Terra Nullius begins in the 1960s, offering glimpses into the life of a young Aboriginal girl, Alice. She has been adopted into a white family. Her Aboriginality and her history are denied and hidden. We begin to see how much of this same history has been denied to her white adoptive family, as well.
This shared, unspoken void underscores the film. A trauma that permeates all of colonised Australia. Denial, shame and fear, passed down from one generation to the next, and from one culture to another.
Vignettes from different periods in Alice's life evoke a deep-seated, emotional and spiritual trauma. A trauma created by systematic racism, dislocation and disinheritance. These are the consequences of the Great Australian Psychosis, "Terra Nullius", meaning "Land belonging to Nobody" – the damage is all too apparent. Or is it?
There are parallel impressions of terror, disembodiment and disassociation running throughout the film. The sexual abuse of Aboriginal women and girls, in particular, has been silenced and systemic. The film ultimately works to draw lines between the political declaration of Terra Nullius and its psychological counterpart. This is a strategy of personal survival.
Finally, we see Alice as an adult with her adoptive parents, who now know that she is Aboriginal. As they all grapple with the consequences of lies much greater than themselves, Alice finds herself coming back for the child that was left behind.
Terra Nullius is a courageous film that addresses some of the political, social and spiritual injustices of separation from body, land, family and culture.
- Video/DVD release date
- 29 September 2021
- G - general
- Andrew Lancaster, Felicity Foxx
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