Film tribute to generations of Aboriginal shearers

Published 13 May 2008

lorina.jpgLorina Barker, an Armidale-based historian, is travelling to Bourke in the far west of NSW to make a film about Aboriginal shearers. Ms Barker’s film, while celebrating the overall contribution of Aboriginal workers to Australia’s pastoral industries, will focus on the men of her own family, who have been shearers on “Weilmoringle” station, near Bourke, for generations.

Her project is part of the 2008 Lester Bostock Scheme – a mentor program for Indigenous film-makers jointly funded by the NSW Film and Television Office and Metro Screen (a film cooperative based in Paddington, Sydney).

Ms Barker (pictured here), an Associate Lecturer in Australian History at the University of New England, is one of four aspiring film-makers to be sponsored under the program this year. The film will contribute to her postgraduate research on family and community history at Weilmoringle.

“The Weilmoringle shearing shed, built in the late 1800s, is still a working shed, with eight of the original 32 stands remaining,” she said. “My great-grandfather, grandfather and father all worked there.

“Dad and his brothers will be the characters – and the actors – in the film; I want it to be a tribute to them. Dad’s retired now, but six of his seven brothers are still working around Bourke – and Weilmoringle – as shearers or station hands.

“Three of my cousins have taken up shearing and work around Bourke, and my brother rouseabouts here in New England, so the family tradition is continuing. But nowadays they go to TAFE to learn.”

Ms Barker said she hoped the film would contribute to a largely undocumented aspect of Australian history. “Aboriginal people have always been part of the pastoral industry,” she said, “especially at Weilmoringle, where the relationship between the station owners and the Aboriginal station hands has always been a good one.”

Her film, to be titled A Shearer’s Life, will be edited in Sydney at the end of May, and will have its premiere screening at the Chauvel Cinema, Paddington, during NAIDOC Week in July. And, if her “actors” agree, it will be broadcast on NITV.

“I’ve already written the script,” said Ms Barker, who will be filming in Bourke later this week with her assistant Sarah Watson, a student of film at Griffith University in Brisbane, and her cinematographer John Flower-Emblen, a student at the Armidale Film and Television School (AFTVS). “My job is just to direct those wonderful people and tell them what I want,” she said. “Those wonderful people” – along with her mentor, the Armidale-based video artist and former AFTVS teacher Laszlo Szabo – have been assigned to her through the mentoring program.

The production editor of A Shearer’s Life is AFTVS graduate Kate Thomas. Its producer, Rommel Avanzado Lenon, an emerging feature-film producer based in Sydney, will be travelling to Bourke this week to join Ms Barker and her film crew on location.

“This is a completely new experience for me,” Ms Barker said “– scriptwriting, and trying to negotiate my way around the film industry.” She’s hoping that film will prove a viable medium for telling stories of Weilmoringle, and is open to the possibility that this initial venture could lead to more documentaries.

While the mentoring program has made the film project possible, she has had to seek – and has obtained – local sponsorship for her travel, accommodation and editing costs. Those sponsors include the Rotary Club of Armidale AM, the Rotary Club of Uralla, Armidale North Rotary Club, Armidale Central Rotary Club, ANTaR Armidale, Friends of ANTaR Armidale, and Friends of Lester Bostock. “And the support of UNE, and my colleagues in the School of Humanities, has made it all possible,” Ms Barker said