Dispossession and the Making of Jedda
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A personal account of coming to terms with a history of dispossession and colonial power relations

'Dispossession and the Making of Jedda (1955)' newly locates the story of the genesis of the iconic 1955 film ‘Jedda’ (dir. Chauvel) and, in turn, ‘Jedda’ becomes a cultural context and point of reference for the history of race relations it tells. It spans the period 1930–1960 but is focused on the 1950s, the decade when Charles Chauvel looked to the ample resources of his friends in the rich pastoral Ngunnawal country of the Yass Valley to make his film. This book has four locations. The homesteads of the wealthy graziers in the Yass Valley and the Hollywood Mission in Yass town are its primary sites. Also relevant are the Sydney of the cultural and moneyed elites, and the Northern Territory where ‘Jedda’ was made. Its narrative weaves together stories of race relations at these four sites, illuminating the film’s motifs as they are played out in the Yass Valley, against a backdrop of Sydney and looking North towards the Territory. It is a reflection on family history and the ways in which the intricacies of race relations can be revealed and concealed by family memory, identity and myth-making. The story of the author, as the great granddaughter, great-niece and cousin of some of those who poured resources into the film, both disrupts and elaborates previously ingrained versions of her family history.

Prologue: ‘Jedda’ (1955): Cultural Icon and Shared Artefact of Mid-Twentieth Century Colonialism; 1. Making ‘Jedda’; 2. ‘Hollywood’ in the ‘Fine Wool Hub’; 3. Looking North: Mrs Toby Browne’s Colonial Nostalgia, ‘Jedda’ and the ‘Opening of the Territory’; 4. Memories of ‘Jedda’ after the National Apology; Epilogue: ‘Bogolong’ Memories: The Vagaries of Family History; Index.



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Date de parution 31 août 2020
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781785273520
Langue English

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Dispossession and the Making of Jedda
Dispossession and the Making of Jedda
Hollywood in Ngunnawal Country
Catherine Kevin
Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
This edition first published in UK and USA 2020
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Copyright © Catherine Kevin 2020
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means
(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise),
without the prior written permission of both the copyright
owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020940671
ISBN-13: 978-1-78527-350-6 (Hbk)
ISBN-10: 1-78527-350-7 (Hbk)

This title is also available as an e-book.
This book is dedicated to Julie Mackey and to the memory of Eric Bell.
List of Figures
Introduction: Jedda (1955): Cultural Icon and Shared Artefact of Mid-Twentieth-Century Colonialism
1. Financing Jedda
2. Hollywood in the ‘Fine Wool Hub’
3. Making Jedda
4. Viewing Jedda
Epilogue: Bogolong Memories and the Conceit of Family History
1 Jedda . Image of poster daybell
2 Still from Jedda . Betty Suttor (Sarah McMann) bandages the hand of George Simpson-Lyttle (Doug McMann)
3 Scene from The Birth of White Australia (dir. Phillip Walsh, 1928)
4 John Julian at the wedding of his sister Patricia Julian and Kevin Fagan. St Columbas Catholic Church, Bogolong, Bookham, New South Wales, 1935
5 Woollenwealth street parade, Comur Street, c. 1960
6 Queen Nellie Hamilton, 1893
7 Queen Lucy (née Hamilton) and King Ned Carroll of North Yass, 1912
8 Hollywood Mission, Yass. Christmas 1952, published with permission of Loretta Halloran Bell (pictured) and Jude Barlow and Caroline Hughes, descendants of the Bell, Shea and Freeman families
9 Hollywood Mission, Christmas 1952, published with permission of Loretta Halloran Bell. Bishop Young with residents of Hollywood Mission including Lorraine Bell, Ossie (Son) Brown and Kenny Simpson
10 Still from Jedda . ‘Ngarla’ Rosalie Kunoth ( Jedda ) and Paul Reynell (Joe)
11 Charles Chauvel discusses scenes with cinematographer Carl Kayser and Bill Harney, circa 1953
12 During pre-production tour for Jedda , circa 1950
13 On location at Kangra Walls, Blue Mountains, circa 1954
14 Jedda premiere, Star Theatre, Darwin, 1955
15 Liberty Theatre, Yass New South Wales, 1970
16 Bogolong, circa 1958
17 Mary Julian (senior) with John, baby Richard and Patricia, 1912
Without Eric Bell and Julie Mackey Dispossession and the Making of Jedda: Hollywood in Ngunnawal Country would not have been written. Their friendship created the context for the dialogue at its centre: between Ngunnawal and white residents of the Yass Valley, and between past and present. I thank them both for their rich conversations with me over a number of years. I have often felt the absence of the gentle, quick-witted and insightful Eric Bell since he died, too soon, in December 2015.
