Wrong Side of the Road - Review - Photos (2023)

1. Source:

(a) Origins:

The origins of the movie can be tracked in the short term - the longer term would include the persecution of the Aboriginal people since the original invasion - to the establishment of the Adelaide Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music.

The brief version of this story was written up in The Age on 27th November 1981 as part of the promotion for the film's original release:

According to 'Wrong Side of the Road' director Ned Lander, the centre originally was designed to allow white academics to observe tribal dances. Since then, it has developed into a thriving community centre, teaching contemporary and classical music, as well as tribal singing and dancing.

The idea to make a film about Us Mob and No Fixed Address was that of co-producer Graeme Isaac, a former film-maker who taught music at the school in 1979. Lander recalls Isaac ringing him in Sydney and excitedly playing tapes of the band's songs over the phone. When he saw the bands himself, he became equally enthusiastic about the project.

The original intention was to make 'Wrong Side of the Road' as a small-budget, 50-minute film, shot on 16mm. Two years later, it has evolved into a full length feature film, blown up to 35 mm .. (The Age 27th November 1981)

But in an interview with Jesse, hosted on Kooriweb here, co-producer and co-writer Graeme Isaac expanded on his own career arc and how he became interested in the idea of the film:

...Wrong Side of the Road was the first film that I produced, or was involved in the production of. My background prior to that had been more in theatre and in music. I’d worked at the Pram Factory in the early 70s, and I was involved with Circus Oz in its early years. And I used to play in various bands around Melbourne, including Captain Matchbox. I had done a little bit of work… acted in a rather hammy fashion in a couple of films, and done a little bit of soundtrack music, but no sort of mainstream involvement. And then I’d been teaching for a year in Adelaide at an Aboriginal music school, where the bands that were in WSOTR formed.

I started to become frustrated with the difficulties raising money for recording. At that time the Aboriginal arts board was still under white control, and really the main focus of the arts board was in merchandising Aboriginal artists to a white audience - so traditional artists. They didn’t see much scope for supporting the contemporary Aboriginal arts.

The various record companies that we went to put up a little bit of money for demo recording, but basically were balking at the idea of putting any major money into a project where they had to merchandise a black band to a white audience in Australia. And they were quite open about the fact that that was their nervousness.

So it was out of frustration from that that the idea for the film sort of grew. I had known Ned Lander, the director and co-producer, some years before in Melbourne - we’d worked together on a couple of things. He was just out of film school and working on a documentary – an Aboriginal documentary up north to do with uranium mining (called Dirt Cheap).

...So I rang him and played him some of the music over the phone, and said, look this is all pretty exciting, you’d better come down. And it was exciting, because while there had been plenty of Aboriginal country bands and so forth, these bands that were forming at this music center in Adelaide were (to my knowledge anyway) the first Aboriginal bands that were writing in a contemporary style, and writing original songs about their own lives and their own experiences.

I was helping them to organise these tours that were going up the west coast towards Western Australia, up to Ceduna and to the edge of the desert country, and also up along the Murray. It was really exciting to be a part of that because you just felt that you were a part of something that was really new and exciting and uplifting for all the people who were involved.

And also because there was this incredible connection between the music, the bands, and their audiences – you know, it all mattered somehow or another. It felt engaging and involving, and you felt like the music mattered. So Ned came over to Adelaide, and he became totally excited about it as I was, and so we just went from there. The project started on a much smaller scale originally as a short film on 16mm, which we struggled to finance.

Ned Lander, in his own interview with Jesse, also hosted at Kooriweb here, explained how he saw his involvement in the project develop:

...the making of Dirt Cheap was my first intense involvement in connection to an Aboriginal community, and it was because of having made that that people down in South Australia who were involved with the Center for Aboriginal Studies in Music contacted me and said “do you want to come and have a look at what’s happening here and think about possibly doing a film together”.

... Graeme was a teacher at CASM, as it was called - the Center for Aboriginal Studies in Music. He was involved in film, and he had gone there to teach music, and he had gotten involved with the newly forming Aboriginal bands there – No Fixed Address and Coloured Stone, and Us Mob, and a couple of other bands.

(b) Scripting:

In his September 2000 interview with Jesse, Graeme Isaac explained how the scripting was done to help a cast which, while some had experience as performers (all the band members) few had experience of acting - in fact Chris Haywood, playing one of the more offensive policemen, was one of the few actors who had any major feature film credits:

...the story was based on reality. There were two bands, and in fact there were more than two bands from this music center that were going out and doing these tours. And so the film is basically based on what was happening at the time, with the two bands on the road. All of the other threads in the story, for instance the thread of Les, the guitarist of No Fixed Address, looking for his Aboriginal family - the guy who had been fostered out, trying to track down his Aboriginal ancestry – that wasn’t Les’ story, that wasn’t Les’ situation at all - but the guy who was the roadie for the band at the time was going through exactly that same thing.

