Ethnographic Snapshots: 1986’s ‘BabaKiueria’

One of the classes I’m taking for my Masters in Communications is a class that makes me laugh when describing it to my science and engineering friends, purely because they can’t believe it’s a veritable university course. Documentary and Ethnographic Cinema is a survey of the development of the documentary film and I’m really grateful I’ve had a chance to watch films I would have never otherwise watched. It’s exactly the kind of stuff that could make me one of the best pretentious dinner guests ever, but it’s also opening my eyes to films I’d never heard of and is a great conduit to examine my academic interests of structural inequalities of race, gender and class through the lens of film. Because not many people in their life will get the chance to take a class like this, I’m bringing my films to the masses. Sadly, this class is a one semester deal but I can offer at least twelve documentary reviews and insight!

The very first film we watched was an oldie but goodie – the 1986 short film,BabaKiueria.

Australian made, it’s a comedic re imagining of Australia’s colonisation with white Australians cast as the indigenous people of land and Aborigines as the invaders taking the land by force. The title comes from the beginning scenes, where indigenous invaders arrive at a barbecue area full of white families enjoying a sausage sizzle and decide they quite like the ‘native’ name. The lampooning of contemporary indigenous rights and how the majority Anglo-Saxon culture marginalises, ignores and pays only lip service to them is well handled and a fantastic examples of the power imbued by cultural policy.

Adopting a mockumentary feel, the film follows one investigative reporter’s decision to live with a white Australian family and to report on them in their ‘native setting’. Hilariously pointing out the patronising and power imbued relations that dominate anthropological ideas of the white, educated academic and the primitive, uncivilized ‘Other’, it features interviews with political leaders, schoolchildren singing racist rhymes about white people and layers and layers of political satire. One scene shows a white family watching television and sadly commenting on how they’d like just one depiction of someone ‘like them’ to be shown. Arguments suggesting that the current state of television, both in Australia and overseas, is one that embraces multiculturalism and the realities of the cultural landscape are in my opinion, both wrong and damaging. The face of Australia as shown by Home and Away, Neighbours, Packed to the Rafters and the vast majority of Australian television shows “a comforting pre-mass migration vision of Australia”. The ability to hide behind television’s portrayal of a community made up solely of pre-migration, mono cultural ideas only contributes to xenophobia, alienation and unrealistic ideas of today’s Australia.

The film won the 1987 United Nations Media Prize and is still fresh and evocative, despite its dated fashions! The DVD is available to buy online;

And can also be found on YouTube;

Anyone interested in race, colonialism, Australia or any good piece of film should watch! I highly recommend it.