Walkabout

Principal Cast

Jenny AGUTTER Girl
Lucien JOHN Brother
David GULPILIL Aborigine
John MEILLON Father
Peter CARVER No Hoper
John ILLINGSWORTH Husband
Barry DONNELY Australian Scientist
Noelene BROWN German Scientist
Carlo MANCHINI Italian Scientist

Principal Credits

Nicholas ROEG Director
Max L. RAAB Executive Producer
Si LITVINOFF Producer
Anthony J. HOPE Associate Producer
Grahame JENNINGS Production Manager
Kevin KAVANAGH Assistant Director
Edward BOND Script
James Vance MARSHALL Original Novel
Nicholas ROEG Director of Photography
Nicholas ROEG Photography
Anthony B. RICHMOND Special Photography
Anthony GIBBS Editor
Alan PATILLO Editor
Brian EATWELL Production Designer
Terry GOUGH Art Director
John BARRY Music Composer and Conductor
Barry BROWN Sound Recording
Gerry HUMPHREYS Sound Re-Recording
Production Company Max L Raab-Si Litvinoff
Distributor Ascanbee, National Library
Colour System Eastmancolor

Dates

Release Date 1971
Year of Filming 1969
Re-Release 1996 (Director’s Cut)

Box Office Figures
Unable to locate due to the length of time since its release.
However, McFarlane & Mayer state it ‘fared poorly at the Australian box office.’ Stated in their book; New Australian Cinema. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p 182.

Details of Interviews

  1. Danielsen, Shane. Walkabout: An Outsider’s Vision Endures. The Australian (Newspaper), 27 March 1998. Page 16.
  2. Details: Shane Danielsen interviews Nicholas Roeg in 1998 about the film’s re-release.
    The 70 year old Roeg comments that he is unsurprised the film has aged so well due to the film’s timelessness;
    ‘…a simple story about life and being alive, not covered with sophistry but addressing the most basic human themes; birth, death, mutability.’
    When asked why Walkabout, one of the most powerful visions of Australian landscape was made not by a local but by him, an Englishman, Roeg explains;
    ‘I suppose I simply viewed it without preconceptions…an outsider’s eye is always the most acute.’

  3. Roeg, the moment he stepped off the plane in Australia in 1969, he was asked the predictable question of what he thought of Australia.
    Roeg replied; ‘Two stops overexposed.’
    (Murray, S. ‘Australian Cinema in the 1970s and 1980s’. in Australian Cinema. Murray, S. (ed). St Leonards: Allen & Unwin with Australian Film Commission, 1994. P 72)

  4. John Lahr interviewed Roeg in 1985 in Vogue.
    The interview can be found at: Lahr, J. Nicholas Roeg Dazzles Us; A Rare Conversation With England’s Most Visionary Director. Vogue. August 1985. Vol 175, p 332 (3).

  5. Andrew Urban: ‘…engrossing and intriguing cinema for the lover of the artform’. Located from www.urbancinefile.com

  6. McFarlane, Brian. An Autobiography of British Cinema as Told By the Actors and Filmmakers Who Made It. London: Methuen, 1997. P 487-491 (An Interview With Nicholas Roeg.)

Details of Reviews and Critical Essays

  1. Brian McFarlane:
    ‘…good enough to set the whole 1970s revival going several years before it infact took off…visually stunning evocation of the landscape and a powerful sense of its being a component in the drama…’.
    Found in Australian Cinema 1970-1985, by Brian McFarlane. Richmond: William Heinemann Australia, 1987. Page 42.

2. Neil Rattigan:

‘Walkabout is not really an Australian film at all. It demonstrates so completely an outsider’s response to Australia…Walkabout is no simple celebration of the landscape. It is a reaction to it.’
Found in Images of Australia: 100 Films of the New Australian Cinema, by Neil Rattigan. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1991. Page 308/309.

  1. Scott Murray:

‘…classic examples of how foreign eyes can see and understand local issues with a clarity often unimagined at home. Roeg responded to the beauty and poetry in a landscape…lovingly captured its rich colours and textures.’
Murray goes on to comment: ‘Roeg also found connections between the Aboriginal inhabitants and the white occupiers that went beyond the usual clichés of racial delineation.’ Both quotes originate from Murray, S. Australian Cinema. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin with Australian Film Commission, 1994. Page 72.

