Fifty years after the death of the influential Australian filmmaker, Charles Chauvel, the cinema bearing his name held a restrospective of his work. Closing night featured his groundbreaking film, Jedda (1955), the story of an Aboriginal baby raised on a cattle station by a white woman, sheltered from her own culture and customs until she is abducted by a young Aboriginal man. It was the first fully-Australian funded colour feature film, and Charles Chauvel’s tenth and last feature. It starred Anmatjere woman Ngarla Kunoth (now known as Rosalie Kunoth-Monks) as Jedda, and Robert Tudawali, an Aboriginal man from Melville Island, as Jedda’s captor, Marbuck.
It was one of the first films to explore the emotional lives of Aboriginals seriously, and emerged at a time when assimilation was the prevailing belief in race politics. It is particularly interesting, some 54 years later, to see how this belief played out in Australian cinema. The station owner, Doug McMann, stresses that “wildness” is inherit to Aboriginals, and that attempts to “tame” them are futile. Without speculating on Chauvel’s intentions, we could read from this the notion that races should be kept apart.
Perhaps a sign of the difficulty in casting indigenous actors at the time, head stockman Joe, Jedda’s half-caste fiancé, was played by Paul Reynall, a third generation Italian. Indeed, casting the role of Jedda took a long time. The very shy Rosalie Kunoth was discovered at St. Mary’s Hostel in Alice Springs, and was reportedly reluctant to be photographed, let alone to act her scenes.
Her extraordinary life was captured in an interview with Andrew Denton for ABC’s Elders, last week.
And below, some interesting Jedda-related links!
- Jedda from australianscreen
- Chauvel’s Jedda led the way from The Age, December 15, 2004
- True colours from The Age, January 8, 2005