Indigenous rights find a voice in popular culture

April 2017

For many years, Indigenous voices and stories have been silenced or skimmed over in popular culture. But that’s changing.

In the last decade, many talented and creative Indigenous people have made their mark in the local and international film, music, literature and TV industries, by telling powerful Indigenous stories. Here are four recent examples that will hopefully broaden your understanding of the Indigenous experience and the unique human rights issues affecting Indigenous communities – not only in Australia, but around the world.



Cleverman Season 1

Set in a dystopian version of Australia, Cleverman depicts a world inhabited by the humans and the “hairies”, a subcategory of people who are secluded from society and forced to live in “The Zone”. Central character Koen West (played by Mununjali & Nunukal actor Hunter Page-Lochard) is a former member of The Zone, who inherits the supernatural powers of the Cleverman, from Uncle Jimmy (Jack Charles). These powers allow him the ability to heal, have visions and be a gatekeeper between the Dreamtime and the real world.  Kamilaroi writer, Ryan Griffen draws on the mythology and traditions of Aboriginal culture throughout Cleverman, maintaining the Dreamtime elements of past, present and future. This is most prominently demonstrated by Griffen’s Cleverman character, who is loosely based on the Cleverman archetype that existed in many Aboriginal communities. The series has an 80 per cent Indigenous cast and explores a range of societal issues in Australia, including the treatment of racial minorities and asylum seekers. Cleverman is a captivating sci-fi series that reflects many of the human rights issues happening in Australia today.



Viceland Presents: Cut Off

A confronting and incredible documentary, Cut Off documents Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Shoal Lake 40, an isolated First Nations Reserve. We are introduced to the real life situation faced by the First Nation people who live here, with limited access to running water, food and infrastructure. What is most devastating is the extremely high suicide rates amongst the people who live here. In 2016, a state of emergency was declared after 140 people threatened or attempted suicide in a two-week period.

When Prime Minister Trudeau arrives at Shoal Lake 40, he is the first sitting Canadian Prime Minister to visit a First Nation Reserve, which is hopefully a positive start to a reconciliation process. While this series is not about the issues faced by Indigenous Australians, many parallels can be seen in this documentary.

Like Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Peoples, Canada’s Indigenous inhabitants were moved to their own areas of land after European settlement, isolated from the rest of the community. In the 20th Century, both communities were subjected to similar institutionalisation. And to this day, the Indigenous communities in Canada and Australia experience a continuing disparity of wealth and living conditions.



Talking to My Country, Stan Grant

A powerful and captivating biography, Stan Grant (a Wiradjuri man) gives an insightful perspective on the experience of being an Indigenous Australian. Grant pinpoints some of the major issues faced by Indigenous Australians, like how a wariness of institutions comes from the idea that “the state was designed to scare us”. Grant explains how his current surname was given to his family after their ancestral Wiradjuri name was “taken from us”. This book then moves towards a broader discussion on what Australia is today, what Grant would like to see it become and poses the question directly to the reader, asking what they would like Australia to be? Winner of the Walkley Book Award in 2016, Talking to My Country will give any non-Indigenous reader a greater understanding of the experiences of a Wiradjuri man.



The Children Came Back, Briggs feat. Gurrumul & Dewayne Everettsmith

This song celebrates the many inspirational Indigenous Australians of today. The children came back is an uplifting response to an earlier song ­– They took the children away by Archie Roach – about the stolen generation. In that song, Roach describes “the promises they did not keep/And how they fenced us in like sheep/Said to us come take our hand/Sent us off to mission land.”

Briggs updates Roach’s lyrics with “I'm Wanganeen in '93/I'm Mundine, I'm Cathy Free-Man, that fire inside-a-me.” Briggs’ positive outlook shows how the adversity faced by Indigenous Australians has not stopped them from achieving “Everything that you can't be”.

The accompanying video clip is equally inspirational, showcasing many more Indigenous Australians, as well as featuring images of the recent protests in Melbourne against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities. Overall, it is an uplifting song that highlights the strengths that Indigenous Australians bring to society.