Movies Is Magic

1995, 193 x 163 cms NFS

This work  pictures the Hayes kids and Raffi at the defunct drive-in theatre. I wanted to acknowledge American realist Willard Midgette who had made a similar painting entitled Sitting Bull Returns, 1976.  Some Apache youths lounge in the drive-in lot while a larger-than-life iconic image of the warrior chief, in full war attire, stares into the distance beyond us. Some of my childhood memories also influenced the painting. As school kids we used to romp in the school’s playing fields, decked out in acacia, dogwood, and stringy bark, whooping in war paint and feathers. Stone axes, boomerangs and spears were lovingly improvised and stashed at the perimeter of the school’s bushy zone. We merged our weekly diet of American westerns with images from the Australian director Charles Chauvel’s outback. Hopalong Rafferty rode against the anonymous tribal hordes, fending for Anglo-centric justice, cattle and the love of a pretty white girl. We reinvented our bush, twinning American and Australian frontiers. So I readily responded to Adrian Hayes junior studying an advertisement for Chieftain headdresses in the pages of The Phantom. The headdress was borrowed from a store in town that traded in indigenous artifacts. All the boys and men wanted photos in the thing. I took two rolls of film and handed the souvenir photos over, saving the ones needed for the painting. Old Patrick, in particular, looked wonderful.

  ‘Proper Indian chief, I reckon,’ he laughed.

  But I had a role for him in the work that didn’t require Indian headdress.  He is instructing his grandchildren to look at the movie, Mad Dog Morgan.  They are keener on playing out their own version. Dennis Hopper and David Gulpilil, in turn, play at an earlier version of white-black relations from the previous century, presented through Philip Mora’s seventies version of events.

Blackfellas weren’t averse to acting in period costume for films set in earlier eras. It seemed, in fact, that few films wanted to deal with the contemporary world. Movies is Magic could be a still shot from an imagined movie about movies. Also, Aboriginal actors were willing participants in ersatz traditional cultural tours for tourists who wanted contact with the ‘real thing’. Some of them I’d spoken to enjoyed the cash. And they liked the play-acting. Just as the Whitegate mob liked being in my paintings.