Macquarie University
01whole.pdf (6.49 MB)

The genesis of indigenous Australian characterisations in feature films

Download (6.49 MB)
posted on 2022-03-28, 09:25 authored by Bruce Lawrence Dennett
The media, particularly film, plays a powerful role in the making and unmaking of national identity and identities. In the so-called British settler societies it has often been the first and most significant source of exposure to Indigenous peoples for non-Indigenous audiences. This is particularly so in Australia where the Indigenous population, if not ‘out of sight, out of mind’, has always been on the peripheries except, notably, in film and literature, where Indigenous representations have helped forge particular versions of Australianess. From the first such filmic depiction in 1907 to the most recent in 2009 there has been a continuous re/working of Indigenous character types. Focusing primarily on the silent era of Australian filmmaking (c.1906-1928) this thesis analyses the ways in which Indigenous Australian cinematic characters have been invented and re-invented. But, instead of using Charles Chauvel’s iconic film Jedda (1955) as a starting point for discussion of Indigenous Australian characterisations, as so many film histories in Australia do, I use it as a reference point. Rather than moving forward from Jedda, I go back, exploring the significant history that culminated in Chauvel’s Indigenous characterisations. In doing so I contribute to the scholarship in three ways. The first is by addressing a gap that exists in the literature regarding Indigenous characterisations in the silent era. The second contribution stems from my challenge to the accepted wisdom that typically links Indigenous Australian characterisations with Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans. I argue that although some of these comparisons are appropriate, blanket comparisons of this kind over-simplify the reality and neglect the ii important contrasts and comparisons to be made between Indigenous Australian and African American characterisations in silent films. Thirdly, I use Jedda as the basis of my typology of Indigenous Australian characters that allows me to investigate the preferred Indigenous Australian cast of characters. That preferred cast includes the Indigenous Australian ‘tracker’ character, the ‘wild’ or ‘tribal black’ and the ‘comic black’. I also add to the scholarship by interrogating why, despite the acknowledged influence of Hollywood, three popular Native American and African American characters – the individualised warrior chieftain, the sexually predatory ‘black buck’ and the romantic heroine – were omitted from the silent Indigenous Australian cast.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- 1. The tracker -- 2. The comic black -- 3. The wild black -- 4. The absences and the mystic black -- 5. Multiple heists - Robbery under arms and Warrigal's long shadow -- Conclusion -- Appendices


"May 2012 This thesis is presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy" Bibliography: pages 317-354

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Alison Holland

Additional Supervisor 1

Michelle Arrow


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Bruce Lawrence Dennett 2012.




1 online resources (x, 417 pages) illustrations

Former Identifiers

mq:33192 2173139