That was a common story for them, and it’s become a higher profile issue now with all of the stolen generation stuff. But you know, it was all still happening then of course. And so even though it wasn’t Les’s story, we decided that the guy who was going through this couldn’t really do it on screen, and so Les would do it.

So firstly the script was based on the reality of the lives of those who played in the film. And secondly, whilst we had a script that was largely scene-by-scene scripted - fully scripted with dialogue - there were very few scenes where people actually learnt lines and said the same thing in each take.

Basically, we took the action of the scene, and would play the action of the scene, and they brought their own dialogue to it. So if you like, there was a level of improvisation, but improvisation within a framework, and a basis of reality. And that’s why the film, scene for scene, has got a sort of documentary feeling to it, it feels like it’s really happening. It’s because of that.

Although in fact, the coverage was drama style coverage, even though a certain amount of the material was hand-held. We would stop the scene, we’d stop the shot, or we’d move the camera, and we’d play the same scene again, or we’d play a portion again. So if you like, it used a combination of documentary and dramatic techniques in order to achieve its end.

Ned Landersaw the development of the stories in the film in much the same way, as he explained in his interview:

... it’s very much a personal story as well - a number of personal stories. The thread that runs through the film is the story played by Les Graham in the film, of a boy looking for his mother. We constructed the script out of life stories that we recorded from members of the bands, and people around the bands and at the Center. They weren’t necessarily playing themselves – Les was in fact playing someone else’s story in the film. But if you look today - here in 2000 twenty years later - at the significance of the stolen generation and the way that that has become part of the whole public debate – it wasn’t in those days, but that’s what that story was about.

It was about a kid who had been taken away from his family, and in fact right through the seventies that was still happening. There was many ways that those sort of situations came about, obviously there were instances of kids being forcibly removed from parents, and also instances of kids being removed for a whole range of other reasons. But always with the same consequence, which was the fragmentation of family, and the dislocation of family, and of kids trying to reconnect with both their blood family and their broader community.

(c) The film's intent:

The big difference in the film, in comparison to other films about Aboriginal experiences of life in Australia, was the determination not to make it didactic, but rather to make it discursive:

… 'Wrong Side of the Road' is not a remote and didactic film. "Guilt," says Lander, "is useless. It achieves nothing."

…'Wrong Side of the Road' does not dwell on injustices. Says Lander: "We wanted to make a film that took people inside the community to experience it themselves. In that sense the run-ins with publicans and so on are things that happen all the time but they are only one part of people's lives. What people spend most of their lives doing is being with each other, talking, sharing jokes, eating, sleeping. The film was trying to give a portrayal of that side of life, the relationship between Aboriginal people as well as the relationship between Aboriginal people and white authorities.

"We also wanted to make a film that showed people's strengths and that was a rock and roll movie that younger people would go to see - an entertaining movie that had a bit of pace and a bit of action.'

The script was complied from interviews with each of the band members, their families and friends, then transcribed and edited into compact form. The band members act out not only there own experiences, such as Bart's time in jail, but also those of their friends and relatives…" (The Age 27th November 1981)

One of the dangers of this approach - the documentary element in the drama - was that it would be dismissed out of hand as having a credibility problem, and as being exaggerated, as Isaac noted in his interview:

…It would have to be defensible. At the time, a number of the things the film was asserting were very controversial. I mean, it was not controversial for anyone in the Aboriginal community or anyone who has hung around with Aboriginal people, but in terms of the mainstream media, many of the assertions of the film were going to be seen as controversial. So we felt the film had to be defensible.

2. Financing:

Graeme Isaac, in his interview with Jesse, here, explained the process of getting the film financed:

...About half of it came from the Australian Film Commission, and the other half of it we were able to raise from private sources. The Film Commission had been a little bit nervous about it in the beginning, because it was a style of film that had not really been made in Australia before, and hasn’t been made much since, although it’s quite common overseas – where there is some sort of intersection between documentary and drama, where you have people who are actually acting, but they’re playing out their own experiences, experiences from their own lives, or the lives of their family and friends.

There were very few professional actors – a couple of the white roles - but apart from that, certainly all of the Aboriginal people in the film… it was the first film with a principally Aboriginal cast, and they were not experienced actors. The funding body sort of looked at it, and said “well it all looks very interesting, but who’s going to play the part of the people in the film?”. We said, “they’re going to play themselves”, and there was a bit of concern.

