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The Tracker (2002)

play May contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Violence – medium
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clip Blackfella's law education content clip 3

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

Clip description

After the death of the fanatic, the tracker (David Gulpilil) and the follower (Damon Gameau) are captured by the local tribe in this area. They have also captured the fugitive (Noel Wilton), an Aboriginal man of a different clan. The follower (Damon Gameau) is horrified when the tracker takes part in a traditional punishment, spearing the fugitive’s leg, for the crime of raping a woman.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the complexity of the role of an Indigenous tracker as he interacts with non-Indigenous and Indigenous people in conflict over whose law applies in a particular situation. The clip opens with the Tracker (David Gulpilil) and the Follower, a white policeman (Damon Gameau), after they have been captured by local Aboriginal people who have also captured the Fugitive (Noel Wilton), an Indigenous man of a different cultural group whom the pair have been chasing. The Follower is confronted when the Tracker takes part in traditional law by spearing the Fugitive’s leg as punishment for raping a woman. A painting of a speared man is substituted for footage of the action.

Educational value points

  • This clip highlights the powerful role of Indigenous trackers as intermediaries, interpreters and negotiators between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures. Although the Tracker calls the young policeman 'boss’, the policeman is portrayed as very vulnerable and totally reliant on the Tracker to interpret the local language and explain cultural practices. Although a tracker’s role among Indigenous Australians could be controversial because trackers were used to apprehend other Indigenous people, in this clip the Tracker defers to traditional law.
  • In this clip traditional Indigenous law is contrasted with non-Indigenous law and presented as equal. The Tracker says that ‘God respects Aboriginal law as much as he respects white man’s law, and maybe more’. The young policeman, the official upholder of non-Indigenous law, is forced to watch a spearing, an action that is both a sanctioned punishment under customary law and an offence under white law. Older Indigenous men have found the man guilty and the punishment is given by the group.
  • The deliberate use of an Indigenous language without subtitles throughout this clip highlights an Indigenous perspective and presents traditional law and cultural practices as the dominant position. All dialogue except that between the Tracker and the Follower is in traditional language, positioning members of the audience who do not understand the language as outsiders.
  • The clip uses South Australian artist Peter Coad’s painting of a speared man to represent the Tracker spearing the Fugitive. The Fugitive’s loud cry of pain, followed by silence, adds to the effectiveness of the painted image. The technique is used in other parts of the film to communicate violent events in the narrative and to focus the viewer on characters’ reactions to acts of violence.

The tracker and the follower have been captured by a local tribe. They are taken to a spot where a group of men from the tribe discuss amongst themselves.
Tracker That’s him there, boss.
He indicates a man who is sitting down, also held captive. One of the elders of the tribe motions for the tracker to come and talk to him. The tracker speaks quietly to the elder, the captive and another man, all in the local language. He returns to stand beside the follower.
Tracker He says he not kill a white woman, boss. Him far away when she killed.
Follower We should take him in. We have to take him in. He can tell that to the court.
Tracker Court already find him guilty, boss. Blackfella. He’s telling the truth, anyway.
The elder indicates that the captive man should stand up. The tracker takes a spear from one of the men and spears the captive man. He cries in pain. A painting depicts him lying down, the spear through his leg. The follower watches on in horror.
Follower Why? Why did you do that? You said he was innocent.
Tracker Tribal justice, boss. Broken the law – Aboriginal law. Back at the waterhole with a woman. He rape her. She’s wrong skin for him.
Follower But you’re a Christian. I heard you give absolution.
Tracker God respect Aboriginal law as much as he respect whitefella’s law. Maybe more. Now, if you want to stay alive you better be quiet and follow me.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

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  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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