Walkabout (1971)

If you recall from “Crocodile Dundee,” a “walkabout” is when an Aborigine goes out on his own for awhile, learning about life and seeking a spiritual awakening.

In “Walkabout,” there is an Aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil) who is out on an actual walkabout. He hunts kangaroos, and spears giant lizards and fish.

His story is secondary.

One day in Australia, an English father (John Meillon) picks up his two kids from the posh private schools they attend, and the three drive way out into the outback for a picnic. The father sends his teenaged daughter (Jenny Agutter) to set up their picnic lunch, while her much younger brother (Luc Roeg) runs around playing with his toys. The father, naturally, starts shooting at his kids, before setting their car ablaze, and eating the last bullet in his revolver.

So, we have two city kids, trapped alone in Australia’s vast, animal-intensive outback. They walk for a couple of days before finding a small oasis. There’s a fruit tree and a small pool of water. They eat and drink their fill, then fall asleep. The next morning, the pool has dried up. However, they happen across the young Aborigine, who shows them how to get more water. He leads the two across the wasteland, catching and cooking food, finding water, etc. The little boy and the Aborigine learn to communicate through pantomime.

One day, they find a small lake. The men go out hunting, and Jenny Agutter–bless her–takes this opportunity to get naked and swim.

The story gets a bit predictable, at least to me. Bad white people use trucks and guns to shoot animals, mostly for sport. Also, we see a small farm–run by white people–where Aborigines are treated like slaves and make souvenirs to export.

Our two schoolkids and their guide find an abandoned house. The guide dresses in ceremonial paint, and does a long, silent courtship dance, trying to land Jenny Agutter. It doesn’t work, and once again, the two white kids are on their own. They find a road, then an old mining camp, and a crotchety old bastard who directs them to a bed and breakfast. At the end, the film flashes forward to Jenny Agutter’s husband relating some inanity from work. Her eyes go a little dreamy, and she thinks back to their Aboriginal guide, her brother, and her, all laughing and swimming naked in a watering hole, almost like this was a highlight from her life.

If you are at all squeamish about animals being killed, don’t watch this movie. I’m not squeamish, and I winced a few times. Just a warning.

The trick director Nicholas Roeg had to pull off was how to direct the film’s biggest star and character: Australia. He takes an interesting approach. Sometimes, he shows things fairly realistically: it’s three people walking through a dusty bunch of infinite nothing. Other times, he uses soft focus and short lenses to give a more surreal appearance to the grounds. The third thing he does in overlay images of the “civilized” world with this vast, lonely place. For example, when the Aborigine is butchering a kangaroo he killed, the film cuts back and forth between the middle of nowhere and a modern butcher shop “back home.” The cinematography alone would probably be able to pull this off, but Roeg got some excellent help from composer John Barry. There are times where the music is sweeping and beautiful, vast orchestral themes complementing the beautiful desert. Then, there will be cacophonous synthesizers during one of the trippy scenes.

“Walkabout” is an excellent film. It’s the kind of film that could bore the crap out of an audience if it went on too long. Happily, Roeg’s film doesn’t. What it does is show–not tell–the spiritual transformation of these characters. When they were in the desert, Jenny Agutter couldn’t wait to return to “civilization.” When she was in “civilization,” with her successful-seeming husband blithering about successful-sounding work crap, her mind drifts back to that horrifying episode, but she remembers only the fondest part. Playing with her brother and their guide.

“Walkabout” is well worth a viewing, if you’re not squeamish about animals being killed, bled, slaughtered, and eaten.

I enjoyed it, but I feel like I was missing something. Maybe I was.

It wasn’t naked 19 year-old Jenny Agutter, though. I most definitely did NOT miss any of that.

Give this one a try.

Grade: B


About tom

B.A. in Literature, Minor in Film Theory and Criticism, thus meaning all I’m trained is to write blog posts here. Neptune is my favorite planet–it vents methane into the solar system like my brother does. I think Chicken McNuggets look like Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana. There are times when I’m medicated, which is why I wrote about McNuggets. Buy some today and tell me I’m wrong! Anyway, Beyond that: mammal, Floridian, biped.Good Night, and Good Luck. Besos, tom
This entry was posted in Coming of Age Film, Films, Films 2012, Foreign and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Walkabout (1971)

  1. Have never seen this but have been trying to get my kids to watch Storm Boy which is another film that David Gulpillil was in around that time. Unfortunately, as with many Aboriginal people in Australia, things have not turned out well for David Gulpillil. Last article I read about him, he was living in a remote community and eating rotten meat because he couldn’t afford to keep the electricity running for the refrigeration. So shameful for us.


    • tom says:

      I checked on IMDB.com, and he’s had a lot of legal problems, stemming from an assault conviction (he broke his wife’s arm while beating her with a broomstick). There seems to be an alcohol issue there, too. It’s really sad. In the US, there wasn’t a lot known about Australia, film-wise. A lot of 1970’s Aussie treasures, like “Walkabout” or “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” were basically art-house films here. The first Australian film I remember seeing in a theater was “The Man From Snowy River.” I still thank that’s amazingly beautiful, even after I’ve expanded my Aussie film-viewing since then. 😉


      • Happy to recommend more films to you. The Dutch-Australian director, Paul Cox, did some pretty interesting (but a bit bleak) films. Another one you might enjoy is Proof featuring a young Russell Crowe alongside one of my favourite Australian actors, Hugo Weaving. Also has a soundtrack by David Bridie who is one of my favourite music artists. Also check out:
        – Angel Baby with Jacqueline McKenzie, John Lynch and Colin Friels,
        – Malcolm with Colin Friels,
        – The Big Steal with Ben Mendelsohn and Claudia Carvan (who my husband adores)
        – Thank God He Met Lizzie which is kind of like an Australian The Way We Were with a young Cate Blanchett and others (and was released as The Wedding Party in the US)
        -Australian Rules – about football and racism and coming of age in a small South Australian town.

        Australian films are also considered a bit non-mainstream in Australia, sadly. There is a new one out last week that lots of people have big hopes for – called The Sapphires – about an Aboriginal girl group that went on tour to Vietnam. I am hoping to take the kids to see it this weekend.


  2. This was one of my favorite movies from the 70s. Thank you for reminding me to watch it again. I don’t know about Jenny Agutter getting naked, but I was touched by the Aborigine boy’s attempts to educate his helpless charges in surviving the outback. And those shots of the Australian landscape were unforgettably beautiful.


    • tom says:

      You could tell Roeg was a cinematographer before he became a director. He just shot with a cameraman’s eye (and boy was the cameraman pissed until Roeg gave him his eye back (rimshot)).


      What I loved that Roeg did was shoot the same landscape in different ways. Sometimes, it was “unforgettably beautiful,” as you put it. Other times, it appeared desolate, ugly, and infinite.

      OH!!! And Jenny Agutter is naked a few times! 😉


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