Toomelah (2011)

100% – Critics
71% – Audience

Toomelah Storyline

In a remote Aboriginal community, 10 year old Daniel yearns to be a gangster, like the male role models in his life. Skipping school, getting into fights and running drugs for Linden, who leads the main gang in town.

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Toomelah Movie Reviews

Not the kinda neighborhood I wanna live

Toomelah is a movie but when I watched it it looked like it could have been a documentary about how Aboriginals live their lives in their ghetto or mission. The white men came, took away everything they had, a bit like with the Native Americans, and left them unemployed, uneducated, with drugs and alcohol as their only means of life. The acting isn’t bad, with clearly people that live in those conditions in real life. The story is very simple and depressing, but a bit too slow to make it a good movie. Well at least, that’s my opinion. It’s not a documentary but I’m sure that if you would go to one of those camps this story would be close to accurate. No future, no hope, drugs and alcohol to get away from this deadly routine.

A heartbreaking look at a marginalized society makes you think.

I watched this film as I lived in nearby Goondiwindi on the Queensland/NSW border during the 60’s and thought it would be interesting to take a look at a place so near, yet so marginalized and isolated that it might just as well have existed in the farthermost reaches of Siberia. The film quietly and breathtakingly conveys a sense of the isolation and hopelessness of a forgotten section of society. Toomelah is now a former mission where the residents live in dilapidated trailers and squalor.

In the 60’s the indigenous Australians did not have the vote, nor did they have Australian citizenship and the Aboriginal pay rate was considerably lower than that of the white male and even that of women. Even if one was working, the pay was so low that it condemned them to eking out the most basic existence. Nearly 200 years after Europeans arrived in Australia and displaced the indigenous people, they had not been fully assimilated and the government did not seem to know what to do about them, wishing that they would just go away. Most white Australians living in the cities, never met an Aboriginal and could not care less about them. Many did not even consider them human. The official policy had been to destroy their ancient hunter gatherer culture by splitting up families and sending the children off to mission schools far away to be taught English and the European life style. Former missions like Toomelah are what was left. By the time of the film, things had changed somewhat and the indigenous now have citizenship, but many still live in isolated communities like Toomelah.

The inhabitants of Toomelah exist day to day. That is all. They don’t appear to have any work to go to and kill time in between going to jail by sitting around drinking, using drugs and feuding and fighting. Little Daniel already sees no future other than hanging out with gangs and fighting. His mother is a drunk and uses drugs, his father is a meth head and he is too disruptive at the school where they don’t seem to be engaging much with the children. There really is no beginning or end to his story. No one comes riding in to save Daniel from a life of crime. The gang he takes up with end up in jail after a rival gets a severe beating watched by half the town who do nothing to intervene. We can hope that he goes back to school and stays straight, but that is not likely. I don’t know what the answer is. Certainly isolating indigenous people in small communities off the beaten track and forgetting about them is not the answer.

There has probably been no greater culture clash than that of the indigenous people of Australia and the Europeans. The native south and central Americans south had organized societies with cities and agriculture. The natives of north America had some agriculture and a nomadic tribal existence, but the native Australians had a primitive nomadic hunter gatherer tribal culture based on what was available to them. They had no crops, no beasts of burden, no cattle, horses, fruit, and existed on foraging. Within two generations they had been displaced by European settlers introducing sheep, cattle, crops, building permanent structures and clearing the native people off the land so they could exploit it. The people of Toomelah are the descendants of the displaced and those who displaced them.

If you care about people from different cultures, this film will stay with you, especially if you ever wonder about what might happen to us if our culture was suddenly destroyed and we were left to fend for ourselves as best we could.

Achingly Beautiful

This film is an achingly beautiful Australian story that I hope all Australians see.It tells the story of an Aboriginal community in all of its daily life and daily struggles. The film is a junction point in the life of Daniel. His family life is dominated by parents using alcohol and drugs, a family life that has been destroyed by the removal of children from their families. School is a daily struggle. He develops a friendship with the local drug dealers and the film is about the story that unfolds from there.

The film is important because it weaves a personal story of a community into the wider indigenous Australian story. The themes that this film is dealing with are immense yet at no time do they overwhelm the film. Themes of loss of language, cultural identity, substance abuse, education, the high suicide rate and incarceration of Aboriginal people in Australia are all deftly woven into the story without you even realising.

The director Ivan Sen is a marvel – to have extracted the performances that he has from the residents of Toomelah is simply extraordinary. In speaking about the film he revealed that Daniel was never present during any of the traumatic scenes. Furthermore he revealed how he spent time in Toomelah before writing the film and that almost all of the dialogue is taken from conversations he heard while he was there. Writing the film was about putting a structure to the film and weaving the dialogue into place.

While to many of us the community of Toomelah may be confronting, as Ivan Sen the director pointed out that this is very much in the perception of the viewer. Toomelah is also a place of great beauty. Ultimately it painted a real picture of the despair of these communities because of the lack of hope and opportunities. The film, for me, was all about what does the future hold for a young boy growing up on an Aboriginal community. In this sense the film is both bleak while offering a gleam of hope….

I highly recommend this film, get out and see it whenever you can.