`...Waiting for Harry is highly recommended for viewing by high school, undergraduate, and graduate students as well as others interested in contemporary Aboriginal culture and the persistence of ritual symbolism.' J. Goodale

57 Minutes Colour 1980
Film-maker: Kim McKenzie
Anthropologist: Les Hiatt

Although the events around which this film was planned were the final mortuary rites for Les Angabarraparra, the subject of the film became interaction. Interaction between the anthropologist Les Hiatt and the Anbarra people of northern Australia, between the Anbarra and other Aboriginal groups in the area, and finally the relations between various Anbarra and the ever-absent Harry. The film-makers are effective in using this interaction to create a continuity, giving the viewer insights into Anbarra life as everyone grows tense waiting for Harry.

Harry is the dead man's maternal uncle and a leader in the community of Maningrida. He is vital for the mortuary ritual because his appearance authorizes the use of motifs on the coffin and bones. Frank Gurrmanamana, instigator and narrator for the film and classificatory brother of the dead man, needs important people such as Harry to give the rites validity and a proper respect for the dead man. The men build a shade structure and prepare a hollow log coffin for the necessary painting. They wait three weeks, but still no Harry.

Frank begins the painting without Harry. Then, wonder of wonders, Harry arrives. They make a sand sculpture but Harry has to leave again because his son has a court case. People from other groups arrive for the ceremony, but no Harry. Les Hiatt is an integral part of the film. Both he and Frank cope together in various ways with the frustration of the delays. Finally Frank suggests that Les go into town and get Harry. After some negotiation, Les agrees, Harry returns with him-the magistrate had never shown up for the court case-and the ceremony begins. Another group arrives to inspect the accuracy of the coffin painting. The bones are covered with ochre and smashed, then put in the hollow log.

Part of what makes this film intriguing is the triangular involvement of the audience, the film-makers and the filmed. It is as much a film about film making as it is about a ceremony, but it works. Les and Frank negotiate to have the ceremony performed during the day so they can film and we see Frank telling various people who are participating in the ceremony about the film and its purpose.

The film, which won the 1982 Royal Anthropological Institute Film Prize, is of a style shared by many Australian films made with the Aboriginal group in mind and intended as much for a local Aboriginal audience as a scholarly one. Catalogue number (16mm): RA100 £18.

R.M. Berndt, 1982. Aboriginal Sites, Rights and Resource Development. University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

M. Clunies Ross and L.R. Hiatt, 1977. `Sand Sculptures at a Gidjingali Burial Rite'. In P.J. Ucko (ed.) Form in Indigenous Art. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.

M. Clunies-Ross, 1978. `The Structure of Arnhem Land Song Poetry (with Particular Reference to the Wama-Dupan Songs in Gidjingali)'. Oceania, Vol. 49, pp. 128-56.

M. Clunies Ross and S.A. Wild, 1984. `Formal Performance: The Relations of Music, Text and Dance in Arnhem Land Clan Songs'. Ethnomusicology Vol.28, No.2, pp 209-35.

M. Clunies Ross, 1989. `The Aesthetics and Politics of an Arnhem Land Ritual'. The Drama Review: A Journal of Performance Studies, Vol.33, No.4 pp 107-27. [This important paper deals directly with the making of the film and the particular ritual shown in the film.]

J.C. Goodale, 1984. Review of the film. American Anthropologist, Vol. 86, pp. 813-14.

L.R. Hiatt, 1965. Kinship and Conflict: A Study of an Aboriginal Community in Northern Arnhem Land. Australian National University, Canberra.

H. Morphy, 1984. Journey to the Crocodile's Nest. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.

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