Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

The Tale of Ruby Rose (1987)

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clip 'The dark is following me'

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

In desperation, Ruby Rose (Melita Jurisic) decides to hike to her home valley, after seven years of isolation in the Tasmanian Highlands. She feeds the animals and leaves a note for Henry, and another for Gem, promising to come back. She begins the arduous walk across the plateau toward the valley where she grew up. Her fear of darkness is very strong, so she tries to stay awake all night, sheltering in the cleft of a rock. She applies flour to her face, to ward off the evil forces of darkness.

Curator’s notes

As the title indicates, the film centres on Ruby and her complex emotions. The character is based on a story told to Roger Scholes by an old woman, Mrs Miles of Mole Creek Valley. As a young woman, she had lived alone in a hut in the Highlands for four years, without knowing that her husband had died while trying to get back to her in the middle of winter. The experience traumatised her.

Scholes was also interested in the naïve art created by a people with mental disturbance or trauma, and its similarities with prehistoric art (he studied case histories as a student in Melbourne). That is why Ruby fills notebooks with her own drawing. She is much younger than Henry, and she has been traumatised as a child. She has created her own cosmology, based on fear and observation of the natural world. She feels safe only in the day. When Henry and Gem go off trapping for days on end, she is alone with her fears in the hut. She identifies the colour white with the sun, warmth and light; that is why she uses flour to make her face white. By this stage in the movie we are fully aware of Ruby’s mental instability and her terror of the dark. That is why her journey is so remarkable: to be out after dark requires a supreme act of will.

Roger Scholes was interested in the way that isolation had shaped women’s lives in this region. In the late 1970s, when he was researching, he met and photographed many people who had lived all their lives in the harsh environment of the Tasmanian Highlands. He was preparing a book, based on the interviews and photographs, but it was never completed. He decided to turn the material into a feature film instead. The Tale of Ruby Rose was his first and is still his only feature film, although he has developed a number of other projects. Scholes has concentrated largely on documentary since this film.

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