The Perfect Horror Movie for Australia Day
The horror movie industry has a special fondness for holidays, as they’re a ready-made theme for your shash-a-thon. New Year’s Eve has New Year’s Evil and Terror Train. Christmas has Krampus, Silent Night Deadly Night, Black Christmas and Better Watch Out. Valentine’s Day has Valentine and My Bloody Valentine. Thanksgiving has Thankskilling, President’s Day has President’s Day, Easter has Easter Casket and Halloween has so bloody many I’m not even going to bother.
Except Australia Day. And since that we’re here or at least sleeping it off we might want a good, nasty movie to watch. For that reason we’re going to suggest 2019’s horrifying and historical The Nightingale.
Directed by The Babadook‘s Jennifer Kent and starring Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claftin, Baykali Ganambarr and Damon Herriman, The Nightingale offers a slice of life of 1825 Tasmania, known as Van Diemen’s Land at the time. If you’re not familiar with Australian, Tasmania is detached chunk of land off the bottom right corner. The one that people forget to draw on maps, including at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 amazingly enough. These early days of English colonisation of Australia was a rough time, with violent conflicts springing up between the newcomers and the indigenous population and most of the new population being convicts shipped over from the United Kingdom.
Our main character is Clare Carroll (Franciosi), an Irish convict working for a British Army unit lead by Lt. Hawkins (Clafin). Clare is waiting for her letter of recommendation, which would end her sentence and allow her, her husband and their newborn child to gain their freedom and start a new life for themselves. Although this letter is due to her, Hawkins refuses as he wants to keep her around, and he physically and sexually abuses Clare in order to keep her in line. When conflict between Clare’s husband and Hawkins’ escalates until Hawkins and his men attack them in their home. Clare is raped again and her family is murdered by Hawkins before he leaves the outpost to journey north to earn a promotion.
Clare is beaten but filled with anger. Finding no help from the British military, she recruits an Aboriginal tracker named ‘Billy’ (Ganambarr). Together they set out through the unforgiving Australian bushland on a path of revenge. As they encounter other indigenous people and white colonists their journey becomes more dangerous, but Clare is driven to destroy Hawkins. As they close the gap to their quarry, Billy learns that he is the last of his people, the rest being killed by colonists and Clare learns the tragedy of his life under white rule.
If you haven’t picked up on it already, this is not a movie for everyone. Some 30 odd people walked out citing disgust at the actions depicted on screen. The sexual assaults that occur a number of time through the film weigh heavily on the viewer, and the surrounding violence only makes these moments carry throughout the story. This is, by all accounts, an accurate depiction of Australia at the time. Van Diemen’s Land was in the midst of the ‘Black War’ between colonists and the native population.
There’s a good chance you’re not familiar with this part of Australian history, as it’s managed to slip by without much formal recognition of the deaths and violence that occurred with no memorials risen to the casualties. They haven’t yet managed to pick a better name than ‘Black War’, which is uncomfortable. In short, the rapid expansion of the new white population and its agricultural practises. Aboriginal hunting grounds, villages and cultural areas were pushed aside in the process. Losing their lands, members of the Aboriginal populations started looting the homes of the settlers for food. Native species were disappearing and entire groups of Aboriginal people were wiped out.
In response, the settler’s declared martial law. There would be no repercussions for any white person killing an Aboriginal in addition to a general bounty being placed on Aboriginal’s captured or killed. During this time there’s were family and cultural lines completed obliterated through pointless attacks by white settlers.
The Nightingale is a disturbing movie on its own, made all the more disturbing by the historical accuracy of the setting. Australian cinema does dive into the theme’s of reparations and cultural identity, but it is rare that the shared history of the country is shown in such a brutal and realistic manner. This is an important part of the nation’s story that needs to be immortalised in some form in order to put modern relationships between Australian’s and Indigenous Australian’s in a clear light.
Twitter’s trending page put #InvasionDay at the top of Australia’s interactions today, demonstrating why this is an issue still being discussed. You see, Australia Day falls on the 26th of January…the day Australia was ‘discovered’. Because, as we all know, nothing exists until white people have seen it. There’s been an ongoing debate about changing the date to reflect the positive aspects of Australia’s 200 year history, mostly due to many seeing the current day of celebration as marking the beginning of decades of abuse and violence. As early as 1888, the New South Wales premier was asked if they should include Aboriginal’s in the Australia Day celebrations, to which he responded that they don’t want to ‘remind them that we robbed them’.
There is another side of the argument, of course, mostly touted by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, who stress the importance of ‘tradition’ (as it applies to them) and how many people get their citizenship on Australia Day. Can’t be hurting their feelings.
So if you have heard about the controversy surrounded Australia Day, and a push to change to date to mark something less horrifying, watching The Nightingale may help you understand why people take issue with it. This is a fictional story created to provide a keyhole look at the nightmare that British colonisation brought with it.