Dialog Box

Community | Education | Health & Wellbeing | History | Indigenous | Rural | Social Justice
This is the untold story of Bourke, a small town in the north-west of NSW, Australia. Something happened here four decades ago that many people have forgotten and others never knew. It's a story of friendship, trust, courage, loss, hurt and hope. Now the old people want the story told or else their grandchildren won't know it. 

It’s Easter, and Bourke is transformed as visitors arrive for the annual Back of Bourke reunion. One of the people returning this Easter is Max Kamien. He first came to Bourke in 1970 and became a doctor for the Aboriginal community when most Aboriginal people were living on the edge of the town, in extreme poverty, suffering from diseases unknown in the town. Bill Reid and Wally Byers were Aboriginal community leaders. Max Kamien became their ally and friend. Together with other allies, black and white, they fought for civil rights, working to bridge the void separating Aboriginal people from white society. Today the next generation - Raina, Rose, Ellen - believe that they were trailblazers and what they did together transformed the community, giving it confidence and hope. 

Bill Reid and Wally Byers are buried at the Bourke cemetery not far from Fred Hollows who came to this town in 1971 on Max Kamien's request. Max Kamien, aged 80 and a distinguished professor of general practice, is in Bourke once again, working as a GP for the Aboriginal community. A remarkable, indefatigable man, he immerses himself in the present day health challenges of Bourke. He is also here to honour Bill Reid and Wally Byers and, in doing so, help bridge the past and the present.

The idea for this film belongs to an Aboriginal man from Bourke, John Mackay, who wanted to document this crucial period: “There's a myth of white history that we never fought for our land or our rights. The sad thing is that many Blackfellas are ignorant of the fights and have not been exposed to the information or facts around the fight-backs and struggles”. We would like our film to help give this untold story its rightful place in Bourke’s history. What those people did in the 70s is part of what Bourke is today, and the documentary will tell their story and the story of Bourke then and now. 

The question of what has changed and what reconciliation and closing the gap actually mean to people here runs through the film and it’s a question that is raw and personal. This deeply personal film is an intimate, cross-racial and cross-generational conversation that goes to the heart of race relations in Australia. What does it take for people divided by ignorance, selfishness, tragedy and intergenerational bitterness to to create a healthy community? What will make it possible to 'move on'?  

The film is a collaboration of indigenous and non-indigenous filmmakers. We want it to be seen by many Australians, black and white, in urban and regional areas. The story is about Bourke but it will echo in many parts of Australia.


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

The idea for the film came from John Mackay, an Aboriginal man from Bourke, who was inspired to tell his people’s stories. The documentary will add previously unknown stories to Australia’s history, including stories of the community’s struggle for social justice. 

While local to Bourke, this history is relevant to other indigenous communities. “There is a myth of white history that we never fought for our land or our rights. The sad thing is that many Blackfellas are ignorant of the fights and have not been exposed to the information or facts around the fight-backs and struggles.” (John Mackay).

Max Kamien first came to Bourke in 1970 and found a community living on the fringe, in third world conditions, suffering from third world illnesses. He determined to be 'an agent of change'. Fred Hollows came to Bourke as part of a raft Max's initiatives to improve the life of Bourke's Aboriginal residents. More than forty years later the community continues to experience acute needs. We are privileged to have received permission to film at the Bourke Aboriginal Health Clinic and Bourke District Hospital and be with Professor Kamien, a respected and influential Emeritus Professor of General Practice with a profound attachment to Bourke and deep professional insight into Aboriginal and rural health, as he reassesses Bourke's priorities and also the priorities of 'Closing the Gap'. 

The film is a collaboration of indigenous and non-indigenous filmmakers. We envisage that it will be seen by many Australians, black and white, in urban and regional areas. We hope to challenge our own and other Australians' perceptions about race relations in Australia. We have a strong sense that the stories in the film will be stories of reconciliation. We want to record stories that will contribute to an oral and local history project in Bourke. We want to involve the community and hope to offer training and mentorship and recruit to the production team locally. If possible, we are interested in sourcing original music for our film from local musicians. 

