Island home country : subversive mourning : working with Aboriginal protocols in a documentary film about colonisation and growing up white in Tasmania. A cine-essay and exegesis

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In this doctorate, Island Home Country, a documentary film and exegesis, I reflect on growing up in a white settler-invader family in Tasmania in the late 1940s-1950s oblivious to any Tasmanian Aboriginal culture or history on the island. The working method of the film was initially based on Freud’s notion of ‘the work of mourning’ as a way of working through repressed history. However the project’s engagement in a six-year protocols process with Tasmanian Aboriginal community members influenced this research paradigm. It triggered a ‘meditation on discomfort’, involving a turn towards critical race and whiteness studies, decolonising methodologies and a consideration of white privilege and ways to challenge it. This exegesis seeks to articulate the film’s textual strategies alongside theoretical and political issues that surfaced while making the film, in particular the impact of protocols, the ethics and responsibilities they entail and their repercussions into the text of the film and the project’s research paradigm. The film is in the documentary essay mode. My aim has been to work in an affective and performative register with image, poetry, sound and music to try and penetrate amnesia and to think and see ‘beyond the colonial construct’. The process of making a film in consultation with Tasmanian Aboriginal community members, as well as my own family is examined, particularly the subject position of being a white person producing a work amidst the complex borderlines of 21st century colonial-post-colonising Tasmania. The six chapters of the exegesis - Amnesia, Possession, Memory, Mourning, Encounter and Reckoning follow the chapters of the film, opening out the ebb and flow of protocols process for discussion. This exegesis analyses the film’s attempt to ‘work through’ the historical trauma of colonisation at both an individual and community level, examining the film’s intention to reckon with the ghosts of history and how they may live on. I conclude that the film’s intention to ‘make a reckoning’ may be flawed. The film’s practice-led process and the ethics and politics involved in working with protocols both challenged the project’s ‘work of mourning’ thesis and facilitated the project’s shift from the layer of ‘text’ only, to become a work grounded in responsible relationships with community. In this context 1 consider the potential of creative and collaborative works to become sites of negotiation and dialogue around cultural differences, rights and responsibilities. Both the exegesis and the film suggest that this negotiated process may contribute towards a decolonising process as ‘newcomer’ Australians, such as myself, become ‘unsettled’ and learn to come into country in recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty.
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