Servant or Slave is a testament to the power, courage and resilience that our Aboriginal elders have. It’s a story of their survival through a harsh time in Australia’s history that has conveniently been swept under the rug. As an Aboriginal filmmaker I thought it my duty to give the generation a clear voice and audience in fear that in another twenty years or so, they might be gone, taking their stories with them.
It took approximately two years of research and development trying to connect the dots and provide a logical reason as to why the Stolen Generations where taken from their parents and families, and how wages were stolen and misappropriated. After researching back to the black-birding age of the mid-1800’s, I found a pattern of Australia’s mistreatment of Polynesian, Micronesian, Torrest Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people, in the name of developing the colony.
The Australian governments and colonies had their own agendas which suited the British settlers. Throughout the research conducted between Mahli Khalu (Associate Producer) and Charmaine Ingram (Researcher) and myself, I concluded that the economic development of Australia was made at the hands (and detriment) of the South Sea Islanders and Aboriginal people of Australia, with it continuing up until the 1970’s.
After constructing the historical timeline we then found the wonderful, courageous and strong women who appear in the film: Valerie Linow, Rita Wenberg, Rita Wright, Adelaide Wenberg and Violet West. We met with the ladies who at first seemed quite guarded but willing to share their stories, they were at a stage in their lives where they wanted to get the stories out. Immediately after meeting them we (Mahli, Charmaine and I), were in a ball of tears. Constructing a timeline of historical events is one thing, to meet the ladies who were treated in such a cruel and inhumane way made it clear in my mind that it wasn’t Indentured Servitude, but Slavery.
In the minds of many people that didn’t live through this time I think they would believe it to be servitude, they may very well defend the government’s actions to remove children, train them in homes where they’re mistreated, then have them work for free whilst being abused, but for those who think like this I hope that the film can provide them with a better understanding, help change their mind, in doing so I hope that it would work towards a reconciled country.
I was brought up in a time where we didn’t learn about our culture or our First People, and many people today tell my friends, family and community members that we, as Aboriginal people, should get over the past and move forward, that settlement happened in 1788 and its time to move on, get over it. Working on Servant or Slave is a personal response to these claims, that it happened recently, and hopefully the audience who have this attitude may rethink their approach when claiming that Australia has a wonderful and peaceful history, a place where we are young and free, with golden soil and wealth for toil… that may be the truth for some, but not for everyone.
Steven McGregor (Director) and Hetti Perkins (Co-Producer / Co Writer) worked closely with the ladies to ensure that their stories were portrayed as they told it. With Steven’s gifted ability to turn such tragic stories into a film that is truly beautiful, he in my opinion has done a great service to not only educate generations of Australians alive and yet to come, but provide our stolen generation with a voice that I hope is heard far and wide, and loudly.
Servant or Slave airs on Wednesday 30 Nov at 9.30pm (AEST) on NITV Ch. 34.
Servant or Slave contains themes that may distress or upset viewers. Please click on the links provided for support on issues such as; mental health and suicide, stolen generations, domestic violence and children and education.