Nathan Phillips, Luke Carroll and Tom Budge are obviously solid friends. The three young actors come bounding into the room, laughing at each other’s jokes, finishing each other’s sentences and supporting what each other has to say about their experiences making Australian Rules. Friendship is a central theme in the film that takes place in rural Adelaide where the local footy team, made up of a motley crew of black and white fellas, is gearing up for a crack at the Final.
Dumby Red (Luke Carroll) is the goal kicking hot shot. His best mate, Blacky, played by Nathan Phillips, isn’t so flash at footy but he can score points with his words. Their friendship transcends the cultural and physical segregation of the town, but it is also a friendship tested by a town that’s divided by racism, dominated by abusive machismo and blinded by the short sightedness of isolation. Pickles (Tom Budge), the weedy third member of the group, embodies the conflict and self-destructive nature of the town that careens toward tragedy.
The chemistry of the three leads is palpable on screen and they’re happy to say it’s because of the bond they forged making the film. “We just clicked straight away, we had instantaneous mateship and it felt right from then on,” says Phillips about the casting. “Us three all met at the airport and we gelled right away. We all got pissed the first night, surf and turf for dinner. It was just this special thing. We got to know each other on and off set. For us it was pretty much our first film and it was central to how the film ended up as the film it is.”
“Australian Rules” is adapted from the book Deadly, Unna? by Phillip Gwynne, which is based on his own teenage experiences and features some characters who are still alive and kicking. Asking the cast whether this affected the way they approached their work is met with a candid assurance.
“I didn’t even know Pickles was a real guy,” admits Budge. “Phil Gwynne’s brother was saying how I look like him and the way I moved was exactly like him. And you think, ‘Well where did that come from then?’ I didn’t know he was a real guy; it was just an interpretation of the script.”
Luke Carroll says, “The real Dumby came in for a few days during the rehearsal period, but I didn’t feel any pressure at all. There was no real pressure put on us to do that.”
However, certain duress came into play due to the fact that elements of the story were founded on a real tragedy that affected the town on which the story is based. The families of two young Aboriginal kids who were killed in a similar incident as depicted in the film protested the making of Australian Rules as it was too close a representation of their loss. It has sparked a controversy that has the potential to overshadow the potentially positive effects a film like this could have.
According to the AFC, there are long-standing, yet undocumented protocols (which are now being formalised) that are to be adhered when making a film involving contentious Indigenous issues. The main thrust of the debate centers on the lack of consultation the filmmakers had with the families and community of Point Pearce. These distinct cultural issues ought to have been addressed prior to the production of the film, yet having been overlooked, resulted in a fiery confrontation involving the cast.
“It was pretty full on,” reflects Carroll. “We went up to the community of Point Pearce to have a script reading, because the script is so different to the book, to show them what we were doing. They’d been misinformed, you know.” Budge agrees, adding, “There were a few people in between that messed up the communication process. Basically, they thought it was going to be exactly the way the book had been written. They had been misinformed and we wanted to go out there and do the read through and I thought it’d be fine . . . foolishly thought it’d be fine.”
“I thought it’d be fine too,” says Carroll solemnly, “but didn’t we get a shock?”
“There was a lot of anger there, and to some extent, rightly so, but yeah, it was a really emotionally charged argument and we never got a chance to start the read through. So all that just blew up in everyone’s faces and we were all told to leave,” recalls Budge. “When we started getting ready to leave, the leader of the community said they’d organized a separate meeting with just the families of the children involved in the incident. That was the most ridiculously amazing and terrifying and torturous moment. Talking to these people who are bawling in your face. They’re just sitting there crying and saying, ‘Don’t make this movie, don’t make this movie.’ So you’ve got to define absolutely your reason for making it. We were all crying too, but I said, people where I’m from don’t know that this stuff happens, they just don’t know the evil heart of Australia that can do this stuff.”
Get the rest of the interview in part two of IS “AUSTRALIAN RULES” OUT OF BOUNDS?>>>