This is the untold story of Bourke, a small town in the north-west of NSW, Australia. Something happened here four decades ago that changed the lives of the Aboriginal people of this town. Now the old people want the story told, before it is forgotten and lost to their grandchildren. They say there's a myth of white history that they never fought for their land or their rights. "The sad thing is that many Blackfellas are ignorant of the fights and the struggles".
April is a month when visitors and former residents fill the town. One of the visitors is an elderly doctor who is loved and remembered here. The doctor, Max Kamien, helped spark the events that changed lives in this town. He came to Bourke in 1970 when most Aboriginal people were living on the edge of the town, in extreme poverty, suffering from diseases unknown in the town and excluded from the town's life. Max Kamien became their ally and friend. He set out to improve the health of the Aboriginal community. He asked Fred Hollows to come to Bourke. He brought in an architect to improve the community's living conditions. The community leaders, Bill Reid and Wally Byers, worked with Max and other allies, to bridge the void separating their people from white society. Now the next generation believes that they were trailblazers and what they did together transformed the community, giving it confidence and hope.
Today Bill Reid and Wally Byers are buried at the Bourke cemetery not far from Fred Hollows. Max Kamien, aged 80 and a distinguished professor of general practice, has come to Bourke once again, to work as a GP for the Aboriginal community. He is immersing himself in the present day health challenges of Bourke. He is also here to pay respect to his friends Bill and Wally.
Max's return triggers deep questions about Bourke's past and present and for one young Aboriginal man from Bourke it marks the start of a search. The young man's name is Allan Clarke. He has a life in Sydney, and a successful career on SBS's National Indigenous Television, reporting on indigenous issues around the country. He wants to document his town's story and he wants to know what it means for Bourke today. For him, the question of what has changed and what the words reconciliation and closing the gap mean in reality is 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 tragedy and intergenerational bitterness to create a healthy community? What will it take for a community 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 about Bourke will resonate 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 and interested organisations, and with the right expertise.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
We want our film to have an impact on different levels - as a previously untold story of Aboriginal Bourke which will become part of the town's and Australia's history; as an intimate film about personal relationships and as an honest portrait of Bourke spanning four decades.
We hope our film helps help shift popular perceptions and stereotypes and adds a whole new thread to the narrative of this iconic Australian town. 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.
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.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
Our simple strategy is to remain close to the Bourke community, in particular the indigenous community. We hope to give back to Bourke through skills development and opportunities to involve the community, offer training and mentorship and recruit to the team locally. The sound of our film needs to reflect the sounds of Bourke; we hope to explore this with local musicians.
We will consult with the community during the different stages of filmmaking. Our plan is to create a body of oral history as part of filmmaking. The starting point for the film was to record stories before they disappear. Old people in Bourke say that young kids don’t know their own history. This film and its materials are for those old people and for those kids.
We have online presence through the Documentary Australia website and Facebook. On our visits to Bourke we established contact with individuals and groups and have stayed in touch. We’ve shared photos and will share our trailer when ready. There is interest among some special interest groups and we will create a momentum to carry the publicity further as the film nears completion. The finished film will be available as video on demand. A social media campaign can help gauge the impact of the documentary through feedback but we are mindful that the Internet does not reach everyone. We will explore four walling and outreach events in regional Australia.
We will raise money for the film to be available to schools around the country. We will look at adapting the oral histories educational tools (eg interactive storytelling). There is great scope for integrating material into school curricula, as 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, fully participate in the curriculum and build their self-esteem. 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 this will be done with the permission of the individuals and community; any use that it is put to will be in adherence to cultural and ethical protocols. We will consult to make sure that any resources developed are relevant and useful, and explore any options that are viable and useful to communities and to educational institutions.
We plan 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.
We have received development funding from Screen NSW and from donations via Documentary Australia and we thank our generous donors. The trailer will mark the next stage in our outreach campaign.