But anyway, we managed to get it going, but then during the course of the production, we managed to convince our supporters to let us shoot the film out - shoot the budget out, and go to feature length. And eventually we were able to blow up to 35mm. So the project sort of grew during the process. There was a little bit more elbowroom in those days. The industry has become a lot more regulated, professionalised and everything now. That’s been to its advantage in certain aspects, but it’s also been a disadvantage in others. It’s [now] very hard to break through in that sort of way, in the way that we were able to then. You know, to do something that was very new, and very different.

In reality, Lander and Isaac were lucky. The AFC continually resisted the idea that its 50 minute "short features" should be extended to feature length, as shown by the difficulties Don McLennan experienced on his 1980 film Hard Knocks.

Yet the other reality, much later down the track, is that those film-makers who could wrangle their films to feature length, now have films which are still referenced and which survived in the public mind much better than many of the 50 minuters.

3. Production:

The filming was preceded by work-shopping, as Ned Lander explained in his interview with Jesse here:

... We did quite a lot of work-shopping before the film - although we weren’t very sophisticated about, or certainly I wasn’t at the time. I guess we were sort of taking a Mike Leigh approach. In fact, the person that I sort of was looking at at the time was Ken Loach, who sort of predates Mike Leigh.

It was that approach where you know the general area, you’ve defined the area that the film is going to deal with, the broad strokes of story and so on; and you’re developing character, and you’re looking at the relationship of story to character, and the whole process is one of work-shopping. We shared a physical space where we were living, writing, working, rehearsing, and in fact shooting and editing.So it was a very engaged process. It was pretty exciting.

The cast was largely inexperienced, though as Lander hastened to add, they were experienced as performers, if not as actors.

They didn’t have film acting experience, but they were certainly performers, and they were used to performing in public. And they were very quick to get involved and engaged in the process.

The actual shoot involved a small crew:

"People think we were just lucky to have had the camera there and captured things," says Lander, "but that's not the case at all. We did shoot with a small crew which was flexible and fast, but people were acting." (The Age, 27th November 1981)

The editing was an important part of the production process, interwoven with the fluid approach to the drama and the use of an inexperienced cast:

Memory and dream sequences are threaded into the narrative and music features prominently. The film was edited by 'Newsfront's' John Scott, who cut the film day to day as it was being shot, working from a small hostel where cast and crew were staying.

"Because of the nature of the film," explains Lander, "we needed to see how it was going as we were shooting. Often the actors would come in and sit for the evening with John as he was cutting the film, and criticise and talk about it. That meant the process was open to them; they could learn from looking at the film how it was, being constructed. Also, it provided a lot of feedback on the actual performances."

The soundtrack was not overdubbed, as is the usual procedure, but shot on location.

"Wrong Side of the Road" is alive and immediate in the sense that it is happening now," Lander declares … (The Age 27th November 1981).

This report is not entirely true. As Lander acknowledged elsewhere, and from watching the film, it is clear that some of the numbers the bands performed were done to playback, rather than being recorded live.

But the editing process did match the discursive, drifting nature of the story, as Lander explained in his interview with Jesse:

... I guess he (editor John Scott) looked very much to give it pace and intensity in certain scenes, and in certain parts with the music and the action and so on, and at other times give it space and time and allow it to slow down. You certainly get shifts like that, even from the urban to the rural country areas. You get shifts through different peoples’ stories. I suppose we were looking to create those rhythms where it was quite intense at times, and slowed right down at other times ...

Isaac was also aware of the discursive intent of the story telling, most obvious when the band turns up at a rodeo, or there's some lizard catching, or a lyrical moment on a beach, or a party scene where people make a little spontaneous music, but he denied too much conscious intent:

... I think it’s one of those things that… it’s not that we sort of deliberately set out to do that. I think that what we decided was that the most important thing we wanted to do with the film was to have the audience feel that they were with those characters, and they were sharing their lives and their journeys.

The fact that their journey is a discursive one, that they stop here and there and wander round, that was to do with their lives, so the audience got to share that. So the pace of the editing and so forth was partly sort of a function of that.

Inevitably, at this time, when Aboriginal people were just beginning to find new voices involved in music and drama and films, in a production which involved whites in all the key crew roles, sensitivities arose and questions were asked about the nature of the "voice" in the film (as happend with other films with an Aboriginal theme - the sort of questions that had tormented writer Thomas Keneally when writing his novel about the Governor brothers which turned into the novel and film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith).

