In this engaging and affecting documentary, filmmaker Aaron Petersen captures the pre- teenage and teenage years of a young Indigenous Australian boy named Zach Doomadgee, following him from ages ten to sixteen. Zach was born in Sydney but has deep ties to the Waanyi, Garawa and Ganggalida people of Far North Queensland, amongst whom his father Alec was raised. Zach is culturally dislocated, self-described as “not black, not white…sort of in the middle”, he struggles to connect to his cultural heritage. It’s this schism in Zach’s identity which makes for an often-profound meditation on cultural identity in Australia, as well as examining the inherent prejudices within our indigenous and white societies.
Zach’s father Alec dispenses tough love; he is supportive but also strict. Alec trains Zach to box, Zach also hunts, fishes and plays sport. Despite his father preparing him for manhood, Zach is bullied at his school for being dark skinned, while simultaneously being seen by his Far North Queensland ancestral community as being ‘too white’. This only increases his teenage angst and sense of alienation. When Zach is ultimately sent by Alec to his ancestral lands in Queensland to take part in his initiation, the audience is taken inside a rite-of-passage rarely, if ever, captured by outsiders.
Petersen proves himself a deft hand in the documentary form. This is moving stuff; it treats its subject matter with patience and empathy and it introduces the audience to a relatively unseen side of the modern-day experience of First Australians. Go see it.