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Bourke Boy (2009)


Russell (Clarence John Ryan), a teenage boy, travels to Bourke in New South Wales with his adoptive father John (Andrew McFarlane) to visit the place of his birth and adoption. They visit the Bourke hospital where Russell was born and drive down to the river for a swim. On their last day in Bourke the father and son visit the reserve on the outskirts of town. As they leave they drive past a woman walking back to the reserve who makes eye contact with Russell.

Curator’s notes

Bourke Boy, written and directed by Adrian Wills for his family, tells a story about adoption from the perspective of the adopted son. The film demonstrates Wills’s ability to express nuances and subtleties in his work; to harness the power of silence within the drama; and to reflect on screen the undercurrent of racism as it bubbles up to the surface.

What is not said in the film is just as relevant as what is said. When the father responds with silence to the motel manager’s racist comments, the scene reinforces the need to challenge rather than tolerate racism.

The bond between the father and son as they struggle to come to terms with their shared experience of adoption gives them both the strength to continue. You feel the father’s pain for Russell’s plight as he watches him sleeping. Likewise, you see Russell’s love and respect for his father as they sit by the river and talk.

During their brief visit to the reserve on the outskirts of town, Russell looks out the car window and sees himself: in the people and place; in the faces of a group of young boys playing by the road; in an empty stroller abandoned by the roadside; in the young child with her dad; and, most poignantly, as the son of an Aboriginal mother. This final scene expresses the pain felt by a motherless child and a childless mother and suggests the bond of mother and child remains unbroken.

Bourke Boy screened at the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival and Brisbane International Film Festival in 2009. It was part of the short drama initiative called The New Black, developed by the Indigenous Branch of Screen Australia.