  1. Brian McFarlane & Geoff Mayer:

    ‘Perhaps Walkabout, with its intensely poetic evocation of the severities of the Australian desert and its unusually sympathetic view of its black protagonist, is simply too strange, too removed from the conventionally accepted images of Australia and its people.’ Found in McFarlane, B. Mayer, G. New Australian Cinema: Sources and Parallels in American and British Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Page 182.

  2. Shane Danielsen:
  3. ‘Almost three decades after its release, it remains mesmerising and confronting as ever.’ In The Australian, 27 March 1998 Page 16.

  4. Agutter, J. ‘Going Walkabout: Director’s Cut of Walkabout Released’. Sight and Sound. March 1999 p 58. Agutter’s article is about the director’s cut of Walkabout being released.

  5. Witek, T. ‘Walkabout 1971-1996’. The Southern Review. Autumn 2000. Volume 36, Issue 4, p865.

  6. Rosenthal, D. ‘Not Retiring Behind the Camera’. Variety. Dec 15 1997. Volume 369 No 6. Page 81. This article is about older movie directors in the United Kingdom, and features Roeg among others.
  7. Reviews Written at the Film’s Release Date 1971

  8. Crowie, Peter. ‘Walkabout’, in International Film Guide 1972. Edited by Peter Cowie. London: Tantivy, 1971. P 106.
  9. Alpert, Hollis. Saturday Review, v 54, 5 June, 1971. P 12 in Filmfacts. 14 (11), 1971, p 251.
  10. Canby, Vincent. Walkabout: ‘A Tribal Study in Survival’. New York Times, 2 July, 1971. Section 1, p26.
  11. Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times, 1 Sept, 1971 in Filmfacts. 14 (11) 1971. P 252.
  12. Geest, Kenneth. Village Voice, 16(20), 20 May, 1971. P 66.
  13. McGregor, Craig. ‘Walkabout: Beautiful but Fake?’. The New York Times, 18 July, 1971. Section 11, p 1.

15. Kanfer, Stefan. ‘Natural Mannerisms.’ Time (US), 28 June 1971, p 77.

Details Of Online Presence

After hours of cybersearching, I had determined that the original Walkabout has little cyber-presence. However, with a stroke of cyber-luck, I found that the Australian Film Institute had a Walkabout Website;

www.cinemedia.net/AFI/biblioz/walk.html

At the site, I found 19 references to newspaper articles and 24 references to articles in books. Of these, the 3 texts I have used for my critique were included. Instead of listing these in this bibliography, I have attached them, as I feel they are a supplement to my own research.

In addition to these, I found details of the re-release of the film at the following locations:

    1. The Internet Movie Database: www.imdb.com.
      Search criteria used: ‘Roeg and Walkabout’.

    2. Infotrac: Expanded Academic Index: http.//infotrac.galegroup.com.
      Search criteria: ‘Roeg and Walkabout’. This located the journal articles numbered 6, 7, and 8 above.

    3. Film Index International: CD ROM Version. Available in Murdoch Library.

    4. Movie Review Query Engine: www.mrqe.com

This American website located 22 sites relating to Walkabout, including;

All of these reviews were written in light of the re-release in 1998 and had that fact in contemplation.

    1. Senses of Cinema: www.sensesofcinema.com

This site had one analysis of the film called ‘Walkabout’ by Justine Kelly.

My Searching Techniques

As with any research task, I tackled Walkabout by starting at the library catalogues looking for hardcopy texts featuring Walkabout commentary. From there, library databases were searched for journal articles. Finally, the H231 ‘links’ page was used to find websites with reviews of Walkabout. I found references to reviews printed at the time of the film’s release, yed had significant difficulty in locating articles these articles. However, its recent re-release was a saving grace, as it provided many journal articles reviewing the film from a modern day perspective. I do not feel the lack of information uncovered was due to the way I was searching. Rather, I think it was due to the date the film was released. For example, the AFC Resources records of box office figures dates back only to 1977.

