1981, 80 Minutes
What’s it like to be young and black in Australia? Wrong Side of the Road introduces two black, rock reggae bands – No Fixed Address and Us Mob – and follows them through two days on the road.
The bands’ members play themselves, acting out incidents from their own lives and those of their friends. From the opening scenes when police break up a performance by the two groups and arrest one band member, the film is punctuated by run-ins between the young musicians and white authority: a hotel manager refuses to honour a booking when he discovers the band is black; police harass them on the road and insults from employers and petty officials are routine. To white viewers such incidents seem unreal, but the players, who helped write the script, insist that these events are typical for Black Australians.
Each of the groups’ members has his or her own special concern; Vonnie’s boyfriend is in jail and she’s not sure about the future of the relationship; Pedro is considering leaving the band for more secure work in the rail yards; and Les who was adopted and raised by white parents has set out to find his Aboriginal family. Woven into the film’s narrative is a little of the history of Black Australia. Some Aborigines can remember a time when their children were classified according to their racial make-up, “graded like fowl eggs”. Today black children are still taken from their families to be raised in white homes or institutions.
However, Wrong Side of the Road doesn’t dwell on injustices. It shows a gutsy people standing up to a racist society, and also shows some of the features of black society that white Australians miss out on, especially the closeness of the black community. When the bands play, everyone, from young children to their grandparents, dances to their music.
Wrong Side of the Road, the first ever Australian feature starring an all-Indigenous cast, is both inspiring and disturbing, and as relevant now as the day it was made.
Screenplay by Graeme Isaac and Ned Lander in collaboration with the cast. Original Music by No Fixed Address and Us Mob © Ned Lander Media Pty Ltd / Mayfan Pty Ltd Non Theatrical and Educational sales only. Distributed by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
Director: Ned Lander
Featured People: Bart Willoughby; Les Graham; Chris Jones (Ricky Harrison); John 'John' Miller; Veronica Rankine; Ronnie Ansell; Pedro Butler; Carroll Karpany; Wally McArthur; Gayle Rankine; Veronica Brodie; Donna Brouer; Leila Rankine.
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Classification: M. Classification advice: Adult concepts.
Curriculum Links: Indigenous Studies - Culture and Identity; Music; Beliefs and Values; Contemporary Australian Society; Rights and Racism; Film Studies - Indigenous Representation and Identity; English K-10 Stage 5 - Insights into Aboriginal experiences in Australia; PDHPE; HSIE/SOSE.