group’s push to have the bodies buried on country, and have the clan return to the lake for a ceremony, provide a sub-narrative in the film.

For Paul, getting the town’s almost entirely white population interested has been a slow, hard process. But slowly it takes note - it has an unusual shared history; some of the earliest photos ever taken in Australia were shot here, showing positive relations between settlers and Indigenous people, at least in the early years. He works tirelessly with clan members - located in Melbourne and other towns, forced from their land in the subsequent 150 years - as together they try to forge a path forward to recognition. Ultimately though, it is the arrival in Boort of a Yung Balug man many years Paul’s junior, an outspoken and driven son of a major celebrity, who spurs things on. Just as Paul struggles with the death of a family member he now has someone to pass on the knowledge he has been safekeeping, while this person, Jida Gulpilil, brings their own flavour to proceedings, holding cultural events and enticing the wider clan back to country for the first time in years.

But human relationships can wax and wane. Will they survive this tough process of opening up, and the stress put upon them? Does the road to reconciliation contain more bumps than we might imagine?


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

There are three core threads of potential interest to funders:

1. Preserving tangible Indigenous - and therefore - Australian history, actually recorded in the landscape, for future generations.

2. Environmental concerns over the future of iconic river red gum forests and the use of water in the Australian interior

3. Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and what this can look like at the local level

The filmakers have agreed an educational DVD release with Ronin Films, although the ultimate aim is festival release and broadcast.For the first time, this film documents in detail the remarkable and unique practice of tree scarring once prevalent in south eastern Australia. As we are told by the leading archaeologist on the matter, there is nowhere like this place; and it is rotting away. The trees will not be there in 50 years. The film will provide a unique and picturesque historical record of this phenomenon, but will be much more.Through Paul Haw's custodianship of the site, bestowed upon him by a Yung Balug elder, we are told by Aboriginal characters in the film that it is a moving example of what reconciliation can look like, true, money-where-your mouth-is action from a non-Aboriginal Australian to repair years of damage.Next, Paul and Gary's passionate environmentalism for this increasingly rare river red gum ecosystem is admirable; these majestic lakes feeding the Murray - usually dry as they are - are being degraded annually. The fight to retain environmental flows into the system against the backdrop of agricultural practices is a solid narrative thread in the film.   

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

The film-makers hope to bring respect and admiration of Indigenous history into the foreground. Ask your average Australian what a scarred tree is, and you're likely to get a blank look. With the release of The Lake of Scars this may be set to change. Indigenous Australians did not leave many tangible records. Rock art, the odd fish trap and hard-to-spot middens are things that some non-Aboriginal Australians are familiar with - but scarred trees fascinate people when they know they are looking at the result of a canoe, a shield, a basket or even a ladder being cut out of a tree. It brings it home...this was someone's home.

The filmmakers also want to show reconciliation in practice. The relationship between the Haw family and the Yung Balug clan is respectful, warm and admirable. Paul and his wife Cathy have devoted so much to working with the Yung Balug to care for these special sites with the Yung Balug absent from country for so long. We want audiences to look at this and think 'what a great example - that's the kind of country I want to live in, raise my kids in.'

We're also keen on documenting these early Treaty talks in Victoria, not least for posterity. If audiences can soak that up with the eye candy of beautifully shot sequences and understand the importance of country, the importance of working together on a more level playing field, then we will consider that a success. The Yung Balug are at the forefront of this.

We also want to document the fantastic ecosystem that is a river red gum system - with Paul Haw being a former professional horticulturalist his knowledge of trees, plants and the environment is amazing. We hope that audiences including students watching the film via its educational release can witness Paul and the Yung Balug's dealings with the state government on the water management plan and appreciate this ever-dwindling type of ecosystem.

Bill is a fairly well-known and well-connected journalist and will push for coverage of the issues at its heart to tie in the with the release of the film thus increasing impact. See below for more.

What is your education and outreach strategy?

Educational distribution via Ronin Films has been agreed upon.Bill has reached out to both ABC and NITV, gauged interest, and has been invited to re-approach both networks closer to the time of completion. But we have as a real goal inclusion in a number of film festivals.In terms of outreach strategy, we have already launched a web presence for the film at http://billcodemedia.com/the-lake-of-scars-scarred-trees-documentary/ 

Bill Code has worked as digital journalists and will manage a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to coincide with the crowdfunding campaign. Bill has worked as a journalist with, and maintains strong contacts to, The Guardian, the ABC, BBC, al Jazeera, SBS and others. We are confident that as the film nears completion we will not only gather positive coverage for the film, but also be able to mount a strong media campaign pulling out select angles to present to different media. 

We have one specialist outreach producer in the area of archaeology and are brining in another in the area of botany. We'll be looking at writing bespoke articles on the environmental, Treaty and heritage angles which use the film as the vehicle for broader coverage in the mainstream media. With such a strong news media presence on the team we're confident we can provide media everything they need to promote the film.In addition to this, we are gathering advocates for the film from the journalistic, Indigenous leadership, academic and policy spaces to sing the film's praises and provide testimony not only through the crowdfunding stage but also in post-production phase.There has been strong cooperative input from the Yung Balug participants in the film - Bill has worked closely with Gary Murray and kept the relevant Aboriginal Corporation, the Dja Dja Wurrung, informed, and will also present the film's case while simultaneously - and more importantly - seeking input from all Yung Balug clan members at the clan gathering, hopefully in the new year. This way, and only this way, the film hopes to have strong 'buy in' and participation from the people whose story is at the heart of it.

Bill Code
Bill Code and Christian Pazzaglia
Total budget
80 Minutes