Actor Simon Baker has said now is the time for Australians to reflect on the trauma felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the British colonisation.
Baker’s new film ‘High Ground’ challenges the accepted history of Australia’s settlement. After a year in which the Black Lives Matter movement became part of the global conversation, the 51-year-old said he hopes “white Australians” will finally acknowledge the past.
“I think there’s an appetite to look into some of the wounds of the past and absorb some of the guilt and shame, and accept and understand the anger and the grief associated with that,” Simon told HuffPost Australia over the phone.
He said it’s important “for white Australians to definitely understand the pain that we have caused, and also acknowledge and respect the depth and the richness of the culture from the oldest existing civilisations on the planet and the Indigenous culture that existed here for 60,000 years”.
When the British colonised Australia in 1788, Indigenous people were victims of violence, forcibly removed from homes, separated from family and placed in missions and reserves. As a result, many were unable to continue cultural traditions and protect the land, a spiritual duty. The displacement continues to traumatise Aboriginal people.
High Ground, filmed on Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, is set in 1919. Simon’s character, Travis, is a World War I sniper turned policeman whose control of an operation spiralled out of control, resulting in the massacre of an Indigenous tribe. He left as his superiors tried to bury the truth, but returned 12 years later in the hunt for outlaw Baywara, an Aboriginal warrior who is attacking new settlers.
Travis recruits Gutjuk (played by newcomer Jacob Junior Nayinggul) as his tracker, later realising that the young mission-raised First Nations man is the only known survivor of the massacre. When Travis’s past actions are revealed, he becomes the target of the hunt.
Simon said he’s “very proud” to be part of the film and there was no question of signing up for it when the opportunity arose.
“It was more of a case of how could you not?” he admitted, saying the experience to work with Indigenous cultural advisors and community members on traditional land was a “privilege”.
“There was a lot of emotional stuff going on... and I felt very privileged to be able to be there and witness it and to be embraced by the community there,” he said. “I felt enormous privilege to be able to walk on that country and to be welcomed in.”
Jacob said his family was extremely “proud” of his first film role, though it was emotional to revisit the past, as “we did it like it was real”.
High Ground, also starring Jack Thompson, Witiyana Marika, Esmerelda Marimowa, Caren Pistorius, Callan Mulvey and Ryan Corr, will be released nationally in cinemas on January 28.
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