‘Where Your People From, Girl?’ Non-Indigenous Culpability in Ivan Sen’s ‘Beneath Clouds’ (2002)

Everyone saw the clouds. But the meaning of these events, the historical significance of their spatial appearance was another matter” (Carter 2010, p. 338).

Where your people from, girl?

…so asks an Indigenous Australian Elder (portrayed by Jocelyn Murray) to Lena (Dannielle Hall)

Ivan Sen’s minimal, albeit transcendent, ‘Beneath Clouds’ (2002) is characterised, to an extent, by virtue of an impressionistic reminiscence through ‘story-retelling’. A subversive road film vehicle, ‘Beneath Clouds’ poses a dynamic poiesis to issues of Reconciliation through the “intervals between sites” (Muecke 2001) in respect to Sen’s cinematic apparel of shots, codes, and voices, which, accordingly, discerns an “indeterminate space between viewers and viewer, scene and the seen” (Gall & Probyn-Rapsey 2006, p. 439). Consequently, Australia’s National Identity, metonymic of an Aboriginal Australian environment, invites pluralistic, albeit problematic, interpretations through “moving images, including those framed by car windows, [which] give us the possibility of seeing landscape as variable” (Muecke 2001). Accordingly, Indigenous Australian Filmmakers’ implicit culturally-pedagogical storytelling traditions of Teachings from the Dreaming reiterates, by virtue of a progressive comprehension of Aboriginal Peoples’ accrued wisdom, epistemes and spirituality (McKay 2016), the importance of an intercultural framework to mediate the dynamism of Indigenous Australian historical, social and cultural specificities in Indigenous Cinema for culturally foreign, ignorant or uneducated audiences.

Beneath Clouds’ Re-Telling Massacre Story

Indeed, in ‘Beneath Clouds’, Sen, for one, employs a long-shot, or scenic view, of a foliaged precipice featuring a white household on the side of the road, which invites Vaughn (portrayed by Damian Pitt) to relay:

It’s pretty, hey? My Pop, he used to tell me about that place. The farmers chased all the blackfellas up there a long time ago. They just shot em and pushed em off. And now, no one gives a shit. Suppose they got their own shit to worry about.

In effect, the Aboriginal Australian landscape functions, in ‘Beneath Clouds’, to epitomise a historical record of oppression, dispossession and violence, as well as the persistent obliviousness, or ignorance, of non-Indigenous Australians’ attitudes towards Australia’s pre- and post-invasion history of colonialism. In light of this, to answer the Indigenous Australian Elder’s “Where your people from, [Lena]?” invokes a colonialist historical culpability of culturally-unfamiliar non-Indigenous Australians’ misidentification of Lena’s Indigenous Australian-Irish cultural heritage so as to prompt a dispossessed familial relation.


(Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/)

Accordingly, the Dispossession of Indigenous Australian People, drastically reducing the Aboriginal Australian Population, which, as of 2016, is 3%, indicates the unjustified, and unrecognised, poaching of Indigenous-owned and -occupied lands, following the British invasion of Australia in the 1770s, from Indigenous Australian Peoples, whether massacred, removed or otherwise (Martin 1997). Henceforth, the High Court’s decision in 1992 in the ‘Mabo and Other versus Queensland (No. 2)’ case that disavowed terra nullius, or the ‘land belonging to no one’, to recognize Native Title Rights of the Traditional Owners of this Land in the interest of Indigenous Australian Peoples’ spiritual connections, as well as obligations, the land. Nonetheless, despite the Commonwealth Government’s Native Title Act of 1993, designed to manage the recognition and protection of Native Title, there is “only a handful of claims for land [that] have been successful” (Martin 1997).

Thus, ‘Beneath Clouds’, as a result, orchestrates a contextualisation of Indigenous Australian Peoples’ cultural heritage, histories and communities, which requires, as a result, an elucidation and consideration of information that concerns a colonialist historical record of dispossession to drive ethical responses to reconciliation.

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Thomas Joannides



Carter, P 2010, Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History, University of Minnesota Press
Gall, A & Probyn-Rapsey, F 2006, ‘Ivan Sen and the Art of the Road’, Screen, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 425-439, DOI: 10.1093/screen/hjl033
Martin, G 1997, The Dispossession of Indigenous Australians, Rainbow Dreaming, accessed 27 September 2016, <http://www.rainbowdreaming.org/dispossession.html&gt;
McKay, H 2016, Australian Storytelling, accessed 27 September 2016, <http://www.australianstorytelling.org.au/storytelling-articles/a-d/australian-aboriginal-storytelling-helen-mckay&gt;
Muecke, S 2001, ‘Backroads: From Identity to Interval’, Senses of Cinema, vol. 17, accessed 26 September 2016, <http://sensesofcinema.com/2001/australian-cinema-culture-criticism/backroads/&gt;
Beneath Clouds, 2002, motion picture, Australia


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