A decade ago, at the National Library café, Ann Curthoys and John Docker convinced me that this was a story worth telling. Over lunch I began to see the shape it could take. After I’d left the project languishing for some years, Ann then re-engaged and offered to read every chapter in draft form. This commitment was an essential ingredient to the process of completion. I can’t think of a greater privilege than to have had Ann bring her extraordinary expertise as a historian and writer to this project.
This is, in part, a history of my mother’s family. Margie Kevin, two of her sisters, Julie Mackey and Tishie Fagan, and their cousin Tess Julian have been on hand to provide support and to encourage me to keep writing the story of our part in the dispossession of Ngunnawal people. I am grateful for the trust they placed in me and their willingness to know.
Thanks to the Dymphna Clark Fellowship, which gave me a number of opportunities to spend weeks at a time in Canberra and Yass. Thanks to the series editors Nicole Moore and Kath Bode, whose enthusiasm and advice for the book proposal were crucial in the initial stages of the project. In addition to the recommendation from Sue Sheridan, it is the quality of Nicole’s and Kath’s scholarship that attracted me to Anthem Press. Thanks also to the peer reviewers who read the manuscript and made excellent suggestions.
Ric Chauvel Carlsson always returned my calls and e-mails and readily gave permission to use materials in the book. I appreciate his commitment to maintaining and sharing a significant collection of family records. Staff at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and volunteers at the Yass Historical Society provided crucial assistance. Tim Bonyhady and John Snell generously shared their wonderful photographs with me, and Basia Zagala gave her time and research acumen to follow threads and chase up loose ends in Canberra.
Studies in Australasian Cinema published two articles related to this project, sections of which I have repurposed for this book. Thanks to Anthony Lambert, the journal’s editor.
There are many friends and colleagues who encouraged me to keep this project alive over a long period of being pulled away from it by other research, teaching and children – thank you all. I was pregnant with my eldest child when I met Eric Bell for the first time, and I brought my second child to Yass as a newborn to continue the research. Paddy and Eliza are now 11 and 8 and have been astounded by how overdue something can be. I thank them, and John Lattin, for keeping me company from beginning to end.
As well as those in existing oral history records, this book brings together the stories of the people who agreed to talk to me. While Eric’s and Julie’s stories form its backbone, I am also grateful to Loretta Halloran Bell, Sister Frances Browne, June Cummins, Dorothy Dickson, John Garry, Ronnie Henderson, Mary Julian, Tess Julian, Mandy Reed, Patricia Wallis Smith and Russell Whitehurst for their important contributions.
In 1955 Jedda was launched in Australian cinemas and around the world, starring the young Arrernte Alyawarre woman Rosalie Kunoth, and Melville Islander Robert Tudawali. That year Eric Bell watched the film in the cinema in Yass, New South Wales, while local graziers drove to Sydney’s celebrated first screening. The name of the Yass cinema was the Liberty Theatre and the reserve where Eric lived was called Hollywood. These names, evocative of freedom and glamour, belied the racial segregation of the cinema and the discomforts and controls on the reserve that was set on the side of a windy, arid hill and managed by the New South Wales Aborigines Protection and Welfare Boards. Fourteen years after seeing Jedda , Eric was dismayed to read a newly erected plaque in the main street of the Yass Valley village of Bowning, not far from Binalong or Bookham. It plainly stated that the Ngunnawal people, on whose country these villages stood, had been wiped out by an epidemic of influenza in 1846. The local Goodradigbee Shire Council was responsible for the plaque; they also employed Eric’s father. The Bells were Ngunnawal people.
The central paradox of this book is the enthusiasm of a pastoral community for a film that directly addressed the continuing legacy of settler-colonialism – a legacy that was playing out in their own relationships with the local Ngunnawal people at the time of their investment in the film. While the local Goodradigbee and Yass Shire councils and state government agencies collaborated to minimize the visibility of Indigenous peoples and the memory of the colonial violence at the heart of European prosperity, a number of wealthy and high-profile wool farmers actively sought involvement in a film that would bring into focus the aftermath of colonial violence, the visibility of its survivors and the tensions inherent in policies of assimilation and segregation that had characterized the treatment of Ngunnawal people in their lifetimes. Jedda was a five-year project that culminated in the first film starring Aboriginal actors in Aboriginal roles, the first Australian film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the first Australian feature film in colour ( Figure 1 ). 1 This was made possible, in part, by the financial backing of Yass Valley pastoralists who had made their wealth on Ngunnawal country.