Lander summarised his thoughts in his interview with Jesse:

...I felt very engaged, very involved. It was a very robust dialogue going on between us, and I felt very much invited into that situation. I guess most of the questioning of that relationship at that time came from non-Aboriginal people.

Most of it came from non-Aboriginal people who had in fact done very little to in any way engage themselves either with the issues, or with the process of trying to create the circumstances for Aboriginal people to tell their own stories or make films.

Which is I guess something that has been the sort of political agenda since that time, with support through the funding commission, the ABC, and various other groups. The training and funding of Aboriginal film makers. That’s what’s happening now days, with Ivan Sen, Rachel Perkins, Erika Glynn and Warwick Thornton, and a whole range of Aboriginal film makers who are making films and telling their own stories.

But that’s been a 20 year process of development, and it needed funding. I suppose things like the Sand to Celluloid, series where money was set aside to fund an indigenous short drama series, and the Indigenous Documentary Fund and so on, have had a big role in that process. And it’s certainly something that people like Graeme Isaac and myself and others, have been involved in supporting, and in the process stepping back from the film making role, and watching Aboriginal people take that role.

But at that point in time that hadn’t occurred. And so the engagement that we did have was terrific, but it was not one of having been able to turn around and say, okay, we’ll have an Aboriginal director, we’ll have an Aboriginal cinematographer, or the sorts of things have occurred since.

4. Release:

The film was blown up to 35mm, and then given a release through the Australian Film Institute's theatres - via the brief experiment of screening arthouse films at the Sydney Opera House, and at the AFI's longer-running Longford theatre in Melbourne. A soundtrack film tie-in album was also released on its own Black Australia label.

The film did the alternative/film society/university/art house/indie circuit, but didn't get picked up by a mainstream distributor, and consequently it didn't do much in the way of box office business. (It isn't listed in the Film Victoria report on Australian box office business).

The film travelled the festival and alternative circuit internationally, but didn't break wide, perhaps because of a perception that the issues canvassed in the film were specific and parochial.

The film did however punch above its weight in terms of generating audience awareness in Australia, and the LP spin off from the film did respectable business and received good airplay, charting at #67 according to David Koch's album chart.

In that sense - as a film about Aboriginal bands playing music that picked up AM exposure - the film was a first.

It's also displayed a remarkable longevity, as Graeme Isaac noted in his September 2000 interview with Jesse:

... It has been screened a lot on television; the ABC have licensed it a number of times, two or maybe even three; it’s been screened on Channel 7 certain states; I think it may have been screened by SBS as well. It ran again as a special on the ABC a couple of months ago, and in fact it’s going to run again in maybe six months time.

The Australian Film Commission is putting together a package of films that they were involved in that they regard as historic films, and that’s going to be one of them. So the film is still alive, it still goes out to an audience, and it still screens regularly out in the bush or in Aboriginal communities.

It’s actually had a very long and active festival life as well. It’s probably been, in terms of Australian films going to international festivals, one of the most traveled Australian films now overseas in terms of its festival exposure. And it still goes out now and again to different festivals overseas. So that’s sort of gratifying, to feel that the film is still alive like that after 20 years, because of course most films aren’t.

The one thing that I do feel sad about sometimes is that so many of the people in the film are dead and passed on. A number of the younger people; people in the bands. That’s sort of a reflection of some of the issues that the film raises itself.

Sometimes Ned and I have thought about whether to do a documentary, or whether to do something in relation to looking back at the film, or what’s happened to all the people that were in it. I’m sort of saddened by the reality of that, and neither of us really know how to deal with it, and whenever we speak to – I know I have this experience, and I’m sure Ned has – if we speak for instance to Auntie Vonnie, one of the elder Aboriginal women in the film, or sometimes to one or two of the other guys, that’s often something that’s mentioned.

A documentary about the making of the film didn't come to pass, and perhaps its time has now passed, but the film has continued to attract interest, with a new digital version - with restored image and sound - being prepared in 2013 by the NFSA, and this then embarked on yet another tour of the festival circuit.

The film maintains its interest because of the way it locked into the changing times and the zeitgeist, though the reaction at the time as inclined to be negative in the white community, as noted by Ned Lander in his interview with Jesse:

... It spoke about the depths of both ignorance and hostility… racism… that was in the community. We actually toned the film down in many instances from the stories that had been recounted to us, because we knew there was going to be a credibility issue.

So the film was already toned down before it went out, and people still had problems accepting that it was in any way representative of reality. At that point in time, a very large part of the Australian population, non-Aboriginal population, had little contact with Aboriginal people, and had absorbed a bunch of nonsense from their education.

