A Northern Town is an innovative and gripping journey into living history viewed through the prism of a radical indigenous owned and operated aged care facility [Booroongen] in the Australian country town of Kempsey – known as the ‘most racist town in Australia’. The residents of Booroongen are 50% Aboriginal and 50% White – old activists living with old racists. These people, with other citizens of Kempsey (white and black), tell the dark secrets of their schizophrenic past that bleeds into the present, revealing a shared history that is horrifying, tragic, comic, often inhuman, but buoyant in its telling. A Northern Town is the hidden history of Australia.
It is said that the past is another country. In Australia, looking at the past according to racial lines, it’s more like a parallel universe. Kempsey, while extreme, is characteristic of 1000s of towns spread across the country. A Northern Town reveals a history of covered up massacres, Aboriginals herded onto missions, a segregated hospital, swimming pool and cinemas. Kempsey is also home to the notoriously brutal Kinchela Home for Aboriginal Boys and with almost a third of the overall population being indigenous, it’s a white-hot ground zero of covert and overt racism on the one hand and third world poverty and oppression on the other. The long history of white suffering is revealed too, tales of men lost in wars, families torn apart by tragedy – madness, suicide, poverty – by cataclysmic floods that swept much of the town away.
When, in 1967, Australia held a national referendum on whether Aboriginal people should be included in the census – in effect asking if they should be recognized as citizens of Australia – it is Kempsey that returned the highest ‘no’ vote. Even today the past is keenly felt as this town remains divided. Aboriginals are only employed in Aboriginal organizations and you will not find a black face in any of the shops or private sector businesses downtown. There is a 17 year mortality gap between black and white. This is highest for any first world country. There remains a lot of ill will. These are the stories from both sides.
Featuring music from cult Alt country performer Bill Callahan (Smog), Kempsey local and Aussie icon Slim Dusty, local musicians and one of Australia’s hottest new composers Mr Benjamin Speed A Northern Town challenges conventional modes of documentary history – it’s unique style makes one look at the past and present in new ways.