We Of The Never Never : Based on the novel by Mrs Gunn

Part 1: Film Information

Cast List

            Angela Punch McGregor as Jeannie Gunn
Arthur Dignam as Aeneas Gunn
            Martin Vaughan as Dan
Lewis Fitz-Gerald as Jack
John Jarratt as Dandy
Tony Barry as Mac
Tommy Lewis as Jackaroo
Donald Blitner as Goggle Eye
Mawuyul Yanthalawuy as Rosie
Cecil Parkee as Cheon
Sibina Willy as Bett Bett
Tex Morton as Landlord
Kim Chiu Kok as Sam Lee

List of Crew

Director : Igor Auzins
Assistant directors : Ian Goddard, Tim Higgins, Brendan Lavelle and Jess Tapper
Producer : Greg Tepper
Co-producer : John B. Murray
Associate producer: Brian Rosen
Executive producer : Phillip Adams
Original Music by Peter Best
            Cinematography by Gary Hansen
Film Editing by Clifford Hayes
Production Design by Josephine Ford
Art Direction by Ro Bruen, Graeme Duesbury and Greg Nelson
            Costume Design by Camilla Rountree
            Makeup by Sally Gordon and Robern Pickering
           
Production Management

Production Manager : Antonia Barnard
Unit Managers : Paul Arnott and John Warran

Sound Department

Sound recordist : Malcolm Cromie

Sound mixer : James Currie
Sound assistant : Beth Harrisson and Hugh Waddell
Sound re-recording mixer : Phil Judd
Sound editor : Frank Lipson
Sound recordists : Laurie Robinbson and Greg Steele
Special Effects by Reece Robinson, Glenn Ruehland and Peter Sloss

Camera and Electrical Department

Additional photographer : Jan Kenny
Production coordinator : Michael Bourchier
Laboratory liaison : Bill Gooley
Continuity : Christine Lipari

Production Companies
           
Adam Packer Film Productions
            Film Corporation of Western Australia
            General Television Corporation

Distributors
           
Australian Video (Australia)
            Hoyts Distribution
            Triumph Releasing Corporation (1983) (USA)

Other Companies
           
Spectrum Films International  post-production facilities
            Spectrum Films  post-production facilities

Awards :

Won :
Australian Film Institute (AFI Award 1982) for Best Achievement in Cinematography (Gary Hansen)

Nominated :
Best Achievement in Costume Design (Camilla Rountree)
Best Actress in a Lead Role (Angela Punch McGregor)
Best Film (Greg Tepper)
Best Screenplay (Peter Schreck)
Best Original Music Score (Peter Best)
           
Release Dates :

Canada 9 September 1982 (Toronto Film Festival)
Australia 4 November 1982 
USA 11 February 1983 (New York City, New York)

Note: The film is also known as Land hinter dem Horizont in West Germany and My z
          'Nigdy-Nigdy' in Poland

Gross Earnings

It is estimated that We of the Never Never had a gross of AUD 3,112,000 in Australia. However, I couldn’t find the estimated gross gained outside of Australia.

Note:
While researching for information on this film, I found that the film was still being shown (http://www.acmi.net.au/great_aus_never_never.jsp) with screenings on the 17th of February 2007.

REVIEWS:

Interestingly, there seem to be different types of opinions regarding this film. I’ve found 3 very interesting and different opinions on this film. I’ve labeled the opinions into The Believer, The Observer and The Skeptic. I will be going into this in detail later on in Part 2 of this assignment.

Outstanding Australian Movie, 23 December 2000
Author: princy from Australia
A remarkable movie about a woman overcoming sexist and racial prejudice in outback Australia. McGregor is very convincing as Jeannie Gunn as she battles constantly to be seen as an equal amongst the menfolk on the station on which she lives with her husband. The fight seems a losing battle however as the views held by the men (regarding both women and indigenous people) are hard to overcome.
Anyone outside of Australia who is interested in an accurate portrayal of the early relations between Australian Aborigines and white Australian's then this movie is for you.
Taken from : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084893/#comment