Figure 1. Jedda . Image of poster daybell
Source : National Film and Sound Archive Australia. Courtesy of Ric Chauvel Carlsson
In recent decades historians of Australian race relations have pointed out that the intricacies of Indigenous–settler contact are much more visible and detailed in localized histories than in histories of national policymaking and the broad shifts in ideology that shaped their development over time. For example, Victoria Haskins has drawn attention to the value of family history for its potential to expose the sometimes uncomfortable, domestic and intimate dimensions of race relations in Australia. 2 Haskins has demonstrated this in her use of family records and memories to tell the story of her grandmother’s relationships with the women she employed in domestic service through the Aborigines Protection Board. 3 Tanya Evans has worked closely with genealogists, recognizing the value of their archival work for uncovering the history of illegitimacy, and their attention to the everyday lives that tell larger stories of motherhood, employment relations and much more. 4 Natalie Harkin has written about Aboriginal people’s intimate knowledge of the labour conditions experienced by family members – men and women – ‘whose vital contributions were the backbone of Australia’s economic prosperity, yet largely invisible’. 5 This use of family stories to explore complex histories is not confined to Australia. Victoria Freeman’s Distant Relations and Andrea Stuart’s Sugar in the Blood are two examples of books that seek to understand the author’s family history in the contexts of dispossession and slavery in North America. 6 Merging postcolonial perspectives with attention to the reflexive historical voice, these works of history contribute to developing approaches to understanding the legacies of dispossession and exploitation in the present.
I came to the story this book seeks to tell through family connections. I am the great granddaughter, great-niece and distant cousin of some of those who poured resources into the making of the film Jedda . In the mid-twentieth century, Bogolong, a grazing property on Ngunnawal land, was the home of three generations of the Julian family who were major shareholders in Chauvel Productions Ltd. During my childhood between the mid-1970s and early 1990s, it continued to be a centre of social life for my extended family on my mother’s side. Not quite 2 hours’ drive from Canberra, where I lived with my parents and siblings, it was the site of celebrations and wakes, impromptu afternoon teas and tennis games. During school holidays while staying at my grandparents’ property nearby, we would visit regularly. It was a place of warmth and gentility, both grand and homely, a house built in a period and on a scale that rendered it unlike anything in the red and brown brick suburbs of Canberra. For my immediate family, Bogolong was a happy place where my grandmother Pat and my great aunt Paddie gossiped and remembered and planned. They didn’t speak of Jedda then, or of the Bell family or the Hollywood Reserve, but their truncated stories, the details already intimately known to them both, and their passing references to people and events, reinforced my sense that this had long been their home, the place of my grandmother’s birth and her father’s before that. It was the site of our family’s history, but it was not a history I understood in terms of dispossession.
I became aware of the importance of the Yass Valley to the story of Jedda when my childhood sense of belonging to the Valley was confronted with the history of colonization and, eventually, a historical detail left hanging in a conversation. My aunt, Julie Mackey, spent a period of her childhood at Bogolong after her father joined the Australian Army Medical Corps during World War II. One day at Bogolong, Elsa Chauvel told Julie that because of her radiant, thick red hair she wanted to cast her in a film. When Julie mentioned this to me, it was the first I’d heard of any family association with the film-making couple and this book is the follow-up to that conversation. In it I have revived and pursued fragments of family stories in order to tell new stories that link Bogolong and the society that played out there with a larger history of Ngunnawal dispossession and national imaginings.
Jedda was Charles and Elsa Chauvel’s eighth and final feature film and is now their best remembered. When Chauvel died in 1959, his film Forty Thousand Horsemen was regarded as his most successful work. While this earlier film inspired Peter Weir’s runaway success Gallipoli (1981), and despite the enduring nature of its Anzac theme, it is Jedda that has drawn sustained attention in recent decades. When the film was released, the combined publicity machine of the Chauvels, who were well-practised in the art of promotion, and Columbia Pictures generated a striking level of response to the film. In its promotional rhetoric, Jedda claimed its status as unique in its depiction of the ‘real Australia’, projecting an idea of authenticity apparently epitomized by its setting in the Northern Territory and by the casting of Kunoth and Tudawali in the lead roles. The film both draws on and undermines official imaginings of assimilation in the 1950s and perpetuates discourses of Australian Indigenous primitivism that hold romance, sexuality and violence in tension.
Jedda has been read and reread, broadly in these terms, as a text of historical, artistic, cultural and political significance. Australian films have reinterpreted and lavishly referenced Jedda in ways that reassert its importance in the story of Australian film-making, most memorably Tracey Moffatt in her short film Night Cries, a Rural Tragedy (1989) and more recently Baz Luhrmann in his epic film Australia (2008). In the wake of Bringing Them Home: The Report of the Inquiry into the Stolen Generations (1997), and the subsequent flourishing of scholarship and debate about policies of assimilation and child removal, including – eventually – the National Apology to the Stolen Generations (2008) that the report had recommended, fascination with the film’s relationship to this history has intensified. 7 The role of Arrernte Alyawarre leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks in critiques of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, known as the Northern Territory Intervention, since its introduction in 2007, and in favour of a Treaty with Indigenous Australians, has implicitly reinvoked the film and her role in it. Accounts of the film’s making continue, with at least five interviews with Rosalie Kunoth-Monks about her experience of acting in the film published and broadcast between 1993 and 2017. 8 Anniversary screenings and reviews for the film’s 50th and 60th birthdays, and the release of the DVD in 2005, firmed up its status by treating its original release as a major historical event.