Y’know, that Aborigines were a “proud and noble people that lived a long time ago”, at best. At worst, there was just straight out hostility and racism, and fear and ignorance. Not to say it doesn’t exist today, but I guess the level of debate has shifted.

The response of some in the South Australian police force exemplified the problem, as noted byGraeme Isaac in his interview with Jesse:

Well, I don’t know that there was that big a backlash. There was certainly a lot of critical commentary, there was a lot written about the film, an enormous amount. Mostly it was very supportive. The Police Association in South Australia weren’t very happy with the film. We managed to get their cooperation to shoot, but they weren’t too happy afterwards, and several of the guys in the bands got roughed up... broken arms, and that kind of thing.

This might surprise some, but it should be remembered that in the 1970s, the idea of fun for some in the South Australian police force was to go down to the homosexual beats on the river Torrens and bash up the "poofters" - an activity that resulted in the death of a University of Adelaide law lecturer, George Duncan, in 1972 (wiki here).

The prejudice extended to other police departments:

Jesse: When I was researching the film I found an article that mentioned that the NSW Education Department was looking to screen the film in high schools, but the NSW Police Department objected. What was the outcome of that – was the film ever shown in schools?

Ned Lander: The film’s been widely shown in schools. I couldn’t tell you the outcome of that particular conflict, and I don’t know if it was officially shown through the education system, but I know that many, many high schools have ended up with VHS copies of the film. Certainly many TAFES and Universities and so on. It’s a film that, today, is still being widely shown.

Apart from the police, the response to the film was generally positive, asGraeme Isaac noted in his interview with Jesse:

Within the film world, certainly the response to the film was very warm - it was a total surprise, it was a style of project that had come from nowhere, and it dealt with a subject that no one had really stopped to think about much. It came from sort of nowhere, and was nominated as Best Film in the AFI awards that year, and it was sort of the “little Aussie battler” film up against Gallipoli – in fact it was made probably on the catering budget of Gallipoli. So it was very warmly received within the film world.

5. Documentary v. drama:

One of the things that either irritated or excited critics at the time was the deliberate muddying of fiction/drama with documentary (or vice versa), and the use of a "dramadoc" format that had been much loved by institutional film-makers in places such as the Commonwealth Film Unit/Film Australia, and the state government production arms, such as the South Australian Film Corporation.

According to Lander:

... I guess it’s exactly that issue that you were raising earlier about credibility, and about wondering or challenging whether or not these sorts of things actually happen in Australia. I think by giving it that grittiness, and that verite feel, it really challenged those points of views.

Y’know, does this happen, or doesn’t it happen? And people were dealing with not just “does this happen in real life?”, but people were dealing with “is this real? Is what I’m looking at real?”. In fact, of course it’s constructed – in a sense documentary is constructed too, what you choose to put in and what you choose to leave out creates meaning at every turn, whether it’s drama or documentary footage.

There was a great deal of documentary footage in the sense that we were reporting a point of view. If we sat down and filmed talking heads, much of the content of the film would be in the story, told by those talking heads. We chose to dramatise it, and we chose to use a hand-held camera, and to give it a documentary feel, but it is constructed drama, drawn from documentary evidence.

The film was, in terms of drama, cluttered. The band Us Mob had four members, and No Fixed Address five, and that's before the many other characters who turn up in incidental encounters are added to the list.

But Graeme Isaac, in his interview with Jesse, proposed that the documentary aspect of having not just one band but two, encouraged the favourable response to the film:

... Ithink that in reality the film was recognition of the courage of the cast, of the people involved, and it was a feeling of sort of empathy that engendered the recognition. Oh well, I suppose it was partly that and partly to do with the film itself. It’s hard to know.

There’s a sort of a looseness to the film, in terms of it’s narrative structure - and the fact that it has so many characters in there, so many main characters, was always going to make it a difficult film in terms of it how effectively it could work as an entertainment medium.

It would have been so much simpler to make a road movie with one band. You could have got really involved in the characters and so forth, but the thing is that we felt there was two bands happening in this situation, and there had to be two bands in the film, because the whole basis, the whole credibility of the film rested in the feeling of voracity and being real.

We had to go for that, and we had to represent that, particularly because it was the first film with an all black cast, the first film like this being made in Australia. Therefore there was a lot of pressure on it to carry certain sorts of political messages, or a lot of pressure on the film to refer to a wide range of issues that were facing the black community.

