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June 20, 2017 5 things I took away from ‘We Don’t Need A Map’

I went along to the marvellous State Theatre in Sydney’s CBD to watch director Warwick Thornton’s new documentary, ‘We Don’t Need A Map’.

For Warwick fans, be glad. He features all through the film, shown interviewing his subjects from behind the camera, and he’s hilarious. Big laughs in the theatre.

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It was the feature on opening night of the Sydney Film Festival. A documentary that takes a blistering, scathing, thoughtful and at times awe inspiringly beautiful look at this thing we call the Southern Cross.

A collection of stars that’s signified so much for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for thousands of years. A symbol that’s been co-opted, perhaps ruined by nationalism, racism and despicable events like the Cronulla Riots.

5 things from a movie ALL AUSTRALIANS should see

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1. It was a privilege to hear the stories told by elders in this film. The Southern Cross has deep cultural significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Different groups around Australia have their own stories and rituals attached to the stars and Milky Way. Very special.

Warwick on the site of the Eureka Stockage at Ballarat in Victoria

Warwick on the site of the Eureka Stockage at Ballarat in Victoria – which is now a playground

2. The Southern Cross as a symbol has become problematic and divisive, that’s obvious. But do you know the full history of that symbol going back to the Eureka Stockade in 1854? How it featured as a symbol on the flags of nationalists during the gold rush against Chinese immigrants?

In conversation with academics, writers, rappers, regular folk … Warwick investigates how this cross-based symbol is derived from the British flag, and from symbolism in Christianity and the St George’s flag flown in the Crusades.

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3. Lots of people are having their Southern Cross tattoos removed. I would too. Some got inked during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. A young guy featured in the film (pictured above), got his tattoo in honour of family members who fought in World War 1 and 2. Now he’s undergoing painful lazer removal to get rid of it.

4. On questions of identity in Australian society. Rappers like Omar Musa and Briggs contend that young ‘white’ men who’ve been getting Southern Cross tattoos are simply grasping for an identity of their own. Something to belong to. Some kind of meaning.

The biggest laugh in the whole film was Briggs knocking Australian nationalism. To paraphrase:

“What have they got? Barbecues, the beach and mates. Everyone’s got that man.”

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5. These issues around the Southern Cross and Australian myths of nationalism are something we need to resolve as a society. In the film, an academic observes that the Cronulla Riots in 2005 were treated as though, this isn’t who we are. This isn’t what Australia is about.

In reality, Australia has deep issues with racism and a refusal to acknowledge the impact of white settlement upon Indigenous peoples.

As the academic continues: You know why people get so uptight about immigration and people ‘stealing their country’? Because as a colonial nation – on some subconscious level – they know it can be stolen.

Nick Hollins
is the editor of A•STAR