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High Ground - Film Review

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Published January 19th 2021
An Australian story honouring this country’s untold history
Image Courtesy of Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd

Against the spectacular natural beauty of Arnhem Land, High Ground exposes the shameful truth that there was no 'settlement' of Australia but rather 150 years of frontier wars.

By 1919, many soldiers had returned from the Great War and some set off to carve out a new future for themselves as police officers in far-flung corners of the country.

In Arnhem Land, a police operation goes horribly wrong which results in the massacre of almost all members of an Aboriginal clan. One of the police officers, Travis (Simon Baker), rescues six-year Gutjuk and takes him to a Mission where he is taken care of.

This botched operation causes Travis to leave the force. Meanwhile, the only other survivor of the massacre, Gutjuk's uncle, Baywara (Sean Mununggurr) is rescued and nursed back to health by his father, a clan elder.

Image Courtesy of Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd

Twelve years later, going against his father's peaceful ways, Baywara's anger turns him into the most dangerous warrior in the Territory. He and his motley band of Aboriginal warriors attack and burn settler's stations. Baywara becomes a wanted man when a settler is killed.

Ambrose (Callan Mulvey), another returned soldier and member of the original ill-fated police operation, asks Travis to track down and bring in Baywara so the fighting will cease. Travis takes Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul) to help him find Baywara.

Although there are several opportunities for a different outcome, the descent into wholesale slaughter is inevitable.

Image Courtesy of Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd

The film's outstanding cast includes Simon Baker, Jack Thompson, Witiyana Marika, Aaron Pedersen, Callan Mulvey, Ryan Corr and Caren Pistorius and introduces Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Esmerelda Marimowa.

Director Stephen Maxwell Johnson's close ties with the Yolgnu and Bininj Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park is apparent in this gripping and beautifully shot film.

High Ground offers the audience the opportunity to rethink what they know about Australian history. This film was a long time coming, arriving nearly two decades after Johnson's 2001's Yolngu Boy, and continues that film's mission to elevate the stories and voices of the Aboriginal population in the country's Northern Territory.

"A passion project, decades in the making, High Ground is underpinned by the both-ways philosophy pioneered by the late Dr M Yunupingu AC and speaks to a future in which Australian stories honour this country's untold history." High Ground team

Producer and actor Witiyana Marika is a respected Rirratjingu (Yolngu) ceremonial leader. Witiyana was also Senior Cultural Advisor on the film, negotiating the nuanced and complex cultural elements and relationships between the different Indigenous clans who came together to work on different lands. All Traditional Owners of the land on which High Ground was filmed gave their blessing for the film and provided unprecedented access to country.

For general release on 28 January 2021.

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*Rosemary Argue was invited as a guest
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Where: Palace Nova Prospect and East End
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