In addition to the date the film was made, I feel the type of film it is has affected the kinds of literature available. That is, Walkabout did poorly at the box office, so little commercial information would have been available at the time, such as television movie reviews, magazine and newspaper reviews. However, Walkabout is considered one of the most intelligent films ever made in Australia. Instead of commercial arenas, it figures that the places information on Walkabout were located were modern day academic journals and texts on the history of Australian films. Many databases, such as the expanded academic index, did not locate any information on Walkabout prior to 1998. This indicates the lack of coverage of classic Australian films in both international and national reference works.

Plot Synopsis

Walkabout is a tale based on the children’s novel by James Vance Marshall. Yet it is said that it is far from being a children’s movie. Walkabout tells about two children stranded in the outback after their father tries to kill them but succeeds in only committing suicide. The two city-raised children were uprepared for the elements in the desert, and nearly perish. An adolescent aboriginal boy on his ‘walkabout’ finds them and helps them find food and water and escorts them back to civilisation. Sexual tension between the aborigonal boy and the girl are obvious to the audience. However due to lack of understanding, the girl rejects the boy’s ritualistic advances and this leads to his ultimate suicide.

Personal Commentary

I saw the film thirty years after it was made, yet it seemed as real and as effective as any modern film. I thoroughly enjoyed Walkabout, not only for its insight into the beauty of the Australian outback but also for the poignant tale it told. The scenes that stand out the most for me were the Scientist scene and the first interaction between the children and the Aboriginal boy. The scientist scene shows a group of male scientists and one female working on what look like weather balloons in the middle of the desert. The sexual play between two of the scientists seemed comical and out of place. Yet I felt the scene played an important role in the film. Firstly, it acted as a mental break for the audience, as it was comical releif from the harsh silences of the three travellers. The scene also represented the closeness that civilisation actually was to the children, yet they were oblivious to it. I also felt the sexual interplay between the two scientists and the other scientist onlookers stood to show that lust (or romance) was possible and plausible in the desert. This seemed to act to justify the sexual interplay between the girl and the aboriginal boy.

The second memorable scene for me was the first interaction between the children and the Aboriginal boy. The girl is blubbering in her British accent to the Aboriginal boy that they need water;

‘…water, don’t you understand water?’

The aboriginal boy, who has no previous contact with the English language obviously doesn’t understand her pleas. However, it is her younger brother who has the sense to mime the act of drinking, to which the Aboriginal boy understands and laughs. This unwillingness of the girl to co-operate and understand the Aboriginal boy continues throughout the film and ultimately ends in the death of the boy after she rejects his courtship moves.

For me, this film has a lot to offer Australian society on the larger issues of the white/indigenous divide, native title and on Australian history generally. It seemed clear to me that this film represented the history of white Australia; invasion of outsiders to a new harsh land, their inability to survive without indigenous help and their refusal to accept the indigenous background and culture. This ultimately ends in the destruction of the indigenous culture. Would this have been interpreted into the film thirty years ago? I think not. Perhaps the age of the film has enabled the audience to look at itself retrospectively.

Walkabout did very poorly at the Australian box office in 1971. However, nearly all critical uptake on the film is positive. One writer calls it one of the most intelligent films ever made in Australia. Walkabout’s acceptance within critic circle is epitomised by the fact it was one of the films selected for Le Cinema Australien at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1991.With the director’s cut released in 1996, critics once again took to Walkabout and revisited its credibility. On its re-release, Shane Danielsen from the Australian Newspaper, calls it '…as mesmerising and confronting as ever.'

It seems that 1970s audiences did not respond to the film, yet critics both then and now acclaim it. This divide between the critics and the audience’s response to the film must be addressed.

Walkabout was released in 1971, which saw the influx of ‘ocker’ films such as Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Stork. These types of films are said to have relied on forms of social typage rather than psychological motivations. It was the occer films that were geared for the local market and Australian general release. Whereas Walkabout, with its complex inter-sexual and inter-racial relationships, does not easily fit into the ‘ocker’ mould. Rather, Walkabout resembles the types of films that emerged in the second half of the 1970s, the ‘quality’ film. The quality film has been described as;

‘…a self-consciously high standard filmmaking more in keeping with other state cultural policy initiatives’.