By way of introduction, I offer a synopsis of the film and describe some of these reverberations before beginning to tell a new story focused on the conditions and context of its making. This book locates the film in an expanded geography that links urban and rural, south-east and northern Australia and connects Australian mid-twentieth-century race relations, the pastoral boom and cultural production. The book newly locates the story of Jedda ’s genesis and, in turn, Jedda becomes a cultural context and point of reference for the history of race relations it tells. The book’s narrative spans the period 1821–1960 but is focused on the mid-twentieth century, the period during which Chauvel looked to the ample resources of his friends in the rich pastoral Ngunnawal country of the Yass Valley to make his film.
The overarching question raised by the film is an ideological one that reflects the preoccupations of politicians, policy-makers, and Aboriginal Protection Boards at the time of its making. It is the question of the limits and possibilities of assimilation. The key scene in Jedda in which the white couple at the centre of the story – Sarah and Doug McMann – disagree on this point occurs in response to a number of events. The baby Jedda’s mother has died in childbirth somewhere beyond the Mongala station homestead. A drover working for the McManns and the child’s father bring her to the house in the hope that one of the Aboriginal women living in or by the homestead will take her in. On arriving they discover that Sarah McMann has recently lost her infant son. At the suggestion of the Aboriginal women who leave baby Jedda in Sarah’s path, the white woman takes Jedda herself, attempting to raise her as a white child. In a crucial scene, which takes place sometime after the child’s arrival, Doug and Sarah sit at the kitchen table while Jedda plays in the background ( Figure 2 ).
Figure 2. Still from Jedda . Betty Suttor (Sarah McMann) bandages the hand of George Simpson-Lyttle (Doug McMann)
Source : National Film and Sound Archive Australia. Courtesy of Ric Chauvel Carlsson
Doug: Let her have a taste of her own tribal culture .
Sarah: No Doug, I won’t let that child slip back. I’ve done so much with her. I’d stop them all going on these stupid walkabouts if I had my way. I still think it’s our duty to do something with them – bring them closer to our way of living. I really believe I could make something of Jedda.
Doug: Well you won’t do it by shutting her window at night to keep out the sound of the corroboree dance and the didgeridoo. You won’t shut out the tribal instincts of a thousand years in one small life.
Sarah: Well it’s my duty to try.
Here Sarah articulates the justifications for child removal, replete with the Darwinian reference to ‘slipping back’, that were made by Aboriginal Protection and Welfare Boards and their agents who controlled the lives of Indigenous people until the late twentieth century. 9 At the same time, she reveals her investment in transformative social processes of assimilation that might dissolve some of the differences of race. Doug resists Sarah’s sense of duty to Jedda and her faith in the assimilation project, implying both are misguided and doomed. His reference to Jedda’s as ‘one small life’ may hint at his concession to an assimilation project that would take generations to complete, but he rejects any role in this. Their argument is a verbal précis that focuses our attention on the ideological issues explored by the unfolding plot.
As the film progresses, we see Jedda experience a struggle between the desires of her adoptive mother, whom she wishes to please, and her own desire for greater intimacy with the lives of the other Aboriginal people on Mongala station. Jedda is betrothed to Joe, an assimilated ‘half-caste’ who is highly regarded by the McManns. But this plan soon goes awry. Jedda encounters Marbuk, an Aboriginal man whose sexual magnetism makes him irresistible to Jedda until his desire for her leads him to abduct her. A lengthy search for the couple follows. The fugitive Marbuk undertakes a frenzied journey through crocodile-infested waters, dragging Jedda with him and killing two Aboriginal trackers from the search party along the way. The pair reaches Marbuk’s tribe, where he is castigated for abducting and bringing a ‘wrong skin’ woman into the community. He is told to send Jedda away or risk his own death. He refuses and after Jedda emerges from a tribal punishment, the pair are on their way again. Eventually the search party catches up with Marbuk and Jedda but despite Joe’s efforts to dissuade Marbuk, he is unable to rescue Jedda from being taken over the edge of a cliff by her captor. Both fall to their deaths. This murder-suicide marks the end of Sarah’s assimilation project and signals the self-destruction of Marbuk in the face of encroaching colonizing forces.
