Walkabout and Australian Aborigines - Maxicours

Walkabout and Australian Aborigines

Objectifs
  • Découvrir un aspect de la thématique d'étude l'initiation, l'apprentissage
  • Découvrir un rite important de la culture aborigène
  • Découvrir le film Walkabout du réalisateur Nicolas Roeg
Points clés
  • Le film Walkabout traite de la survie difficile de deux jeunes enfants blancs abandonnés par leur père, dans la brousse australienne. 
  • Ils sont aidés par le jeune aborigène, Gulpilil, lui-même en train de réaliser un voyage initiatique. Il s'agit :
    • de survivre pendant 6 mois dans l'outback australien,
    • d'un rite de passage de l'enfance à l'âge adulte.
    • d'un voyage physique et d'un voyage mental (à la découverte de soi-même)

Walkabout is a British Australian film directed by Nicolas Roeg in 1971. The story takes place in the Australian outback and deals with two white children who have to survive in an environment which they do not know at all. Discovered by an Aboriginal boy, they follow him through the desert.

1. The Plot

After their father attempted to kill them before eventually committing suicide whereas he had taken his daughter and son for a picnic in the Australian outback, two young schoolchildren (played by Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg) have now to manage by themselves to survive in a hostile environment a long way from home. Exhausted and thirsty, they meet an Aboriginal boy, Gulpilil (played by David Gulpilil), who teaches them how to get water from the drying bed of an oasis. Though they cannot communicate because of the language barrier, the three children make themselves understand by using the sign language.

The journey goes on until the children get to an abandoned farm. As they have to eat, the Aboriginal boy takes the white boy with him and shows him how to hunt a buffalo. After he has killed the animal, two white hunters arrive in a truck, nearly run over the young Aborigine and kill more buffalo than necessary. Shocked by what he has seen, the young boy returns home, speechless.

In love with the white girl, the young Aborigine later performs a courtship dance in front of her but his initiative frightens the girl and she prefers to hide from him. She then decides they will continue their journey on their own in the morning. But the day after, the Aboriginal boy is found dead,he has committed suicide, his body hanging down a tree.
The children leave and arrive at a mining town, they have returned to civilisation.

Yearsa mining townlater, whereas she is now married the girl has a dream: she imagines a scene where she, hera mining townbrother and Gulpilil go swimming in a billabong.

A billabong is a pond, a little lake.
2. The Walkabout, a Rite of Passage

The Walkabout is a rite of passage. It consists for Aboriginal boys aged between 10 and 16 to go on a journey by themselves and survive in the outback before returning to their camp after approximately six months. This journey is meant to transform them into adults. In the movie, Gulpilil is doing his walkabout when the two white children meet him. Not all young Aborigines are allowed by the elders to take on the journey, only those who are physically and mentally strong can leave. They are prepared for it because they have received the secrets of the tribe before undertaking the rite. As they cover about 1,000 miles, they have to know how to fish, hunt, find water and make a shelter.

A walkabout is not only a matter of survival, it is also the opportunity for the young Aborigine to think and discover all about himself. It is therefore a combination of two journeys, one on foot across the land and one in the mind.
On his return, now that he has become an adult, the elders paint his body or mark it with symbols and organize a ceremony to celebrate the event.

This journey has been a walkabout for the two children too, because they had to survive in a hostile environment, by themselves and return to civilisation as "adults".

3. Conclusion

The film by Nicolas Roeg about the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood helps us understand what the person doing the walkabout has to do to survive in a hostile environment like the Australian wilderness. The film is a success because it highlights the different steps of the rite:

  • mobility,
  • observance,
  • survival,
  • transition into adulthood

and unveils parts of the Aboriginal culture that remain unknown to most of us.
The story shows that a walkabout is not an easy hike in the Australian outback, some young Aborigines, like Gulpilil, may not return home safely.

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