Jun 172013

Watching movies is a sentimental education. They work through images and change the way we feel, especially if they come at an impressionable moment. Strange how, for reasons of history and empire, a boy in southwestern Ontario grew up humming an Australian bush song and learned his politics watching the Australian actor Chips Rafferty in Eureka Stockade (1949), fighting for justice  in the Ballarat Goldfields on the family’s first black and white TV in the late 1950s. I don’t suppose anyone else remembers Chips Rafferty, and looking at him now he is hardly leading man material. But there you are. Much later the great Australian films Gallipoli and Breaker Morant served to upend my view of self and history, my historical self, with their mutinous revision of Australia’s glorious Imperial past (which, it seemed, applied equally to Canada’s Imperial past). I give you here first Eureka Stockade, the entire movie [actually, the entire movie has disappeared from Youtube; I can only give you a clip for now, and not the final battle scene at that], made at the famous Ealing Studios in England. I was a boy when I saw this, as I say, completely enthralled with Chips Rafferty, my hero-idol for years (though I only saw the movie once). Then the famous Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle performing his song “The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda” which turns the famous bush ballad upside down, into a lament for the gallant spirit of a country that bought the British imperial blarney about loyalty to the Mother country and saw its boys wasted in an unforgivable debacle. Then I give you the last scene from Gallipoli where the Australians have been ordered to attack across open ground against Turkish machine guns (this is at Suvla Bay, the operational area referred to in Eric Bogle’s song). It’s a gorgeous sequence. Mel Gibson is racing with a message to call off the attack; his race against Death mirrors the boyhood race at the beginning of the movie — he loses both races. (Watches and time-keeping imagery throughout as well.) Then I give you last scene of Breaker Morant, the two Australians being executed as an example during the Boer War to save Imperial face after a so-called atrocity. Beautiful irony in the dialogue about “pagan.” The pagan trooper cites the precise Bible verse to cover his case; the chaplain has to look it up. As I say, these films educated me, not intellectually at first so much as sentimentally, changed the templates, transformed my view of Canadian history, the official version never to be trusted again, authority(ies) never to be trusted again. Just as I am sure these imaginary geographies will always be more real to me than the ones you find on maps (which are truly Imaginary). For Canadians, I suggest getting a copy of Tony Wilden’s The Imaginary Canadian, a Lacanian analysis of Canadian history now out of print.



  2 Responses to “Numéro Cinq at the Movies: Chips Rafferty, Suvla Bay, the Australian Light Horse and The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda — Douglas Glover”

  1. Beautiful connections. The Aussies do film right in my books. My sentimental education involved Aussie films like The Truman Show, Muriel’s Wedding and the Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

    They also have a great tradition of looking at their own colonial history and racism through film.

    The Sapphires.
    Rabbit Proof Fence

    Off to put Breaker Morant on my list now. Thanks.


    • Thanks, Rob. Likewise, I need to look up The Sapphires and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I can see the generational differences in our mutual “educations.” 🙂

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