"Facts are fluid in the desert" Amoonguna Community's new show Our Place

By Joshua Davis

Reporting from the Centre of Everything. Alice Springs, NT

“Which one art centre?” 
“At that big art centre!”

It’s the big art centre, the fancy one. It’s painted red, but it’s really white. White money, white board of directors, white cheese served by white hard-lined staff working events mostly attended by white audiences. But tonight it’s different. Amoonguna is only ever ten minutes away from the big gallery, but tonight they’ll be here in five.

The remote Indigenous community of Amoonguna, twenty kilometres east of Alice Springs, is travelling en mass in a mixed wheel fleet of two pre-booked four wheel drive buses and all the community cars that will travel. Every passenger, man, woman and child is armed with a free ticket and a big smile. They’re coming to watch their movie in the biggest theatre in town, at the big art centre. A normal event here would be catered with silver trays of soft cheese and smoked fish, but Amoonguna do things their own way and tonight the buses are greeted by an assortment of pizzas waiting patiently in their cardboard boxes, and as the families greet each other and wait, smoking cigarettes and shaking hands, a sea of excited kids double fisting slices descends on the building at top speed. It is beautiful. It is chaos. It is the desert.

“That movie’s a TV show”

Facts are fluid in the desert, and the movie playing tonight, Amoonguna’s movie, it’s really a TV series. All the episodes will play tonight on the big screen, back to back. The series is called Our Place, a four part drama-soap shot in Amoonguna and Alice Springs, with an all-Indigenous cast of first time actors from the community. The Indigenous Home and Away. In a landscape flooded in negative media tearing apart the lives of Indigenous Australians living in remote communities, Amoonguna set out to tell a positive story from their own community. It’s their story, for them, and tonight’s the world premiere. 

“It’s quite a forgiving audience…..”

The production wasn’t without it’s problems, life in remote communities doesn’t generally run to the tight grid of a production timetable. For a soap opera based around the death of an old man and the resulting drama of organising his funereal, an unbalanced amount of the drama was unscripted and took place behind the camera. Cast being imprisoned, power outages (common in remote communities), actual deaths in community, a minor crew revolt amongst the constant camp-dog fights on set, missing actors, drunk extras and general community life meant that the production at times struggled to swim. But Our Place would not go under, and it has doggedly made the shore. As the lights go down in the cinema, the crowd erupts. The opening sequence flashes the faces of all of the main cast, and the crowd cheers as each new character beams across the giant screen. At every hint of a joke the crowd explodes with laughter, and every new extra is met with a roar from the ecstatic crowd. Throughout the screening, babies scream and the crowd calls out excitedly in language. It’s a desert style circus, and at last Amoonguna gets to see it’s own story up on screen.

“Amoonguna is so so proud of this movie..”

Amoonguna set out to tell their own story, or at least a part of it. Tonight they’ve succeeded in front of a sold out crowd, in the biggest theatre in town. As the final credits roll, the crowd screams for more, and applause thunders through the theatre and out the door. It’s just one small layer of the beautiful chaos in the desert, but tonight Amoonguna are victorious.

Watch Our Place here.