Down under, We of the Never Never is a well-loved turn-of-the-century classic by a Mrs Aeneas Gunn, who as a genteel Melbourne bride was expected to add a woman's touch to her husband's isolated cattle station. Phlegmatic British audiences, not much in touch with the pioneer spirit, will find in this adaptation an unashamedly old-fashioned celebration of corseted pluck as Jeannie Gunn rolls up her lacey sleeves and wins the grudging respect of the hitherto misogynistic stockmen. It's a pleasurably predictable formula, kept afloat by plangent orchestration, glorious cinematography, and a continuous supply of death-beds and simple outback funerals. The film's real difficulty lies in Jeannie's treatment of the Aborigines. She's nice to them but patronising (makes the gardener wear trousers). Is Auzins inviting us to make up our own minds about her naive colonialism, or just dodging what could have been the film's central issue? JS
Source : Time Out Film Guide 13
Taken from http://www.timeout.com/film/64367.html

New York Times
February 11, 1983
FROM AUSTRALIA, 'WE OF THE NEVER NEVER'
By JANET MASLIN

If ''We of the Never Never'' sounds simple, old-fashioned and as suffocatingly noble as its heroine, it is. It's a film of far more anthropological than dramatic interest, since much of the action involves aboriginal characters, and since it was filmed in the thinly settled region Mrs. Gunn actually visited. There is adventure here: (Jeannie being dunked in a river; Jeannie being treed by a bull) that children will enjoy, and the scenery is unusual. But otherwise, little of interest goes on. And the film, in depicting Jeannie's relations with the aborigines, celebrates her open-mindedness with a pride that's dated and unseemly.

Excerpt taken from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9401E5D9103BF932A25751C0A965948260&sec=&pagewanted=print

Film’s Presence Online

            The film ‘We of the Never Never’ has a really small presence on the internet. I’ve typed the keywords of “We if the Never Never, Australian film, based on the novel by Mrs Gunn, director Igor Auzins” and searched for it using MSN, Yahoo and Google. For MSN, only 4 websites were found and out of all, only 3 of them are applicable. Yahoo has got 9 searches with the similar websites as MSN, with the other websites being links to Amazon.com and other similar DVD links. Google provided the most found websites (15 websites). However, only 8 of the 15 were related to the film. I will be expressing my thoughts later on in Part 2 of this assignment on why I think that there are so few websites on this film.

This film was also briefly discussed in : http://www.u3acastlemaine.com/newsletterjune06.pdf and http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/02/22/hui.html.

PART 2 : Critical Review

Synopsis :

We of the Never Never is about the life of Jeannie, a woman from the upper class of society, and her story of adapting to life in the outback of Australia after she marries Aeneas Gunn. Mr. Gunn just bought a cattle ranch and as his wife, Jeannie follows him. The men were unhappy at first because they believed that the bush is no place for a white woman. As such, they were wary of her and made fun of her when both her and her husband arrived. However, Jeannie was determined to prove them wrong. When her husband is away with the other men herding the cattle, Jeannie made friends with the Aboriginals. Whilst her husband and the other white men treated the Aboriginals as inferior to them, Jeannie sees them as equals. As time passes, Jeannie gains the respect of the men and the Aboriginals slowly opened up to her. Jeannie even takes a child called Bett-Bett under her wings, much to the dismay of her husband. At one point, Goggle Eye, an elder aboriginal male, trusted her enough to allow her to watch a sacred aboriginal dance. The men interrupted the dance, and Goggle Eye fell ill, believing that he has been cursed. Not long after that, Goggle Eye passes away. The men were sorry and they treated the aboriginals a little better after what happened, much to Jeannie’s delight. Just when Jeannie thought that she had finally grown accustomed to the life in the harsh outback, her husband fell ill and died, leaving Jeannie alone.

