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 - along with the remains of several Yung Balug/Dja Dja Wurrung ancestors.
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, son of actor David, brings his 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, and kicking off that process nationally.
2. Environmental concerns over the future of iconic river red gum forests and the use of water in the Australian interior. This film can kick start and galvanise interest in this keystone species and build on public concern over water use in the Murray Darling basin.
3. Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and what this can look like at the local level - this is a real life portrayal.
The filmmakers 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.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
ARTEFACTS AND ARCHAEOLOGY
There’s no other film or popular resource dealing with scarred trees (in particular) and middens in this way. This is LIVING ARCHAEOLOGY but it is also dying, slowly. It will be gone soon. It will be a call to action to preserve and mark similar scarred tree sites right across the country. We’ve already had people get in touch via Facebook to say ‘I have a scarred tree in my paddock’ or asking us if a tree is a scarred tree. It’s really exciting and this film can have people gather round it as a rallying point.
ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
River red gums are an iconic and crucial ‘keystone’ species but they are at risk as river banks are cleared, and they are also vulnerable to rising carbon emissions. But the big topical issue here is WATER. The seasonal wetlands they dominate are part of a system threatened by the overuse of water for agriculture, changed water flows, and the altering of natural flooding occurrences. It’s happening already. Red gum swamps are fantastic carbon sinks, but they're dying already. One red gum supports hundreds of other creatures, and if they don’t get the flooding they need they will die - we have to raise awareness of this and Paul our lead is so amazingly passionate on this issue, as is Gary Murray the Yung Balug elder.
The time is NOW to be taking a film about water use into post production
When it comes to that positive story of cultural evolution, of rebirth, of this clan staying connected to their country in a part of Australia - we think this film can have real impact as a positive story. These guys are amazing role models.
And we think it can be a real blueprint for a realistic warts and all reconciliation story. About showing a great example of non-Indigenous people doing something tangible and working with Indigenous people on the same project with the same goals.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
We’ve already arranged educational distribution and DVDs with Ronin Films, right from the start.
We've also spoken with several of the people in the film about being educational ambassadors in schools. Paul is a published historian already - written a respected account of Dja Dja Wurrung history - and already attends schools with his impressive collection of artefacts, while Jida Gulpilil has been carrying out school tours via his Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation work.
Academic Marcia Langton has submitted the film to the government’s big new project on Indigenous learning in classrooms called the Curricula Project and there's real scope for exploring that further.
WEBSITE AND APP
We’re already in talks with an Aboriginal-owned tech company in Sydney, NGNY, about plans for an app to go with the film. A place to highlight significant heritage sites starting with scarred trees, middens or places of rock art. We think we can really drive engagement for years to come with this, using government department databases as a starting point which people can add to with photos and geolocation data.
With NGNY we can also explore a schools-focussed activity website, split up into different sections such as archaelogy, water use, river red gums and reconcilliation, to go hand in hand with viewings of the film.
-This will be the film to screen to classes and groups to facilitate discussion on cultural heritage, water use in country Australia, environment and reconcillation.
We're in early talks with museums, galleries and libraries in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra about artefact, tree and photographic exhibition potential.
Finally, leading impact producer Alex Kelly has agreed to act as an impact advisor to our impact producer.