Critical Review


"To cast this picture the producer went to the primitive Aborigine race of Australia and now introduces NARLA KUNOTH as Jedda, a girl of the Arunta tribe and ROBERT TUDEWALLI, a man of the Tiwi tribe as Marbuk. In this film many people of the Northern Territory of Australia are reliving their roles. The story of Jedda is founded on fact."

- opening title of Jedda

The plot of Jedda centers on the true account of the life of a young Aboriginal girl torn between two races. Jedda's mother dies while giving birth to her on the track, while at the same time Sarah McMann's baby dies. Sarah, a white woman, takes the baby in and names her Jedda, meaning "little wild goose." Despite plans to pass her on to one of the 'lubras', Sarah takes a liking to the child and 'adopts' her almost as her own. She teaches her how to read, dresses her like a white girl, and steers her more toward white tendencies and away from Aboriginal norms. At the same time, Jedda is surrounded by members of her tribe that live on the property of the McManns. She is in constant contact with Joe, the half-caste character born of an Afgan man and an Aboriginal woman. As Jedda grows older, Joe plans to marry her, but she becomes more and more fascinated with the lifestyles of her indigenous people. She longs to go on the walkabout with them every year and hears the clash of tribal chants over her European piano music. Jedda's interest in Aboriginal ways culminates with the arrival of Marbuk, a member of a different skin tribe. She becomes entranced by his mating call, and he kidnaps her against her will. He takes her to his tribe down the river where he is scolded for breaking 'an unbreakable tribal law': bringing back a girl from a different skin tribe. His punishment is the 'song of death', which drives him mad off a cliff, along with Jedda.

The story is narrated by Joe, who concludes that Jedda's spirit still exists in the Northern Territory as a wild goose flying with her people. The views of Chauvel appear in Joe's comment that maybe it was just too soon to change a lifestyle in just one short life. Chavel's portrayal of societal perceptions of Aborigines in the 1950's is rather accurate. There is more of a focus on Jedda's sense of isolation in her being torn between her white upbringing and Aboriginal background than any implication of Aboriginal persecution. Films at this time neglected to address the latter issue, so Jedda succeeds in only touching the surface of much bigger issue that appears significantly decades later. However, the preconception that Aborigines are crude and inferior seems to be supported in the depiction of Marbuk. The film makes a clear distinction between a civilized white family and the Aboriginal tribe that they must either tame or bestow a white lifestyle upon. In this way, Jedda follows the trend of ordinariness in early films. On the other hand, the fact that it succeeded in attracting giant local and international audiences is remarkable proof of its precedence in establishing a major component of problematizing contemporary Australian national cinema.

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