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UK / Australia 1950
Directed by
Ralph Smart
86 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Bitter Springs

Set at the turn of the century this Ealing Studios film tells the story of Wally King (Chips Rafferty) and his family as they stake out their claim in what was then considered as the terra nullius of the Australian Outback. Obviously modelled on the Fordian Western, with the Kings as bold homesteaders and the Aboriginies as "the hostiles" (or as they are here called "the blacks") the film, with original music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and effectively photographed by George Heath is, despite a lacklustre ending, quite reasonable as an adventure yarn but is primarily of interest for its representation of the white settlement of Australia.

In what today would be considered mind-boggling racist terms, Rafferty's Wally and even more so, his son (played by a very young Charles "Bud" Tingwell), state their monstrous lack of understanding with the complete confidence of their God-given right as they set about subduing the landscape and chasing the helpless Aborigines off their ancestral home. Between these two groups stands Michael Pate, a police officer with a role not dissimilar to that of Bryan Brown in Nick Parson's Dead Heart (1996) - a man appointed to protect the white settlers but with a sympathy for the plight of the indigenous inhabitants, and who serves to articulates the issues the film confronts.

Of course this was 1950 and the tone is relatively sanitized, the film ending on a glibly and, in hindsight, depressingly assimilationist note but it is nevertheless a milestone in the history of the representation of black/white relations in Australian cinema.




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