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An ancient site, a ticking clock, and the unlikely allies calling for change.
In a corner of Australia exists a place of astounding natural beauty, archaeological signiﬁcance, and age-old culture. But the Indigenous scarred trees and artefacts found here are at risk – until an unlikely intergenerational partnership comes forth to save the site for future generations.
The Lake of Scars tells a story of allyship, environmentalism and cultural rebirth; a picture of what reconciliation between Aboriginal and European Australians might look like. But is that idea harder than it seems?
The Lake of Scars is as much a portrait of a hidden facet of Australian history and environment as it is a musing on what reconciliation can look like in Australia. While exploring the beautiful, mysterious scarred trees, middens and stone scatters left at one remarkable site in country Victoria – the ephemeral Lake Boort and surrounds – we meet the people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who are working against the clock to preserve and promote what they can.
With organic relics at its heart – hundred year old scarred and dying trees – the film examines the preservation of culture and environment as our protagonists fight for scarred trees to be preserved, for middens and stone scatters to be protected and recognised, for environmental flows of water to be allowed into the seasonal lake, and for a ‘keeping place’ to be built.
Within the keeping place they hope to put remarkable already deceased trees, as well as dozens of artefacts stored in the former farmer Paul’s garage, with the clan’s permission.
For Paul, getting the town’s almost entirely white population interested has been a slow, hard process. But slowly it takes note – it has an unusual shared history; some of the earliest photos ever taken in Australia were shot here, showing positive relations between settlers and Indigenous people.
Paul works tirelessly with clan members – located in Melbourne and other towns, forced from their land in the subsequent 150 years – as together they try to forge a path forward to recognition.
Ultimately though, it is the arrival in Boort of a Yung Balug man much younger than Paul, Jida Gulpilil – son of legendary actor David – who brings his own flavour to his mother’s country. Amidst a backdrop of treaty talks and the fight for water rights, can the relationship between characters of different backgrounds and generations survive the stresses of fighting for country, and overturn 200 years of protocol? Or does the road to reconciliation contain more bumps than we might imagine?
Directed, co-producer and cinematography by Bill Code
Bill Code is a producer and DOP with a background in journalism and short documentary for Al Jazeera English, the BBC and others. Starting his career with SBS, he went on to head up video at Guardian Australia following its launch. The Lake of Scars, which he has been producing since late 2015, is his first feature length film.
Storytelling and co-writen by Uncle Jack Charles
Dja Dja Wurrung elder and Victorian icon Uncle Jack Charles carries out a unique writer/narrator/presenter role for this landmark documentary. Jack was selected by a group of Dja Dja Wurrung/Yung Balug elders and the film’s co-producers. This original role will sees Jack guide us through the film from the front row of Melbourne’s Lido cinema.
Co-produced by Christian Pazzaglia
Christian Pazzaglia is the producer of acclaimed experimental live cinema performances such as Miraculous Trajectories, directed by one of China’s leading visual artists, Cheng Ran, and of the ground-breaking live documentary Those Left Waiting, directed by Michael Beets, which premiered at CPH:DOX in 2021. Christian is among the producers of the feature film Little Tornadoes, directed by Aaron Wilson and premiering at MIFF in 2021. In 2016 he co-produced the feature film Yamato (California), directed by Daisuke Miyazaki.
Cultural Advisor – Ngarra Murray
Ngarra is a Dja Dja Wurrung (Yung Balug), Yorta Yorta (Wallithica), Wamba Wamba (Goirmjanyuk), Dhudhuroa woman whose country and family is at the heart of this film. She is the national manager of Oxfam Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Program, a member of the National NAIDOC committee and a Board Member of the Pastor Sir Douglas and Lady Gladys Nicholls Foundation (she is also their great granddaughter).
Paul Haw: A white former sheep farmer, horticulturist, Vietnam vet and self-published historian who lives on the edge of Lake Boort, riding a segway thanks to childhood polio. In his later years he has become ever more obsessed with documenting and caring for the scarred trees, middens and stone scatters in and around the lake, convincing white townsfolk of the lake’s cultural and environmental value, and working alongside, and for, the absent Yung Balug traditional owners.
Jida Gulpilil: Jida Gulpilil is Yung Balug on his mother’s side; his father, David Gulpilil, is a Yolngu man from the Northern Territory. After spending time running cultural tours in Kakadu, Jida returns to his Yung Balug country and gets the ball rolling carrying out cultural tours in, on and around the lake and trees, receiving a grant from the local council to get the company its first ‘gigs’ with local schools. He returns ready to use and share the cultural knowledge he has received from his mother, from his father’s Yolngu country, and to learn from Paul, too. Jida is an achiever who is pragmatic in hosting cultural events, using knowledge from his Dja Dja Wurrung and Yolngu heritage, gleaning from Paul, mixing and creating as he goes.
Cathie Haw: Paul’s gentle, good-humoured wife who has, quietly, a similar moral fortitude. Like Paul, Cathie has for years talked the talk when it comes to reconciliatory acts at the local level.
Gary Murray: A strong and politicised spokesman for the Yung Balug, Paul’s main go-to concerning clan affairs over the years. Gary is the most outspoken member of the tribe, now living in Melbourne.
Ngarra Murray: Gary’s daughter Ngarra is picking up the mantel her father is leaving and fighting for the advancement of Victorian Aboriginal people – and her clan. The leader of Oxfam’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program, Ngarra returns to country many times with her four kids in tow, striving with her cousin Jida to pass on Yung Balug culture to a new generation, with a focus on land rights and Treaty talks.
Bobby Nicholls: A thoughtful Yung Balug man who cares deeply about the young people in his community and wants the lake preserved and cared for to nourish culture for the next generation.
Where you can see it
The Lake of Scars will screen at the upcoming Antenna Film Festival from Saturday, February 5 – the only Australian film in competition this year! Details here. You can find out more about The Lake of Scars here.