The decade of the film’s release was assimilation’s heyday, when its images were most aggressively promoted and its policies most influential. Despite this public attention, funding and political will remained scarce. Assimilation’s proclaimed goal of something akin to white Australia’s suburban dream for Aboriginal people remained unattainable for most and undesirable for many, and the punitive controls of earlier decades continued. 10 Jedda both draws on and undermines these official imaginings. Joe’s courting of Jedda affirms the values of distinct gender roles and seems to promise images of agrarian domestic harmony, a rural and Indigenous approximation of the suburban dream along the lines of the government rhetoric of the period. However, the scenes of Jedda’s abduction by Marbuk and their ultimate death recall the position Doug has taken in the earlier conversation with Sarah and raise questions about the possibilities of social assimilation, while drawing a contrast with it that is so dark as to be both a warning against and a reassertion of that vision. For twenty-first-century viewers familiar with revisions of Australian history, Jedda functions unwittingly to remind audiences of the broader historical context of race science, assimilation policy and child removal. This context, which made the film possible and legible in 1955, has increased in relevance to a reading of Jedda as historical artefact. At the same time, the film’s references to corroboree and walkabout signal the continuity of Indigenous tradition, and in the spectacle of Marbuk the film holds in tension the ideas of untainted Indigenous masculinity and dangerous savage.
Jedda has attracted extensive scholarly attention. One of the earliest scholarly examinations was Andrew Pike’s essay published in Meanjin in 1977, which reviews the representation of Aboriginal people in Australian film since 1912. Pike compared Jedda to Ealing Studios production Overlanders (1946) and Bitter Springs (1950), which both express some sympathy towards Aboriginal characters. However, Jedda , he argued, is the film that ‘neatly expresses the dilemmas of white liberalism in facing the Aboriginal in contemporary society’. 11 Since then, there has been a steady production of scholarly writing on the film, in which one can see a preoccupation with a number of key themes. These include the relationship between the film and the history of government policies concerning Aboriginal people, the meanings of place, gender and sexuality Jedda conveys and the history of how Jedda came to be made.
On the relationship between the film and the history of government policies, commentators have differed on the film’s historical accuracy and meaning. Marcia Langton’s 90-page essay ‘Well, I heard it on the radio and saw it on the television …’ (1994), interpreted Chauvel’s film as inverting the truth of the battle on the frontier. The black rebel Marbuk is not killed by the white colonizer but by his own elders, ‘as if none of the brutality, murder and land clearances occurred’ in the process of dispossession. 12 Jeremy Beckett addressed the question of child removal in Jedda and saw the film as a critique of assimilation, the policy’s failure writ large in the final destruction of Jedda. 13 Suneeti Rekhari (2010) read Jedda as presenting a dialogue between two opposing views of assimilation that were circulating in the 1950s. Rekhari pointed to the characters of Sarah and Doug McMann as the conduits for this dialogue and took seriously the tensions represented in the film’s account of the ethics of assimilation. 14
Much of this discussion has interrogated the authenticity of the film’s depictions, which raises the question of genre. Was Chauvel working in the documentary mode or did the melodramatic plot release him from any commitment to documenting the remote Northern Territory and life for Aboriginal people and settler-colonizers there? Some scholars have stressed its connections to melodrama. Tom O’Regan described it as the ‘first Aboriginal-centred western melodrama’, Peter Malone as akin to a grand opera, and Stuart Cunningham and Mike Walsh compared it to the Hollywood melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk in the 1950s. 15 Others have understood Jedda as the product of Chauvel’s attempt to make a film that would be received as though it has documentary elements. Chauvel’s claims to authenticity in Jedda ’s depictions of Aboriginal life and in the portrayal of the actors Rosalie Kunoth and Robert Tudawali in the film’s promotional rhetoric, are often associated with the writings of mid-twentieth-century anthropologists, journalists and travel writers such as A. P. Elkin, Douglas Lockwood and Ernestine Hill, who were at the height of their powers in the period leading up to the film’s release. 16 Perhaps the richest account of genre is Benjamin Miller’s reading of Jedda through the Australian and international history of blackface – the practice of donning black make-up to perform a caricature of a black person. Miller’s analysis focuses on the character of Joe (played by non-indigenous actor Paul Clarke, who was renamed Paul Reynell for the production) and argues that here, as elsewhere, blackface is a mirror of whiteness and its ‘epistemological and institutional violence’. I take this up in my discussion of viewing Jedda in Chapter 4 . 17
Several scholars have focused on the film’s representations of Aboriginal gender and sexuality. In the first issue of Continuum , published in 1987, Colin Johnson, also known as Mudrooroo, offered a reading of Jedda as an Aboriginal text. Focusing on the impressive performance of Robert Tudawali as Marbuk, Johnson made sense of Aboriginal people’s enjoyment of the film: ‘Chauvel unwittingly transcended his film, for when he depicted the lure of Marbuk for Jedda, he was depicting the lure of Aboriginality for mission blacks.’ 18 Beckett understood Joe’s sexuality as blighted in ways resembling Xavier Herbert’s ‘half-caste’ characters in his novel Capricornia . In contrast, Jedda and Marbuk embody their Indigeneity as an unrestrained sexuality, Jedda developing her sexual awareness even within a household where sexuality is denied. 19 Chelsea Barnett focused on the masculinities of Doug McMann, Joe and Marbuk and argued that these are assembled to advance an anti-assimilationist argument that reasserts a ‘radical nationalist masculinity ’ through the character of Doug. Marbuk’s and Jedda’s deaths mark an erasure of Indigeneity from white Australia while rendering Joe’s assimilation a failure. 20 He is left at the margins of the post-Jedda emotional and physical landscapes of Mongala station.