In a sense you could say that that may have, to some degree, compromised the dramatic effectiveness of the film - but on the other hand it sort of provided the film with a lot of its strength and integrity. I still couldn’t really tell you to what degree the response to the film was a response to the issues that the film raised as opposed to the artistic or creative elements involved in the film itself.

In this sense, it was the documentary aspect of the film's narrative that tended to trump the drama (which helps to explain why the film can peter out at the end with Les just setting out to find his family, prospects unknown and uncertain, without the film sounding like it's ending on a wrong note - a conventional drama would have gone with Les and discovered his family, to slake the curiousity of the audience).

Isaac suggests the idea was to be 'experiential' rather than conventionally dramatic (the main conventional drama involves the confrontations with the police):

...the byline to the title was “48 hours on our side of town”, and I suppose that was really what we wanted to do with the film. We wanted to take an audience, principally a white audience, onto the other side of the road for a while. Just to have them share in the day-to-day experiences of a group of young black Australians. And I think the film was able to do that. nd of course for black Australians, I think the film was sort of treated as an affirmation.

It didn’t tell them anything new, but it was an affirmation for them, it was saying I guess, well this is true, we do have these experiences, and this is what it’s like for us. And we have fun as well as having these problems and difficulties we have to overcome.

The other fantastic experience with the film that I had was having the opportunity to see it in the bush, and also hear about other screenings in remote areas - where Aboriginal people still living closer to a tribal style of life, with their cultural traditions intact, watched the film as a sort of story about their families in the city. So I suppose for them the film did carry something new in a sense that it brought immediacy to that experience they knew about only anecdotally because it wasn’t theirs.

6. Further reading:

The film is well represented on the internet.

Kooriweb still hosts a number of pages prepared in 2000 by Jesse for the RMIT Bonza project and heavily referenced above - the home page ishere.

Unfortunately the Bonza site decided to break all its old links, some time ago, and as a result, the bibliography is mainly useful in providing dates for researchers interested in going back to the original responses to the film and to academic works which mention it. (See the bibliography pagehere).

The AFI also created a bibliography for the film, but as a result of the changes at the AFI, at time of writing this pdf was only available via the Wayback Machinehere. It's depressing the way academic institutions are one of the chief sources of link rot in relation to Australian films.

That said, at least thanks to the Internet Archive, it can still be dug out (as can other useful bits about Australian films here), and while the references in the pdf are aged, they still provide handy pointers for researchers.

The video clips on the Bonza site are dated, and small thumbnails in the old style - though remarkably they still work, at time of writing, rare for any site constructed so long ago, at least in internet years.

Anyone interested in getting a feel for the film via clips is better off heading over to the ASO site to check out the three clips,here.

The Ronin ordering details are now well out of date too, with the NFSA now handling orders for the film, detailshere-the same location has apdf of a teachers' guide to the film, though in the usual way, this manages to leech the film of much of its anarchic energy and joy.

What remains most useful at the Kooriweb site are the interviews with the film's creators, Ned Lander, and Graeme Isaac, available in both MP3 audio file, transcript and RTF format file.

There's an interview with Graeme Isaac about the restoration of the film on YouTube here.

The film's wiki, here, has some useful links.

7. Music:

The film is perhaps most notable for the way it records two Aboriginal bands, at the cusp when Aboriginal music was becoming a powerful force in terms of Aboriginal identity, and was also breaching the wall of prejudice in mainstream media and airplay.

Aboriginal music had tended to imitate American country music, but No Fixed Address was reggae-influenced and Us Mob was inclined to hard rock. (For more details on the LP film-tie in that emerged with the film, see this site's pdf of music credits).

Graeme Isaac in his interview with Jesse, noted the confluence of forces at work at the time.

First of all, there was the ignorance of what was happening at the time amongst young Aboriginal people arming themselves with music:

... Prior to going to Adelaide and starting work at this Aboriginal music school, I’d had very little contact with Aboriginal people, as you do if you’re brought up in Melbourne as I was, or in Sydney, or anywhere else – that’s part of the difficulty, it’s that thing of ignorance, that most white Australians have very little to do with Aboriginal people, so they don’t have that personal contact.

But I didn’t feel a barrier or a problem. I suppose the one thing that I was aware of was - the difference in my situation was that I had chosen to step into that world and become part of it, but I would always have the option to step out.

So even though I was very close to the guys in those bands, and we played together and toured together and did all sorts of things together, I always knew that I was sort of able to step out of that world.

So there was always that difference. But I think… my experience with them, and my subsequent experience with Aboriginal people in other situations, has made me feel that you’re accepted as a white person for who you are inside yourself, and for what you do. So I didn’t really have a difficulty in that sense.

