Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reflections on the Bill Henson witch-hunt

In 2006 part of my teaching job at Maningrida Community Education Centre was as Careers teacher. During the year a poster was circulated by a casting agency for the upcoming Baz Luhrmann film, Australia. They were looking for indigenous children and were hoping for assistance from schools in identifying prospective "child" actors, both Primary school age and adolescents. As part of this process, I helped one of our Year 12 students to make an audition tape which was unsuccessful.

I have no criticism of anyone involved in this search for talent. All the protocols about gaining permission from parents were followed as far as I know. No one came into our school, possibly because of its remoteness.

The photo above is from the film's official website. This story reminded me of another Arnhem youth who went to school in Maningrida, David Gulpulil. He first appeared in the 1971 film Walkabout. The film was controversial partly because of the nudity of both 15 year old Gulpilil and 16 year old co-star Jenny Agutter.

It is doubtful whether Walkabout would have screened uncut if it was released in today's current child-protection climate. Apparently the film was only available in a censored version for many years.

Many issues have been raised by the controversy surrounding Bill Henson's photography of children and his search for talent at St.Kilda Primary School. They warrant a detailed, dispassionate discussion such as David Marr's attempts to put this into some kind of context. I doubt anything approaching a mature dialogue is possible after the emotive outbursts we have experienced so far.

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