This is far from an exhaustive account of the scholarship that has followed Jedda through over half a century of shifting concerns about representations of race, gender, nation and history. 21 Of particular interest for my study is work that focuses on the importance of place, both to the film’s making and its meaning. After Charles Chauvel’s death in 1959, his wife and film-making partner Elsa Chauvel and their daughter Susanne Chauvel Carlsson substantially augmented the collective memory of the director with detailed and personal accounts of the family’s life in the film industry, including discussions of Jedda . 22 Katrina Schlunke critiqued the construction of the stories of the film’s making, highlighting the colonial power relations at work on set, both in the myths and in the counter narratives of the Chauvels, their cast and crew at work. She wrote of the ‘spiral of negotiating this text’, its materials continually generating meaning and debate, to which I seek to contribute. 23 Stuart Cunningham analysed Jedda in relation to what he termed ‘locationism’. Where most directors begin with a story, Cunningham suggested, Chauvel began with a location and then purportedly went there to find his story and his cast, so that the star of the film is – arguably – the ‘buffalo country’ of the Northern Territory. 24 My study is also influenced by Justine Lloyd’s treatment of ‘intimate geographies’. 25 Sensitive to the intersecting hierarchies of gender and race in Jedda , Lloyd focused on the domestic realm as a crucial site of power for the colonial project. Read alongside the histories of Aboriginal women’s domestic service, 26 this attentiveness to labour relations between women is vital to connections I make between Mongala station and the Yass Valley, and between the Julian and Bell families at Bogolong homestead at Bookham.
This book has four locations. The homesteads of the graziers in the Yass Valley and the Hollywood Mission in Yass town are its primary sites. Also relevant are the Sydney of the cultural and moneyed elites, and the Northern Territory where Jedda was made. Its narrative weaves together stories of race relations at these four sites, illuminating the film’s motifs as they played out in the Yass Valley against a backdrop of Sydney and looking North towards the Territory.
In Chapter 1, ‘Financing Jedda ’, I bring together the world-renowned, if small, wool-growing community of the Yass Valley, a century into its claims on Ngunnawal land, and Sydney-based film-making couple Elsa and Charles Chauvel. Local woolgrowers, some with a demonstrated enthusiasm for theatre and cinema along with others who possessed the desire to promote an ‘authentic Australia’ to the world, invested their money, time and other resources in the Chauvels’ project. I tell the story of the film-makers’ friendships in the Valley, which led to the formation of the company that produced Jedda . This community assisted in making possible a film that was considered by other potential backers to be too risky in its themes, scope and technical ambitions.
Chapter 2 , ‘Hollywood in the Fine Wool Hub’, provides an account of race relations in the Yass Valley, the history of dispossession and its resistance, the forced removal of Ngunnawal out of Yass township and then the establishment of Hollywood Reserve. It is a history of child removal, Indigenous men and women’s labour and the impact of assimilation and integration policies imposed on Ngunnawal people by the New South Wales Aborigines Protection and Welfare Boards and the local shire councils. Outside of Yass on the edge of the village of Bookham, the property Bogolong was home to the Julian family who gave financial support to Jedda . It was also where Ferdie Bell (Eric Bell’s uncle) was employed as caretaker during World War II while two of his daughters worked as domestics, and where, in the 1950s, his daughters were employed as nannies to the white children and heirs of the property. The intimate connections between the histories of settler and Indigenous residents are foregrounded in an account of the Ngunnawal Bell family who lived between Hollywood Mission, as the managed reserve was known, and Bogolong station. Pieced together from various memories, this story is told as a series of impressions that echo, albeit imperfectly, the scenes of adoption, Indigenous residence and employment on Mongala station at the centre of Jedda .
Chapter 3 , ‘Making Jedda ’, develops the story of the Yass Valley community’s involvement in the film. It examines this alongside the many stories that have been told about the making of this film – by Elsa and Charles Chauvel, by the press, by makers of the film Tudawali and by Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, who played the title role. The Chauvels embraced the dramatization of the five-year project as part of their promotion of the film, exploiting the narrative opportunity it provided to make a case for an Australian film industry, to project an image of themselves as intrepid film-makers and to position their work with Aboriginal cast and crew as a watershed moment in Australian race relations. The biographical film Tudawali and Kunoth-Monks’s oral histories addressing the film simultaneously reinforce and offer a counter narrative to the Chauvels’ heroic and altruistic accounts of themselves. These stories illuminate the meaning invested in the film over the course of more than half a century.