Secondly, there was the way that the music came to be showcased, which by way of counter-balance, was devised with an Aboriginal voice:

And the other thing was, that the whole basis of Wrong Side of the Road was that it was about these two bands, it was providing a platform for their music, and for them.

So, whilst Ned and I were sort of building this platform, and constructing a vehicle for them, it was theirs in the sense that it was their songs, their expressions, their statements, rather than ours. So I didn’t feel that I was in the situation of speaking for them - which I of course couldn’t - rather that Ned and I were helping to create an opportunity for them to speak out more loudly to a broader public.

...I didn’t discover them, they sort of formed or came to this music… there was this music center in Adelaide, and it was affiliated with Adelaide University, it was a little building with salt-damp on the edge of the University, and at the time that I came there it was basically being used by the University as a fishbowl for their musicology students.

There were tribal elders who used to come, men and women who would teach their traditional singing, traditional music. Not their serious songs, which are only for initiated people, so I suppose what they were doing was teaching nursery rhymes. Nevertheless they were teaching the urban Aboriginal students this material, and white ethno-musicology students from the University would come and sit in on these sessions.

That was the principle interest of the University, in the organization at that time, in the music school, which was called CASM – Center for Aboriginal Studies in Music.

The university wasn’t really interested in it as an ongoing educational musical institution for the Aboriginal community in Adelaide, and its resources were very scant.

But there was a guy named Leigh Hopper who taught there in the year prior to me, and he’d been able to get the beginnings of some electric instruments in there, a drum kit, and an amplifier.

When I came I was able to help build on that, and one band formed, which was No Fixed Address. And as soon as they went out and started playing publicly, at the Aboriginal football club dance, or at various social events within the black community in Adelaide, as soon as they started to perform publicly, there were all these young guys (mainly, there were some girls as well) knocking on the door of this place saying they wanted to come and study there and enroll as students.

Even though the facilities were very poor and there weren’t a lot of incentives, it was an opportunity to get access to equipment, and to be able to play. And the guys from Us Mob all arrived as a result of that, and Us Mob was then formed during the course of that year.

And Coloured Stone was as well, and interestingly enough, they’re the band out of the three of them, that are still on the road. They’ve played solidly for 20 years.

Although at the time we made the film things were a bit shakey within the band, and they weren’t fully able to function. But the situation for them was, as young musicians, it was hard for them to get a hold of gear, they couldn’t get hire/purchase amplifiers or guitars easily because they were Aboriginal, it was hard to find somewhere to practice where they wouldn’t be hassled.

So that’s why they came along. When they started to play there were three bands playing, and the music started to be recorded and circulate, and really it was a major part of that rebirth or birth of contemporary black music in the country. There had been other black bands playing around the place, but mostly they were playing covers or playing country and western.

I don’t know of any full-bore black rock’n’roll bands that had been writing their own stuff about their own lives; that had been playing anywhere else. One of the most popular songs was “We Have Survived’, the No Fixed Address song, which became sort of a key song to the film, and in fact that became sort of the slogan of the land rights movement – certainly in the eighties. That whole sort of notion of survival against all odds. So, really a lot came out of it.

As for the reggae influence, Isaac suggests this was also a personal choice:

...It’s just that that was the music that those guys were drawn to. The most dynamic person in the band was the drummer Bart Willoughby, and he had a special sort of feel for reggae.

They were pretty young, those guys, when they started to play. They were 15 or 16. And they weren’t all steeped in reggae, but Bart really liked it, and he was the one who was doing most of the early writing – well there was Bart and there was Ricky Harrison. And one of Ricky’s first songs was a reggae song… but others weren’t.

Bart’s songs were all sort of in a reggae style, and the audience responded to it, and they recognized it as something different, and somehow or other the sound that popped out when they played reggae was different.

It was fresh, and it was new, and it wasn’t different out of artifice or because they decided to make it different, but because they couldn’t help but do it their way, and that made it different, because of their youth and so on.

Bart’s flair as a drummer – he’s very gifted and he always had played almost as his own percussionist as well; if you listen to especially those early recordings, it’s like a drummer and percussionist playing together – and if you put that together with the simplicity of the bassline (the bass player was very young, he was only 15 at the time, and really had just taken the bass up) – I don’t know they just sort of fell into this groove, and people responded to it, and recognized it as something fresh and new.

They got a lot of interest in Adelaide from local radio stations, and started building up a white following as well as a black following in Adelaide. And it just sort of grew that way. There were two bands in the film – one was a reggae band, and one was this heavy rock band.

