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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
There’s a dreamy, limpid quality to the Northern Territory landscape in the opening scenes of
High Ground. The waterholes are full, the country is green, and the sun’s glare has toned itself
down to a gauzy softness. To six-year-old Gutjuk, his family’s camp is paradise. His uncle,
Baywara, is teaching him the customs of their clan and he’s happy.
Then the police arrive, searching for Aboriginal men thought to be responsible for an attack on
a white settlement. By the time the shooting stops, most of those around the waterhole are
dead. Baywara escapes but Gutjuk is taken to a nearby mission to be brought up by the
missionary, Father Braddock, and his sister, Claire.
We learn that the police raid was supposed to be bloodless but Eddie Ambrose, one of the
policemen, failed to restrain the trigger-happy members of the force. His superior officer, Travis,
who was also there, is appalled but he’s even more outraged when Moran, the local police
commander, expects him to collude in a cover-up.
We return to the story 12 years later. Travis has resigned from the police and disappeared into
the bush and Gutjuk, now 18, is still living at the mission but he hasn’t forgotten his family nor
the massacre. Now there is news of a gang of Indigenous warriors, known as the Wild Mob,
burning white settlements; Baywara is suspected of being their leader. The manhunt that
follows puts both Gutjuk and Travis in the middle of the fighting. Both have to choose sides
while Gutjuk’s grandfather, a tribal elder of great eloquence and dignity, finds that his efforts to
play the peacemaker leave him equally conflicted.
To call it a timely film would be simplification. It’s timeless – a classic Australian account of the
damage done by rampant colonialism. But it’s only one chapter.