Goldstone – an Australian political punch ★★★★★

By Francesca Liberatore Vaselli

Somewhere between a Western, a noir, and crime film, Goldstone occupies an undefined space among traditional film genres. Director Ivan Sen’s film most striking feature, however, has less to do with his unconventional style than with the sensitive, intricate theme it ventures to explore: the historically loaded relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Goldstone argues that this troubled relationship should not be confined to the past,  influencing as it does the shape of contemporary Aboriginal identity questions.  

Sen, himself of aboriginal descent, throws the viewer into the desolate Australian Outback town of Goldstone. Aboriginal detective Jay Swan arrives to solve the case of a missing Chinese girl. The mystery-filled, corruption-driven town, with its lucrative mining company, is revealed to be implicated in the trafficking of Chinese sex workers. Despite the pervasive hostility sparked by his arrival, Jay ends up collaborating with the town policeman, Josh Waters; Jay contributes to Josh’s transformation from a morally turbid character to a proactive ally in the investigation.

The film manages to smoothly incorporate extremely delicate issues into the narrative. For example, the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families between the 1910s and 1970s under the Australian Stolen Generations assimilation policy is never directly addressed, but its lasting traumatic effects on the Aboriginal population are constantly hinted at. Jay’s persistent excessive drinking is a reminder of the Stolen Generations victims who resorted to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Later in the story, it transpires that Jay has never met his family, because he himself is a Stolen Generations victim.

Perhaps Goldstone’s most striking achievement is its ability to strip the Australian-Aboriginal issue of its label as a “past tragedy” and remind viewers of its continuing relevance.  

During the discussion of the film for “Decolonising LSE Week”, Prof. Shakuntala Banaji described how audiences are often touched by tragic past events shown in films but turn a blind eye when it comes to facing present-day problems of similar gravity. By incorporating narrative elements that are not confined to the Australian national territory nor the past, Goldstone locates its narrative in the global present, while remaining a film where the past is very much alive and kicking.

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