“G’day, Australia: how ya going?” As , filmmaker Warwick Thornton’s distinctive voice floats in across a montage of marionettes, fast-cutting, and stellar cartography, we know this isn’t going to to be a typical documentary. Then again, the subject that he is exploring is anything but typical.
A few years ago, filmmaker Thornton got into a little bit of hot water over comments he made comparing the Southern Cross flag to the Nazi swastika. In his latest documentary, the Samson and Delilah filmmaker decides to follow-up on that comment, and learn the truth about what the constellation means to all members of Australia. After all, as Thorton has said publicly: “This country is nothing without knowledge.”
WE DON’T NEED A MAP is one of four films that NITV funded as part of their Moment in History program, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum recognising Aboriginal people as part of the official population. The documentary also coincides with another odd point in Australian history, where jingoistic voices are once again using the nationalistic “with us/against us” cries in reference to refugees and immigration. Often, their proudly displayed symbol of unity is the Southern Cross.
For astronomers, the Southern Cross (or “Crux”) is the smallest of the 88 modern constellations. For many of the First Peoples, it is integral to the creation stories. For Brazil, it’s part of the meridian that adorns their green, blue, and gold flag. So why has it become the symbol of nationalistic pride? From its first appearance on flags during the Eureka Stockade, it’s been associated with protectionism, and later as a symbol of anti-Chinese immigration. Are the people who wear it unironically on tattoos and bikini tops aware of its legacy, or a part of that construct?
Which is what WE DON’T NEED A MAP does best: offers differing perspectives. In between Thorton’s amusing marionette recreations of key historical moments, we get a series of visits to Aboriginal communities, academics, musicians, and people undergoing tattoo removals. The notion that recognising someone else’s rights equates to losing something is best encapsulated in the Big Day Out controversy of 2007, in which organiser Ken West tried to ban the flag from the event because of the negative sentiments that went with its carriers. The responding outrage was nuclear.
With his film, we are taken on a “Short History Lesson According to Warwick Thornton,” one in which non-Indigenous Australians are rightfully labelled the “inheritors of theft.” It’s a rejection of the doctrine of terra nullius that underlined 200 years of white colonialism. Thorton’s deep exploration of his own culture is essential viewing for all Australians, and hopefully one that will make people reconsider their devotion to someone else’s symbol. Or as The Drones frontman Gareth Liddiard says on camera, “If you’ve got half a brain, you realise it’s been co-opted.”
WE DON’T NEED A MAP was the Opening Night Film, and is playing in competition, at the Sydney Film Festival 2017.