Just back from Cambodia, where I presented a screening of Buried Country as part of the ‘Indigenous Voices’ program in the 2016 Kampot Writers & Readers Festival. I was prevailed upon at virtually a moment’s notice to say a few words at the event’s official launch at the British Embassy in Phnom Penh, and I quickly decided that my theme would be ‘rhetoric and reality’, since I could see two instances of it at hand. Firstly, in the instance of Aboriginal Australia, the word ‘reconciliation’ has become a virtual cliché we hear all the time in this country, but which I think has little reality for most Australians, since most white Australians seem not to know any black Australians. Certainly, that was my own personal experience, or at least for the first 25 or so years of my life, growing up stranded in the suburbs. It’s only in the last 35 years, so much of which has gone into BC, that the cliché, the rhetoric, has taken on some real meaning for me, as I’ve gotten to know so many Aboriginal people, and to appreciate the sort of lives they lead. Another – the second – bit of rhetoric we hear a lot about in Australia is that we need to start seeing ourselves as part of the Asia Pacific region, rather than, say, as a subject of the British Empire, or an ally of the US. But again, for me, this didn’t take on much reality until I started actually going to SEA, Cambodia and Vietnam, and meeting not only ratbag expat Aussies there, or even Khmer people themselves, but also other people from all over the world, especially Scots, Swedes and Americans. We can all get caught up in our own individual little world, and I’m just thankful that I’ve been able to find whole other worlds not only outside my own country, like in Cambodia, but even inside it, in Aboriginal Australia.
Presenting the film was a slightly bizarre experience, not least because the venue, as pictured above, the old Le Royale cinema, is said to be haunted. But then so much about Cambodia seems to be at least existent in a sort of long dark shadow. As I’ve described to some of the folks involved in our BC roadshow, who may not be so aware of Cambodia’s history, blackfellas in Australia may have had to suffer almost genocidal oppression at the hands of the whitefella, but in Khmer, Pol Pot murdered nearly three million of what were his own people, not some other race or religion that was deemed inferior, but his own brothers and sisters! Most of the world still finds that even more incomprehensible than racism. Anyway… The film went down well. Still the strongest reaction though came from the handful of expat Australians in attendance, and I suppose I should count it as a success that it can still have that same quality as degree of impact: A couple of lovely ladies from the Australian embassy I think they were, were just gobsmacked to learn of this history about which they previously knew nothing. I’ve encountered that reaction before. As I have this one: “I don’t normally like country and western,” British filmmaker/journalist Tom Fawthrop told me, “but that was great.” I was almost shocked when a woman originally from Melbourne who introduced herself as Liz quickly ducked up to her hotel room and came back with a fresh new copy of Inner City Sound she asked me to sign! “It’s full of pictures of all my dead friends,” she said. She bought and I signed for her a copy of Buried Country. “It’s full of pictures of many of my other dead friends,” I told her. “But also plenty of others who happily are alive and well and, in fact, making our current roadshow the powerhouse it is!”