It wasn’t about Peter Allen, it wasn’t about kangaroos, it wasn’t even about the beach.
It was a story that looked into the lives of Indigenous Australians and it was such a hit it won by the prestigious Sydney Myer Performing Arts Award and the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards.
Written by Jimmy Chi and his band Knuckles, it was the first Aboriginal musical and it was a hit.
According to the creator, Bran Nue Dae “is the search for love and identity”.
“It is a simple story where love and the joy of life triumphs against a background of mayhem and dishonour,” he said.
“It is my story but it is also yours and everybody else you know who seeks love and happiness in a world clouded by injustice.”
It’s the summer of 1969 and young Willie is filled with the life of the idyllic old pearling port Broome - fishing, hanging out with his mates, and when he can, his girl Rosie. However his mother Theresa has great hopes for him and she returns him to the religious mission in Perth.
After being punished by Father Benedictus for an act of youthful rebellion, Willie runs away from the mission. But to where... he’s too ashamed to go home, it will break his mother’s heart.
Down on his luck he meets an old fella, who he calls ‘Uncle’ Tadpole, and together they con a couple of hippies, Annie and Slippery, into taking them on the 2,500 km journey back to Broome. Willie learns the hard and funny lessons he needs to get home, all the while pursued by Father Benedictus.
In the role of Willie is 15-year-old Rocky McKenzie, who not only makes his feature film debut in Bran Nue Dae, it is his performing debut. Full stop.
“I was a bit awkward at first, but after the first day of filming I was ok,” he said.
Rocky originally attended the audition to skip out of history class and never expected to land the role, especially considering he has absolutely no performing experience whatsoever.
In Bran Nue Dae he was not just expected to act, but to sing and dance as well but it turned out to be a role he easily slipped into.
“It explores a lot of the nature of a young teenager and that is pretty good,” he said.
Rocky wasn’t the only person in the cast doing something for the first time.
As well as the who’s who of the Australian acting industry like Geoffrey Rush, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Mailman and Ernie Dingo, the film sees musicians Jessica Mauboy and Missy Higgins making their acting debuts.
Missy also found her character, the hippy Annie, quiet an easy fit given that deep inside the singer is a flower-child just waiting to get out.
“It definitely felt like an extension of my personality,” she said.
“It’s not a part of me that I often show professionally I guess but my friends and family definitely know I have an inner hippie.
“It made it really fun because I was given the excuse to indulge myself every day.”
Bringing performers like Missy and Jessica Mauboy into the production could have been a disaster with no previous acting experience to draw from but what eventuated was not singers trying to act but actors who do an excellent job of singing.
Both Missy and Jessica are sensational in their roles in the film and Missy hopes the audience will enjoy what they can bring to the movie.“Australian audiences are generally wary of crossovers, people that start out in one field then move to another, but this film has a real feeling of joy,” she said.
“When actors have fun the audience has fun watching them.”
And Bran Nue Day is, without any doubt, a film audiences will enjoy watching.
As well as some stunning performances, the film also brags an impressive musical soundtrack with all the performers singing their own bits… there isn’t a dubbed track to be seen.
Even Aussie television stalwart Ernie Dingo get’s in there with a few tunes.
“That is my voice singing in the movie,” Ernie assured us.
“I sang in the stage version as well and it was a lot of fun doing the show again, 19 years after the stage version.”
Ernie plays the challenging role of Uncle Tadpole, the guardian angel and gentle guiding hand as Willie makes his way back to Broome and of all the different roles he has performed in his career, this one is definitely a highlight.
“I really like that it is deep trenched in the traditional aboriginal side of it all,” he said. “The family side from an Aboriginal point of view, music from an Aboriginal point of view… there is lots of hope and tragedy and optimism.”
The film is mostly set in Broome and much of the filming took place there giving the movie a very Australian feel but somehow managing to avoid the clichéd pans across a desert landscape with Kangaroos and wombats appearing in every shot.
This film, in fact, manages to avoid clichés all together and manages to deal with a sensitive issue with delicacy and humour without being condescending to the audience.
While Australians love to pan their own film industry, this is one movie the audience will really struggle to find fault in.
Especially when you consider the performer playing the lead role has never performed before… you really can’t tell.
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