When the film was released, the Chauvel Productions shareholders of Yass Valley travelled to Sydney to a celebration at the city’s first screening. Soon after, the Liberty Cinema in Yass released the film, attracting the local Indigenous residents of Hollywood Mission to the Saturday afternoon segregated screening. The film’s debut occurred during yet another period of traumatic forced relocation for the Indigenous audience and their families. Chapter 4, ‘Viewing Jedda ’, examines the reception of the film as it was presented in oral histories with current and former residents of the Yass Valley undertaken in the early twenty-first century. These memories emphasize questions of representation as well as weave the significance of the film into contemporary debates about the history of colonization in Australia.
This book’s Epilogue is a reflection on family history and the ways in which the intricacies of race relations can be revealed and concealed by family memory, identity and myth-making.
1 Two US-funded feature films shot in Australia, Kangaroo (1952) and Long John Silver (1954), were also in colour. In 1954, The Queen in Australia was the first colour documentary, produced by Stanley Hawes for the Department of Interior, Film Division. See A. Pike and R. Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977 , 1st edn, rev. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 220–21. 2 Victoria Haskins, ‘Skeletons in the Closet: Family Histories, Personal Narratives and Race Relations History in Australia’, Bulletin (Olive Pink Society) , 10:2, 1998, 15–22. 3 Victoria Haskins, One Bright Spot , Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 4 Tanya Evans, ‘Secrets and Lies: The Radical Potential of Family History’, History Workshop Journal , 71:1, 2011, 49–73. 5 Natalie Harkin, ‘Whitewash-Brainwash. An Archival-poetic of Labour History’, in special issue on Indigenous Writing on Law and Justice, guest edited by Nicole Watson and Alison Whittaker, Feminist Law Journal , 45:2, 2020 (in press). 6 Victoria Freeman, Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America , Toronto: McLelland and Stuart, 2000; Andrea Stuart, Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire , New York: Knopf, 2013. 7 For example, Barbara Creed, ‘Breeding Out the Black: Jedda and the Stolen Generations in Australia’, in B. Creed and J. Hoorn (eds), Body Trade: Captivity, Cannibalism and Colonialism in the Pacific , Sydney: Pluto Press and Routledge, 2001, 208–30; Anna Haebich, Spinning the Dream: Assimilation in Australia 1950–1970 , North Fremantle, Western Australia: Fremantle Press, 2008; Ian Henderson, ‘“Gee, Head Stockman!” Prospects and Professions in Charles Chauvel’s Jedda (1955) and Tracey Moffatt’s Night Cries (1989)’, in H. Ramsey-Kurz and U. Ratheiser (eds), Antipodean Childhoods: Growing Up in Australia and New Zealand , Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, 17–33. 8 Helen Chryssides, Local Heroes , North Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1993; Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, interview with Robin Hughes, conducted 10–12 July 1995, Utopia, Northern Territory, http://www.australianbiography.gov.au/subjects/kunothmonks (accessed 14 November 2008); Rosie Kunov [ sic ] Monks, 1998, ‘“Jedda” and Its Star’, in Voices from a Vanishing Australia: Recollections of the Way Things Used to Be , Crows Nest, New South Wales: ABC Enterprises for Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 132–36; ‘Rosalie’s Journey’, Message Stick, ABC Television, screened 18 February 2005, transcript translated from Arrernte, updated 29 April 2005, http://www.abc.net.au/message/tv/ms/s1307580.htm (accessed 28 August 2006); ‘Rosalie, Marcia and Jedda’, This Is Not a Race with Beverley Wang , Radio National, 1 June 2017, https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/itsnotarace/rosalie-marcia-and-jedda/8568858 (accessed 1 June 2019). 9 Anna Haebich, Spinning the Dream: Assimilation in Australia 1950–1970 , Perth: Fremantle Press, 2001, 418–20. 10 Anna Haebich, Spinning the Dream , 418–20. 11 Andrew Pike, ‘Aboriginals in Australian Feature Films’, Meanjin , 36:4, 1977, 597. 12 Marcia Langton, ‘I heard it on the radio and saw it on the television …’ , Woolloomooloo: Australian Film Commission, 1994, 45–46. 13 Jeremy Beckett, ‘Sarah McMann’s Mistake: Charles Chauvel’s Jedda and the Assimilation Policy’, Olive Pink Society Bulletin , 5:2, 1993, 15–18. 14 Suneeta Rekhari, ‘Assimilation, Othering and Control: Looking Back at Jedda’, Screen Education , 57, 2010, 123–28. 15 Tom O’Regan, Australian National Cinema , London and New York: Routledge, 1996, 191; Peter Malone, In Black and White and Colour: Aborigines in Australian Feature Films – A Survey , Northern Territory: Nelen Yubu Missiological Unit, 1988, 23; Stuart Cunningham, Featuring Australia: The Cinema of Charles Chauvel , North Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1991, 160 and Mike Walsh, ‘Jedda’ (DVD review), Metro: Media and Education Magazine , 155, 2005, 56. 