However, Walkabout was released half a decade before the emergence of the quality film. McFarlane explains the connection between Walkabout and the ‘quality film’ by describing Walkabout and Wake in Fright as two films that were so good they were able to ‘set the whole 1970s revival going several years before it in fact took off.’

I interpret this to mean that Walkabout can be classified as a quality film, yet it was ahead of its time. This explains the film’s lack of commercial success in 1971.

McFarlane and Mayer explain the lack of success of the film in terms of its ‘strangeness’. The argue that due to its poetic use of the land and its ‘unusually sympathetic’ view of the aboriginal character;

‘…it is simply too strange, too removed from the conventionally accepted images of Australia and its people.’

Perhaps this is true. Perhaps 1970s audiences were not ready to consider the Australian outback as a positive rather than negative force. In addition, perhaps 1970s audiences were not willing to consider an indigenous character portrayed in a better light than the Caucasian characters. In either circumstance, the audiences at the time did not applaud Walkabout, yet its success is still theorised thirty years on.

How can the success of Walkabout thirty years after its release be explained? Firstly, it must be said that not all modern reviews of Walkabout were positive. Tom Keogh from ‘film.com’ felt that its magic had been lost over time due to the fact that its cinematography techniques were no longer new. In my opinion if the film is considered beyond cinematographic terms, it has aged well. At the rerelease of the film, Paul Byrnes commented, ‘Given the current climate of race relations in Australia, this rerelease could not be more timely.' The themes of tolerating and understanding opposing cultures is more acute now due to current issues of multiculturalism, native title and the stolen generation. These current issues allow the modern viewer to examine the subtext of Walkabout and make meaning from it that would not have been available to a 1970s audience

Circumstances of Walkabout’s Production

Walkabout was directed by British filmmaker Nicholas Roeg. He is often coined as an ‘outsider’, just like Canadian Ted Kotcheff, director of Wake In Fright. The term ‘outsider’ is given to them in a positive way. Roeg is able to, ‘see and understand local issues with a clarity often unimagined at home’. These ‘local issues’ being inter-cultural relations and inter-sexual relations. In addition, Roeg was able to portray the Australian landscape in such a way to make it beautiful and ‘poetic’, rather than harsh and ugly, as many Australians perceived it. Roeg was able to capture the essence of Australian landscape and Australian issues despite being a ‘foreigner’. Roeg explains this irony in his own words, ‘an outsider’s eye is always the most acute.’

It is also interesting to note that Walkabout was based on a childrens novel that was later made into a screenplay by Edward Bond, which was only 14 pages long. This was made up of dialogue between the two children only. This openness of the screenplay enabled Roeg to experiment. This fits with the 1960s notion of improvisatory latitude. Roeg explains it as thus:

‘We didn’t really plan anything-we just came across things by chance…filming whatever we found.’

This freedom to experiment is reflected in the film. Many scenes involve pans of the desert. In numerous scenes, the image on the screen fades to show a differing scene. For example, the young boy stops to catch his breath and looks to his right. He sees the desert shrub. But this shot fades to show a camel and rider walk past the boy. In my opinion, this experimentation adds to the poetry of the film. It is this experimentation that leads to the statement that the landscape in Walkabout is not the background for the story, but plays a role in the story.

For the principal cast involved, Walkabout was not a one-hit wonder. The screenplay was written by Edward Bond, a famous British playwright of works such as Saved and The Fool. Roeg himself has a film history dating from Performance in 1969 to The Witches in 1989, an adaptaion of Roald Dahl’s story. Roeg has earnt himself the title of ‘England’s Most Visionary Director’. In relation to the cast, the young boy is ‘Lucian John’, which is actually Luc, Roeg’s son. He has gone on to produce himself.

Walkabout’s Place in Australian National Cinema

With a British director and private funding, it is interesting to analyse the position of Walkabout in relation to Australian national cinema as a medium sized English language cinema. National cinemas are said to involve relations between;

‘…on the one hand, the national film texts and the national and international film industries and, on the other hand, their various social, political and cultural contexts.’

