Re-imagining Milirrpum v Nabalco in Werner Herzog's Where the Green Ants Dream

School of Law; University of Melbourne
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
PASSAGES: law, aesthetics, politics, 2006, pp. 1 - 14
Issue Date:
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In 1983, the German filmmaker Werner Herzog realised a decade-long ambition to create a film thematising the struggles of Aboriginal groups against mining companies operating in northern Australia. Where the Green Ants Dream (WGAD), was reviled by Australian pundits and also disappointed international critics. However, it raises important issues, not only about the creative appropriation of Aboriginal mythology, but also about the representation of Aboriginality and the struggle for Aboriginal land rights. This article reveals how Herzog relied heavily upon Milirrpum v Nabalco [1971] 17 FLR 141 in writing his film script. In doing so, he came up with a hybrid tenuously situated between documentary and feature film. What complicated this strategy was the fact that Herzogwhose unorthodox style often involves casting non-professional actors in important rolesalso cast Wandjuk and Roy Marika, who had both been witnesses in Milirrpum v Nabalco, in lead roles. They were ultimately uncomfortable with reperforming a court-room sequence in which they had once participated in earnest. This article analyses Herzogs mix of documentary and fiction, examines the reception of WGADboth by white Australian critics and by Aboriginal Australians involved with the filmand argues that, while the film may be flawed, it is valuable because it threw (and continues to throw) disquieting yet important issues into perspective.
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