• Aboriginal filmmaker Trisha Morton-Thomas, bites back at Australian history with her new film Occupation Native. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Growing up among the beautiful landscape of Alice Springs, Anmaterr woman, Trisha Morton-Thomas never imagined life on the big screen or on film sets.
Laura Morelli

10 Aug 2017 - 4:40 PM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2017 - 4:49 PM

Trisha spent her days playing in the river beds, climbing mountains and wagging school because it always ‘more fun’ being out bush. After working in film and television for more than 20 years everyone is interested to know Trisha’s secret, but it’s probably not what you’d expect.   

“I fell into the industry by accident,” she laughed.

Like many other Indigenous on star legends, Trisha started out as a radio announcer at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, (CAAMA), in the Northern Territory, but the remote community girl was soon corrupted by an influential friend, who would continue to do so throughout her career.   

“I came to Sydney because I guess I wanted a change from Alice, to see what else was out there and of course because Rachael Perkins dragged me along with her.”

The big city was where she explored her creativity but it wasn’t until she attended Eora College, where she discovered acting and found her passion.

“When I was younger I was really a shy, quiet person but acting enabled me to come out of my shell and play different characters, it was like therapy.”

Radiance, directed by Rachel Perkins, was Trisha’s debut on the big screen and where she discovered she preferred stage acting to films. However during that time, she also found a new fire in filmmaking.

“It’s a style of storytelling that is really important and reaches out to a much wider audience – and that was something I always wanted to explore for communities around Australia.

Over the course of her career, Tisha has worked with many celebrated Indigenous filmmakers such as Warwick Thornton, Wayne Blair and longtime friend Rachel Perkins, something that Trisha says has always pushed her to produce better quality productions.

“It’s taught me that they are incredibly good at what they do, I always feel inferior around them because they know what they want. I always feel like I’m a fake, cruising along aside them so maybe one day I’ll get there and think yeah I’m a filmmaker just like them.”

"What kind of qualifications do you need to be a native? and she goes: ‘you just have to be sexy’."

Acting will always be Trisha’s first love when it comes to film, television and theatre but these days she enjoys the solitude of writing and being able to interact with characters developing their journey in films.

Her latest achievement, Occupation Native, is set to hit screens on the weekend and explores the history of Australia but from an Aboriginal perspective, an idea that stemmed from the first time Trisha saw her birth certificate, which was when she was 18-years-old.

“Before then we just came under the department of Aboriginal affairs. They kept telling my parents they didn’t have a copy of my birth certificate.”

Finally while holding the document in her hands, owning some form of identification for the first time in her life, was when she noticed something that would later become the crux of her next film.

“I remember seeing at and my mother’s name was wrong but when I got to her occupation it just said native and I wondered how you get into that kind of work?” she explained.

“I said to my mum ‘what kind of qualifications do you need to be a native?’ and she goes: ‘you just have to be sexy’.

Occupation Native is the last one to feature in NITV’s four-part series, You Are Here, produced by top Indigenous filmmakers across the country.

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In this country, the Aboriginal story is often buried deep beneath the accepted 228-year Australian historical narrative. Trisha says ‘It’s not that the Australian story is wrong, it’s just that it’s a wee bit one-sided’.

“I just wanted to show the history our nation in a satirical and funny way rather than force feeding Australia’s black past down people’s throats.”

She believes comedy is the best way to not only expose the truths of the past but also encourage people to change their views and make a difference for the next generation.

“It allows everybody to not feel blame dumped on them. You can’t wrong people of today for something that their ancestors did 200 years ago. The only thing they can change is what they do now.”

 “There’s no way forward between white Australia and Aboriginal Australia unless we can look at our history and be truthful about it. If our history is constantly being buried then we still don’t have a place in this country.”

“It’s like having a sandwich with only one piece of bread. We need to own our history and we need to be honest about it.”

Trisha wanted to expose the lies and myths in Australia’s colonial history, the stuff Australian children aren’t – but should be ‘taught in schools’.

“I’ve always thought it was ridiculous that we have Australian history and then Aboriginal history in our schools. It’s the one history, so why are we only telling one side?” she questioned  

“It’s like having a sandwich with only one piece of bread. We need to own our history and we need to be honest about it.”

Like most filmmakers, during the two year course of creation, Trisha experienced several challenges. Be it from trying to fit over 200 years of history into 52 minutes or even getting the perfect interview, but the most difficult thing hit close to home.

“One of the hardest things to do in this film was to research that history. I was coming across stuff that was awful and heartbreaking," she recounted.

"Many times I was sitting there late at night sobbing because it hurt so much to think my grandparents lived through this treatment, as did generations before me, in a country that I love. To then have to write and make that funny was incredibly hard.”

“I hope people walk away from this feeling outraged enough to do something about it so we can become a great country." 

A good film gives an audience food for thought but a great filmmaker inspires change, which is exactly what Trisha hopes Occupation Native does for all of Australia.  

“I hope people walk away from this feeling outraged enough to do something about it so we can change and become a really great country. We can’t be great if there’s no pride in the things we do and the things that we’ve done to other people.”

Occupation Native is a part of the #YouAreHere documentary series, premiering on Sunday, 13 August at 8.30pm on NITV Ch. 34.

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