That is, Australian cinema as a national cinema must be considered in relation to other national cinemas and the dominant international cinema (Hollywood). These considerations must be addressed in relation the social, political and cultural contexts of the film. Australian national cinema compared to other national cinemas can be considered as a medium sized English language cinema. It is an English language cinema like the British and New Zealand national cinemas, but it is relatively medium sized compared to Hollywood, as is the Canadian and Dutch national cinemas.

In considering Walkabout within this sphere of Australian national cinema as a medium sized English language cinema, does it have a place within the sphere? The director was British and the funding did not come from an Australian government body, rather it came from private funding. However, Walkabout’s setting it obviously Australian. What defines a film as Australian? Neil Rattigan argues that it is not an Australian film at all, because it is an outsider’s response to the landscape. I disagree for a number of reasons. Tom O’Regan outlines three aspects that assist in determining if a film is Australian. Firstly, who holds the creative control? Secondly, is it a quality film or is it openly generic? Finally, is the director North American or is he New Zealander, Canadian, British or French? Applying thse questions to Walkabout, it can be seen that the creative control lies with Roeg, an outsider. However, Walkabout has been determined to be a quality film. Roeg is not a North American. Thus on the balance, I consider Walkabout to be inherently Australian and well within the sphere of Australian national cinema as a medium sized English language cinema.

Walkabout is inherently Australian for an additional reason. Walkabout is the story of spectrum opposites forced to coexist. This issue is relevant to Australian politics now more than ever, as attempt to reconcile have begun with the recognition of native title rights. Walkabout is an Australian film because it makes a valuable statement about Australia and the identity of its inhabitants. In my opinion, it is irrelevant whether the director is an outsider. Perhaps it took an outsider to be able to represent these themes to us in impartial terms. As Roeg say himself an outsider’s eye is the most acute.

In my estimations, Walkabout’s current place in contemporary critical horizons is a valuable one. Not only does it display exceptional cinematography of the Australian urban and outback landscape, but gives a valuable insight into current social and cultural issues, such as the indigenous/other divide. Walkabout’s position in relation to contemporary market horizons is more difficult to define. The film is thirty years old. Without the re-release in 1996, I fear that the film would simply have become a stone in the Australian cinema history path. However, with the introduction of the director’s cut, commercial attention was again drawn to the film. Commercial audiences once again had the ability to view and comment on the film. In summation, I find Roeg’s Walkabout to be an essential part of Australian national cinema. Indeed, it assists in defining ourselves as a national cinema, as it approaches social and cultural issues relevant thirty years on from its release.

REFERENCES

McFarlane, B. Australian Cinema 1970-1985. (Victoria: William Heinemann Australia, 1987) p 74.

Mayer, McFarlane. New Australian Cinema: Sources and Parallells in American and British Film. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) p 182.

Danielsen, Shane. Walkabout: An Insiders Vision Endures. The Australian Newspaper, 27 March 1998. P16.

O’Regan, T. ‘Film in the 1970s’ in the OzFilm Site: wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom p1.

Keogh, T. ‘Not Aging Gracefully’, located at www.film.com.

Paul Byrne, 1998. Located in the essay of Sophie Alexiadis at www.bonza.rmit.edu.au/essays/text/1999/sophie_alexiadis/1971_1996.html.

Murray, S. Australian Cinema. (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin with the Australian Film Commission, 1994) p 72

Roeg in interview by Danielsen, s. Walkabout: An Outsider’s Vision Endures. The Australian, 27 March 1998 p16.

Lahr, J. ‘Nicholas Roeg Dazzles Us’. Vogue, August 1985. Vol 175, p 132(3).

O’Regan, T. Australian National Cinema. (London & New York: Routledge, 1996.) p1

Rattigan, N. Images of Australia: 100 Films of the New Australian Cinema. (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1991.) p 308.

O’Regan, T, ‘Australian Cinema in the 1990s’. in Peter Tapp (ed) Australian Feature Films, (Melbourne: Informit, Royal Institute of Technology and the Australian Catalogue of New Films & Vidoes Ltd). At Ozfilm site: wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom.