Is the film, and the book it is based upon of the same name by author Thomas Keneally, fact or fiction, truth or lies?
The opening credits claim the film is fiction based on real events. But what is presented as fiction is in fact a distortion of what really happened, a twisting of the truth, not figments of imagination.
Writers of fiction usually publish a disclaimer in the fronts of their books saying that any resemblance to real people or events is unintentional. But this is not the case here.
The untruths begin at the start of the film. Jimmie is being brought up by a man of the cloth in a mission setting when he in fact he was raised by his parents. His father was a full blood Aboriginal man and his mother the daughter of a full blood Aboriginal woman and a white Irish father.
The film depicts Jimmie as a young man being initiated by scarifying his chest, but in all my research about him, I have never found any evidence of this. His father had initiation scars, but not him. The film also has Jimmie saying he doesn't know who his father is, as if he is illegitimate, and that he is a half caste which he is not.
Then he starts doing fencing work for a Mr Lewis near Merriwa who figures in the real story, but with a different name. After the real Jimmy Governor (not the fictional Jimmie Blacksmith) murders four members of the Mawbey family, he then goes and kills this guy's pregnant wife and toddler son.
But back to the, er, fiction created by the film's producer and director. Jimmie joins the police force, then meets Ethel, aka Gilda Marshall, a young woman with loose morals, at a property where he is shearing sheep with iconic Aussie actor, Bryan Brown. Never mind the fact that the real Jimmy and Ethel were in fact next door neighbours living on the outskirts of the town of Gulgong. Ethel gets knocked up by her handsome boy next door, and after a shotgun wedding, their son is born in in that same town.
In the true story, Ethel and the boy are with her parents in Dubbo when Jimmy starts working at the Mawbey farm at Breelong near Gilgandra. Mr Mawbey, aka Mr Newby in the film, kindly offers to lend his horse to the real Jimmy to go and pick up Ethel and the child from Dubbo. But in the, er, fictional film, Jimmie says he needs the horse to pick up Ethel from Gilgandra. And she's pregnant. Hello?
But the fiction is, well, fiction in the film. Ethel arrives pregnant and Mrs Mawbey, played by iconic Australian actress Ruth Cracknell, actually delivers the baby! Can you believe it? And everyone laughs at it, and at Jimmie, because the baby is white. In the real story, Ethel gets upset because she sees through a window the Mawbey girls and the school teacher laughing at her baby because he's black!
And it gets worse. In the film, Jimmie and Gilda get married in the Newby house, with the white girl marrying the black boy being given away by Mr Newby himself!!! And then the school teacher, Miss Graff, living in the Newby house offers Gilda and the child a job her home town of Gilargambone (actually Girilambone) if she is willing to leave Jimmie! In the real story, Ethel complains to Jimmy about being mistreated by the school teacher and this results in the young woman being brutally killed by having her head bashed in by a club.
Earlier in the movie, Jimmie is depicted building a slab hut for he and the pregnant Ethel to live in. In fact, they lived in a humpy, a bark lean to, near a creek. The Newby house is also presented as being far grander that it actually was.
The landscape as depicted in the film is also wrong. It is all so picturesque, like stills of impressionist paintings, with hills dotted with trees like those made iconic by Australian painter Fred Williams. It is nothing like the flat country where these events actually took place. And the distinctive sound of whipbirds can be heard. Never mind that these birds are only to be found in coastal areas. They are not the only ones who have lost their way in this film!
I turned the film off after Jimmie is beating his chest after the Newby (Mawbey) murders saying, I've declared war. That's what I've done, I've declared war.
Yet the Newbys have been depicted as being very kind to he and Ethel. It's all just too contradictory for me, as well as downright dishonest and didactic.
The truly frightening thing is that many Australian school children were forced to read the book and possibly watch the film as part of their high school English curriculum. They would have no way of knowing that what they were being led to believe was the truth was in fact a pack of lies.
The wool was well and truly being pulled over their eyes.