Critical Review :

            In my opinion, We of the Never Never predominately falls under the genre of Women’s film. Apart from the fact that the film main character is female, this film explores the hardship of a woman’s life and also her adventures in trying to survive in what is believed to be a male’s domain. As it is based on ‘actual’ events of Mrs Gunn, maybe it could be under the genre of a Biopic. Basinger suggests that

“a women’s film centers upon the emotional, social and psychological problems that are faced by a women just because she is a woman.” (qtd in Moran and Vieth pg 192)

            In We of the Never Never, Jeannie faces emotional, social and psychological problems. First of all, Jeannie’s decision to accompany Aeneas to the outback strongly sparked uneasiness among the other men there. As a woman, she is considered to be weak and unfit to live in the harsh Australian outback, this is even more so when Jeannie comes from the higher class of society; where women like her are used to being surrounded by helpers. At the ranch, Jeannie wasn’t greeted warmly by the other men, namely Jack, Danny, and even Sam Lee, the Chinese cook. On the second day at the farm, Sam Lee was cursing to himself about how Jeannie causes him trouble by missing breakfast. Jack also made fun of her indirectly when she tried to strike up a conversation with him. At one point, she defended an Aboriginal woman who was beaten. The woman’s husband told her, “that my woman” in which Jeannie retaliated, “Gives you no right to beat her”. After having a staring contest, he complains to Aeneas who tells Jeannie to back down. That situation hinted that the Aboriginal man did not see Jeannie as an equal because she’s a woman and as such, wasn’t the authority as opposed to Aeneas, who is a man. In one scene, Jeannie was with the men mustering the cattle. When she got off the horse, a bull charged her; she panicked and tried climbing up a tree unsuccessfully. Fortunately, Danny shot the bull in time. The aboriginals re-enacted the scene and everyone laughed at her, causing Jeannie to have a breakdown.

            There are also aspects of the film in which sensitive issues are entwined with Jeannie’s interest and hardship. The issue mentioned is the relationship between Aboriginals and the White Australians. In the film, it is clearly shown that the Aboriginals are considered by the White Australians as labour or/and of lower status, rarely equals. In exchange for their work, they are given foodstuffs like sugar and tobacco. This is supported by the scene where the Aboriginals were lining up to get food portions and tobacco from Jack and Danny. Jeannie even offered more tobacco to Goggle Eye in exchange for him working in the garden. Apart from that, the issue of the half-caste children was also questioned in the film. At the beginning of the film, when the Jack and the others were informed that the new boss (Aeneas) is bringing his wife along, one of the young Aboriginals said, “Good, give ours a break”. The interchange of words between them was short and fast but it was definitely a jab at the issue. Later on in the film, it was also discovered that Bett Bett, a young child was a half-caste herself. She was sent by her mother (who was dying) to look for her white father, failing so, she was taken in by the Aboriginals at the ranch. When Jeannie decides to look after Bett Bett, Aeneas strongly acts against it saying, “You can’t do that, you can’t take her away from her own people..” She answers that Bett Bett doesn’t have any one and that she’s angry because white men are abandoning the aboriginal women and their own kids. Aeneas says that she’s a stranger and doesn’t know how things work here (in the outback) and Jeannie firmly says that she’s beginning to understand how the Aboriginals are treated. The following exchange took place in the film, further supporting Jeannie’s anger;

            Jeannie: You think that they are inferior
            Aeneas: The men believes it, the blacks believes it, that’s what matters..
            Jeannie: No. What do YOU believe? .. that’s what matters…

(note: it was weird to see that even Sam Lee, the Chinese cook, looks down on the
          Aboriginals, seeing that he himself is not even a native of Australia. This was
          shown when he tells Jeannie that he cooks for the white men and her but does not
          cook for blacks.)

They argued a bit more after that.

            Jeannie: Why does it have to be THEM and US? Why can’t we live together?
            Aeneas: Let them live their own way..
Jeannie: Making them gardeners…. Doesn’t seem like letting them live their own
  way..giving them sugar, tobacco…
           
In the film, it also shows how the land is being occupied by the white settlers. When Aeneas found out that some of his cattle were slaughtered by aboriginals, he asked Goggle Eye (on foot) to lead him and the rest (on horsebacks) to the culprits. Aeneas asked Goggle Eye to find water for them as all water belongs to the station. Goggle Eye replied, “You right boss.. you own it.. you find it”. Later on, they managed to find a waterhole and were excited; they decided to name that waterhole after themselves while Goggle Eye looked on sadly. One of the men spotted traces left by Aboriginals and asked Goggle Eye how did they(aboriginals) know that they were coming? Goggle Eye replied, “Just know boss”. For me, that scene showed how well the Aboriginals were in touch with the bush lands. Later on at the campfire, Jeannie had an argument with one of the men when she mentioned that the land belongs to the Aboriginals. In that scene, he retorted by saying that the land was empty when they first came here and that they (the whites) were the ones that put in the fence, bulls, stations and more. From that, one can see that the White Australians believes that the land is theirs, and not the Aboriginals. Goggle Eye then tells Jeannie how and where the stars and man come from. I find the following exchange interesting and so, decided to share it:

            Goggle Eye: Where white fellas starts come from?
            Jeannie: God made the stars… God made everything.
            Goggle Eye: (pausing for a while) If God made everything, why didn’t God make
         white fella some bush of their own?

Overall, the film focuses a lot on how Jeannie tries to adapt to the hardships faced, make new friends and just try to be supportive of her husband in the wild Australian outback.

Opinions :

            When I first choose this film for this assignment, I had a hunch that I might not be able to get a lot of information for this film as it’s a couple of decades old. However, I did not expect that so little interest is shown towards this film today as it was considered as a remarkable show and I think it did earn a large amount of money back then. It was then I discovered that at present, Women’s Film are still a small, less popular genre compared to other more popular genres like Action/Adventure, Horror, Science Fiction and more. Could this be one of the reasons that this film sparked little interest? After all, a film like this, made in the early 80s, slow paced and revolves around a woman may not be of match to films created now, with new techniques and audiences having more interests towards fast cars, exploding buildings and battle scenes.

I mentioned that I’ve found 3 different reviews (refer to Part 1),out of all 3, I personally think that I agree with the second review, which is The Observer’s point of view. In my opinion, this film has got some accurate portrayals up till a certain extent. As this film was based on the book which claims to be re-creation of real events, some events might be exaggerated or modified to serve a certain purpose. Although there are some real elements in the film, its still has some elements that seems too good to be true, for instance, Jeannie seems to be very understanding and determined compared to a normal person. As such, I feel that the other 2 reviews are going way into the extremes in particular with the 3rd review, which I find it to be a bit harsh and doing injustice to the film. Could it be due to the fact that this film can be considered as having a slow pace as well as touching on sensitive issues, it didn’t suit the taste of the American audience at that time?

As a conclusion, I find this film easy to watch as it’s quite straightforward. There are moments in this film which I enjoyed a lot, such as the subtle but strong messages that were passed during verbal exchange between the characters. The cinematography was also quite good in my opinion. When watching though, I was a little amused when I saw one part where Jeannie was riding a white horse and when the scene changes, she was sitting on a brown horse! I’m not sure if it’s a continuity problem or maybe she switched horses somewhere between the scenes but we were not shown it. I am quite positive that the whole scene was meant to be one long continuous scene but than again, I might be wrong. Feel free to correct me if I made a mistake, cause I don’t think horses can change their colour, hmm..maybe it’s all the dirt sticking to it that made it turn brown?

Reference List

Janet, Maslin. “From Australia, “We of the Never Never”. TheNewYorkTimes. 11 Feb
1983. 22 April 2007.
<http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9401E5D9103BF932A25751C0A965948260&sec=&pagewanted=print>.

Moran, Albert and Errol Vieth “Women’s Film”.Fim In Australia: An Introduction.
Cambridge, [England] ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2006

“We of the Never Never”. Australiana.  23 April 2007.
<http://www.cinephilia.net.au/show_adirector.php?director=&submit=Find%2Bit
>.

We of the never never  Directed by Igor Auzins Videocassete. Published [S.l.] :
Publishing & Broadcasting Video 198-.

 “We of the Never Never.”  Review.  22 April 2007.
<http://www.timeout.com/film/64367.html>.

“We of the Never Never”. The Antique Bookshop and Curios. 21 April 2007.
<http://www.antiquebookshop.com.au/ABC207.htm>.

“We of the Never Never.” 19 April 2007. <http://imdb.com/title/tt0084893/>.

“We of the Never Never.” 21 April 2007.
<http://www.acmi.net.au/great_aus_never_never.jsp>.