peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2022 06 26 WeOfTheNeverNever

We of the Never Never (1982)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched at the Temple Bar Caravan Park at Alice Springs. I went into this cold, knowing little more than where the "Never Never" was (roughly Mataranka in the N.T., where there's a sign). Well, this thing claims to be based on a novel from 1908, about Elsey Station circa 1902, but denatures that story with more recent attitudes to feminism and the debasement of Aboriginal culture and removal of children. Everything feels half-hearted and inessential.

Many of the cast from The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith star here. Tommy Lewis was demoted from lead to a generic Aboriginal stockman ("Jackaroo") whereas his minor-role wife in that picture, Angela Punch McGregor, starred here as Jeannie Gunn (the author of the source material, the first white woman to live in the area). Similarly Arthur Dignam, who played her husband and station manager Aeneas, had a small part there as the nameless "Man in Butcher Shop" of strong opinions (and also as the "Old Man in Pub / Mercedes Driver" in Beneath Clouds). I enjoyed his performance though it was clearly too sensitive, quiet and reflective for a production that screamed out for a cruder instrument like Jack Thompson. Also John Jarrett.

After some promising beginnings things slow to a soporific, tiresome cadence of repeating events (fever, how many times; horse mustering, how many times). The cinematography (by Gary Hansen) is surprisingly feeble given the setting. The romantic stuff is sappy. The Chinese cooks are electric and criminally underused. There are no crocs, insects or sweat stains. Did the men of the day really carry handguns? One part made me wonder about influences: an Elder (Donald Blitner) asks "baccy Maluka?" of Aeneas, a pronoun I had only seen used by Xavier Herbert (in the 1930s). Jeannie does enquire after it and is given a poor explanation.

Paul Byrnes was unimpressed with the source material and the film. Excess details at Ozmovies: mostly it's an unloved punching bag (see Janet Maslin and Brian McFarlane amongst others). Also the DVD contains a 1974 smoogery of C.P. Mountford's Walkabout and Tjurunga ethnographic/anthropological films that has its moments and nothing to do with the feature.