The project will have a significant educational value. We would like copies of the film and in some cases original interviews to be accessible as educational materials to libraries, museums and schools. We will organise screenings and discussions. We aim to inspire conversations, exhibitions and visits to schools by the people who are featured in the film or who participate in making it. There is potential to develop online educational resources, including interactive storytelling tools. We will explore this in consultation with the people who own the stories, interested stakeholders, and with the right expertise. 

Aims & Objectives

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

We intend to make a film that will have an impact on several levels. On one level it’s a previously untold story of Aboriginal Bourke which will take its place in the town's, and Australia's history; on another, it’s an intimate film about personal relationships. On a third level it’s an unflinchingly honest portrait of Bourke spanning four decades, which we hope helps shift perceptions and stereotypes. While intensely personal and specific to Bourke, the stories transcend locality and have a universal emotional impact. There is generosity, warmth, humour, charisma and energy in the people populating the film, and its humanity will have broad appeal. The filmmakers Irene Ulman and John Mackay bring their own perspective to the cross-racial and cultural conversation in the film. John is Aboriginal, born and brought up in Bourke, now living in Bathurst, NSW. Irene came to Australia from Russia via Israel and lives in Sydney. They met at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies in Canberra on the eve of the politically charged bicentennial celebrations in Australia. They collaborated on a radio program for the ABC called “Aboriginality” and decided that their next project together would be a film about Bourke. This year, when John and Irene resumed the conversation about making a film about Bourke, Max’s final locum presented itself as a unique opportunity. Producer Pat Fiske has contributed award-winning, internationally acclaimed documentaries with strong social justice themes to the cross-racial conversation in Australia. She knows Bourke well, having been there many times in connection with her documentary about Fred Hollows, For All the World to See. Our aim is to reach many Australians, black and white, in urban and regional areas. We believe that telling these stories is important for reconciliation. 

We intend to put a special effort into promoting the documentary in regional Australia. Bourke is an iconic regional town and its issues are relevant to other regional towns across Australia. 

We will promote and measure the impact of the documentary using social media to connect us with audiences and interest groups. A targeted social media strategy will enable us to gauge the impact of our publicity campaign and, through an ensuing discussion, of the finished documentary. We have started working on our social media presence to build an audience. We will look at hiring an impact producer to help get the word out about our film. We hope that a televised transmission and/or access to our film as VOD will ensure that the documentary is seen nationally and achieves maximum impact. 


What is your education and outreach strategy?

We are setting up an online and social media presence with a website, Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts. We will link these up with networks and media that have a stake in the issues that are relevant to our film. We have begun a conversation with a number of groups, starting with the Bourke community's Facebook pages, the Bourke Land Council, and others. 

By engaging special interest groups we hope to create a better chance for a ‘self-promoting’ momentum to carry the publicity further into the broader media space. A targeted social media campaign will help gauge the impact of the documentary once it has been screened, through ensuing discussions about the documentary. After filming in Bourke in April we will produce a trailer which will be a major driver of publicity for the film. The trailer will have a visual and emotional impact, capturing the beauty of the iconic Back of Bourke landscape, the compelling warmth of the characters and the stark immediacy of its social needs. After completion, the film will be available to view as video on demand. We will explore four walling and outreach events with an emphasis on regional Australia. We will look at raising money for the film to be available to schools around the country. Building on the documentary’s educational value will be a key objective of our outreach. 

We will develop an effective online delivery strategy while being mindful that some communities do not have reliable Internet. Educational tools and resources (eg interactive storytelling) can be available online to stream or download, or as DVDs. There is great scope for integrating such material into primary and/or high school curricula, especially since the Australian curriculum recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students should be “able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum of each of the learning areas, can fully participate in the curriculum and can build their self-esteem and that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority is designed for all students to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.” 

All of this must be done with the permission of the individuals and community involved; they are the owners of this material and any use that it is put to will be strictly in adherence to cultural and ethical protocols. We will consult closely to make sure that any resources developed are relevant and useful, and explore any options that are viable and useful to the Bourke and other communities and to educational institutions. We intend to build up international outreach and attract interest and funding from other countries. We will make contact with international organisations as well as broadcasters and festivals.

Irene Ulman
Pat Fiske, Irene Ulman
Total budget
60 Minutes