So the music in the film is sort of a combination of both. I was going to say fusion, but it’s not fused together. You follow the two bands on the road, and depending on who you’re with, you get one sort of music or the other.

... the music was absolutely critical to it (the film), because it was around the music. The music was the point of energy around which the guys were focused. The members of the bands were passionate about their music, and they wanted to record it, and the film provided a financial and organizational structure through which they could record their songs, and that was some of the first recording.

Coloured Stone was doing some recording, there were other people recording around, but it was very much through this energy coming out of the making and recording of the music that the film grew. So it was totally natural that that would be at the heart of it, and that we would do a soundtrack album, and all those things.

...people sort of would talk about the fact that there was a reggae influence in their music. You would occasionally hear white people saying “oh isn’t it a shame they aren’t playing their own music, they’re playing music from another country”.

And you’d sort of think, “how could people say these things, how can a white fella stand there, when rock’n’roll and every sort of major music that the non-aboriginal community engages in, has probably got a non-white origin. An African-American origin, or indigenous origin of some form or another.

But somehow they don’t realize that white fellas playing rock music is an appropriation. Whether you call it an appropriation, or whether you can it influence, it happens in all directions, all the time. It’s just that people somehow have this notion that Aboriginal, or indigenous music, should be static in time.

The music in the film was pre-recorded, and the band performed to playback, as confirmed by Ned Lander in his interview with Jesse:

... the music was recorded ahead of time in the studio, in the way you do with the movies. But I guess there was a bit of both. Graeme in particular was sort of doing his criticism and evaluation, and giving critical feedback to the bands, and they had strong feelings about things they wanted in there as well. So it was just a dynamic situation.

It also led to a certain number of continuity errors in the cutting of the musical numbers, but to focus on these would be to miss the point of the film entirely.

Bart Willoughby's lyrics for We Have Survived run over the film'send credits:

You can’t change the rhythm of my soul,

You can’t tell me just what to do.

You can’t break my bones by putting me down,

Or by taking the things that belong to me.

We have survived the white man’s world

And the horror and the torment of it all.

We have survived the white man’s world

And you know you can’t change that.

(In the film version, the lyrics end here, there is a musical bridge, and then a repeat of the refrain, with the final line hanging over into the black - sometimes cut off in TV transmissions of the film):

We have survived the white man’s world

And the horror and the torment of it all.

We have survived the white man’s world

And you know you can’t change that.

(In other versions, the lyrics then continue as follows):

All the years has just passed me by,

I’ve been hassled by the cops nearly all my life.

People trying to keep me so blind,

But I can see what’s going on in my mind.

We have survived the white man’s world

And the horror and the torment of it all.

We have survived the white man’s world

And you know you can’t change that.

You can’t change the rhythm of my soul,

You can’t tell me just what to do.

You can’t break my bones by putting me down,

Or by taking the things that belong to me.

We have survived the white man’s world

And the horror and the torment of it all.

We have survived the white man’s world

And the horror and the torment of it all.

We have survived the white man’s world

And the horror and the torment of it all.

The lyrics for the Bart Willoughby reggae-influenced song which is performed by No Fixed Address near the start of the film, as the police arrive to disrupt the concert:

I am a black, black man 

And I need to be recognised in this wretched world 

For we are getting brainwashed

And the people forgetting ‘bout our rights

So all you black people,

You gotta fight for your rights

You gotta fight for your rights.

There’s a lot of things that are trying to stop you

And that’s racism, and the cops

And the government which is buggered 

But we have learnt within our soul, within our soul 

And that is … the land controls you.

You don’t control it 

You don’t control it

Fight for your rights,

Fight for your rights.

(Cutaway to two police cars arriving outside the hall in Port Adelaide, covered by a musical bridge)

I am a black, black man

And I need to be recognised in this wretched world

For we are getting brainwashed 

And the people forgetting ‘bout our rights

So … all you black people,

You gotta fight for your rights

You’ve gotta fight for your rights,

Got to fight for your rights,

Fight for your rights ...


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Nathanael Baumbach

Last Updated: 20/12/2023

Views: 6360

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (55 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nathanael Baumbach

Birthday: 1998-12-02

Address: Apt. 829 751 Glover View, West Orlando, IN 22436

Phone: +901025288581

Job: Internal IT Coordinator

Hobby: Gunsmithing, Motor sports, Flying, Skiing, Hooping, Lego building, Ice skating

Introduction: My name is Nathanael Baumbach, I am a fantastic, nice, victorious, brave, healthy, cute, glorious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.