16 See Douglas Lockwood, We the Aborigines , Sydney: Cassell, 1963, cited in Katrina Schlunke, ‘Imagining the Imagined: Stories of Jedda’, Olive Pink Society Bulletin , 5:2, 1993, 9–13; A. P. Elkin, Aboriginal Men of High Degree , Sydney: Australasian Publishing Company, 1946; Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness , Sydney: Angus and Angus and Robertson, 1940; C. P Mountford, Brown Men and Red Sand: Journeying in Wild Australia , Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1948, cited in Jeremy Beckett, ‘Sarah McMahon’s Mistake: Charles Chauvel’s Jedda and the Assimilation Policy’, Olive Pink Society Bulletin , 5:2, 1993, 15–18. 17 Benjamin Miller, ‘The Mirror of Whiteness: Blackface in Charles Chauvel’s Jedda ’, Spectres, Screens, Shadows, Mirrors. Special Issue of Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature , 2007, 140–56. 18 Colin Johnson (Mudrooroo), ‘The Centring of the Aboriginal Male in Australian Film’, Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture, 1:1, 1987, 56. 19 Beckett, ‘Sarah McMahon’s Mistake’, 17. 20 Chelsea Barnett, ‘“They Don’t Tame, Only on the Surface”: Masculinity, Race and the Project of Assimilation in Jedda (1955)’, History Australia , 15:1, 2018, 60. 21 See also Karen Fox, ‘Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and the Making of Jedda ’, Aboriginal History , 33, 2009, 77–95; Catherine Kevin, ‘Solving the Problem of the Motherless Indigenous Child in Jedda and Australia: White Maternal Desire in the Australian Epic Before and After “Bringing Them Home”’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, 4:2, 2010, 145–57; Rose Lucas, ‘Jedda’, Metro: Media and Education Magazine , 184, 2015, 102–11; Jane Mills, ‘ Jedda ’, Strawberry Hills: Currency Press and the NFSA, 2012; Theodore F. Sheckels, ‘The Stolen Generation in feature Film, The Approach of Aboriginal Director Rachel Perkins and Others’, in Belinda Wheeler (ed), A Companion to Australian Aboriginal Literature , Rochester, New York: Boyder and Brewer, 2013, 117–273. 22 Elsa Chauvel, My Life with Charles Chauvel , Sydney: Shakespeare Head Press, 1973; Susanne Chauvel Carlsson, Charles and Elsa Chauvel. Movie Pioneers , St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1989. 23 Schlunke, ‘Imagining the Imagined’, 9–13. 24 Cunningham, Featuring Australia , 199, 156–64. 25 Justine Lloyd, ‘Domestic Destinies: Colonial Spatialities, Australian Film and Feminist Cultural Memory Work’, Gender Place and Culture , 21:8, 2014, 1045–61. 26 For example, Victoria Haskins, One Bright Spot , New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005; Natalie Harkin, ‘An Archival Poetic Labour Story’, in Nicole Watson and Alison Whittaker (eds), Indigenous Writing on Law and Justice special issue, Feminist Law Journal , 45:2, 2019.
Chapter 1
Charles Chauvel was once described by a Hollywood executive as ‘savagely Australian’, 1 but by the early 1950s he had become an internationally successful director, courted by Hollywood and London. His seventh film, Sons of Matthew (1949), a homage to the Australian pioneer legend, was backed by Universal Studios and Greater Union. After its successful release in Australia and overseas, Chauvel returned to Hollywood for the fourth time. He was based at Universal Studios, where he considered the offer of a directorial contract with the studio. Around the same time, an Ealing Studios representative from Britain also sought to bring him on board. 2 Yet despite the tantalizing promise of expanding his presence in the international film industry, for his new project, Jedda , he could not gain the financial assurances from the United States that he had become accustomed to, or that he might have had, had he chosen a different, less ambitious and less Australian project. Universal, the source of the Chauvels’ most consistent financial support since the early 1930s, was not prepared to consider Jedda . His commitment to a particular version of Australian authenticity inspired an unacceptable level of uncertainty. 3 The Chauvels’ own production company, Expeditionary Films, responsible for Heritage (1935) and Uncivilised (1936), had folded in the late 1930s. A new source of funding had to be found.
In Charles Chauvel’s vision, Jedda was to be a home-grown picture for a global market that would revolutionize both the aesthetics and the economics of the Australian film industry. Speaking to a journalist in 1955, Chauvel explained that he intended to ‘break the ice’ of the European market with Jedda in an effort to grow the industry through export so that Australia might not continue to be outranked by India and Japan among the world’s film-producing countries. 4 To do so, finances had to be sought from somewhere, at least enough to secure production in the hope that strong distribution support would follow. (It eventually did, when Columbia Pictures came on board much later to cover post-production costs. 5 ). This was an expensive project; ultimately the film would cost close to £100,000. 6 Fortunately for the Chauvels, and the making of Jedda , support came from several Sydney businessmen and a group of graziers from southern New South Wales.

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