Dhakiyarr vs the King (2004)

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The descendants of a great Aboriginal leader tell an inspiring story of two laws, two cultures and two families coming to terms with the past.

Seventy years after the controversial murder trial of the great Yolngu leader Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda and his subsequent disappearance, his family is still searching for answers. Dhakiyarr’s body has still not been found and laid to rest. His descendants know that justice was not served and want to restore what was denied to him, his honour. Dhakiyarr vs The King is their story, told in their own words. It is also the story of a clash of cultures and of one man bravely facing the unknown.

52 minute documentary
Directors Tom Murray and Alan Collins
Language Yolngu Matta

In 1933, on Woodah Island in remote northeast Arnhem Land, Dhakiyarr speared to death a policeman, Constable Albert McColl who had chained up his (Dhakiyarr’s) wife. To Dhakiyarr, the action was lawful on his land. On the advice of missionaries, he went to Darwin to explain his actions and his people’s ways to the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

He was found guilty of murder in a trial where conditions and justice were grossly stacked against him and was sentenced to hang. However, the sentence was overturned by the High Court and Dhakiyarr was freed. But he disappeared the day he was released and his family have never discovered what happened to him. This documentary journeys with the Yolngu as they re-trace his footsteps and as master storytellers, they relate it in their own natural way directly to camera.

In their journey, the Yolngu come face to face with the authorities who let Dhakiyarr down and with the descendants of Constable McColl. It is an inspiring story of remembrance and healing of two laws, two cultures and two families coming to terms with the past.

The first Australian documentary to be selected as a finalist for the World Cinema documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival, and subsequently selected for numerous international film festivals, Dhakiyarr vs the King was co-directed by Tom Murray and Allan Collins and made with the Yolngu people of northeast Arnhem Land.

Watch a clip from the film.

Pronunciation

Dhakiyarr is pronounced dhak-ee-yar with a thick “d” achieved by putting the tongue behind the front teeth. The emphasis is on the first syllable.

Yolngu is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable and a shorter-sounding second syllable. The “ng” is as in “sing” and the “u” is short—like the “u” in “put”. It’s yol-ng-oo.

Teachers notes and Press Kit available for download from Screen Australia

Comments from the directors:

Screen Australia

Screenings and Awards

2007 Taiwan Peace Film Festival
2007 Pacific International Documentary Film Festival, Finalist – Official Competition
2007 ABC2
2007 Maori TV
2006 IMAGE ROOTS – International Film and Video Festival of Indigenous Peoples
2005 Jakarta International Film Festival
2005 Paroles d’Aborigènes
2005 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival
2005 Vancouver International Film Festival
2005 Asia Pacific Film Festival Finalist – Best Short / Documentary
2005 Jerusalem Film Festival
2005 Dreamspeakers Film Festival
2005 Heard Museum Indigenous Film Festival
2005 Southside Film Festival
2005 Terres En Vues (Land InSights) Montreal First Peoples’ Festival
2005 Mountainfilm in Telluride
2005 INPUT 2005 – International Public Television Festival
2005 Chicago International Documentary Film Festival, Finalist – Short Film Grand Prix Competition Section
2005 Sami Indigenous Culture Festival
2005 AIDC – Australian International Documentary Conference
2005 Sundance Film Festival, Finalist – World Cinema Documentary Competition
2004 Human Rights Medal and Awards, Highly Commended – Television Award
2004 Centre for Australian Cultural Studies National Cultural Awards, Special Mention for An Outstanding Contribution to Australian Culture
2004 Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards, Finalist – Best Documentary
2004 NSW Premier’s History Awards, Winner – Audio/Visual History Prize
2004 Garma Festival of Indigenous Culture
2004 The Sydney Indigenous Film Festival
2004 Sydney Film Festival Dendy Awards, Winner – The Rouben Mamoulian Award
2004 Message Sticks
2004 Reel Territory Film Festival
2004 Real: Life on Film Documentary Film Festival
2004 London Australian Film Festival
2004 Imparja TV
2004 ABC TV

Credits

In collaboration with the Dhuruputjpi and Yilpara communities of Blue Mud Bay, northeast East Arnhem Land

Special thanks to
DHUKAL WIRRPANDA
WUYAL WIRRPANDA
MULKUN WIRRPANDA
DJAMBAWA MARAWILI
GAWARATJ MUNUNGURR
GALAWARRIWUY WUNNUNGMURR

Directors TOM MURRAY & ALLAN COLLINS
Producer GRAEME ISAAC
Writer TOM MURRAY
Cinematographer ALLAN COLLINS ACS
Editor JAMES BRADLEY
Composer ALISTER SPENCE
Sound Recordist CHRIS WEST
Sound Design LIAM EGAN
Sound Mixer PHIL JUDD – PHILM SOUND
Translators NUWANDJALI MARAWILI & DENA CURTIS
Historical Consultant TED EGAN AM
Production Manager FOTINI MANIKAKIS
Assistant Editor DENA CURTIS
Location Manager NEVILLE KHAN
Sound Attachment VANCE GLYNN
Foley Artist LES FIDDESS
Foley Engineer BEN GRANT
Additional Camera ANDREW HYDE
Underwater Camera CLAIRE ELLIOT
Newspaper Stills GREG BARTLEY
Online Edit ADAM ARCHER – THE LAB
Colour Grading KIERAN BLEAKLEY
Titles NICK HART
Graphic Design IAN MASEK

Musicians
Guitar BRUCE REID
Shakuhachi ADRIAN SHERRIFF
Percussion FABIAN HEVIA
Keyboards ALISTER SPENCE

Film Australia Production Unit
Production Affairs Manager LIZ STEVENS
Production Assistant SUEANNE FLYGHT
Production Accountant LIANE WRIGHT
Executive Producer’s Assistant AIDA INNOCENTE

Thanks to
Joan and Alan McColl and members of the McColl Family
Chris Clugie, Phillipa Hetherington, Geoff Maine, Tom Pauling QC, Francoise Barr, Tom Berkley, Cecelia Bradley, Rick Brown, Graham Bruxton, Daniel Connell, Tianee Collins, Codie Collins, Sean Collins, Jamie Collins, Kyle Collins, Jane Connors, Ken Conway, Sue Cox, Richard Creswick, Isabel Dunner, Cathy Flint, Alana Harris, Keith Hart, Lee Hillam, Michi Hirzel, John Hughes, Michelle Jones, John Lawrence, Michael Letnic, Jane March, Murray McLaughlin, Robert Marbury, Freddy Mills, June Mills, Jim Murray, Joy Murray, Michelle Rayner, Victor Roseverne, Margaret Simpson, Stephen Tranter, Matt Tomaszewski, Leon White, Rosemary Wrench, Buku Larrngay Mulka Arts Centre, Layhapuy Homelands Schools
Office of the Chief Minister, Northern Territory Government

Archival materials courtesy of
D.F.Thomson Collection – Mrs.D.M.Thomson and Museum Victoria, Eric Wilson Collection – Ian Wilson and Australian Institute for Torres Strait and Aboriginal Islander Studies, Mahony Collection – Northern Territory Archive Service, The Hood Collection & Sydney Morning Herald headlines courtesy of State Library of NSW, Photograph of chained prisoners – Battye Library, WA,
Hart Collection – Church Mission Society, Darwin,
Melbourne Herald headlines – State Library of Victoria, Fred Gray Interview by Daniel Connell – ABC Radio National Social History Unit