By Robert Ross



WALKABOUTS . . . finding our way back home

"In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruits and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures.
The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT."

The movie "Walkabout," released in 1971 (based on the book by James Vance Marshall), is a story of a twelve year old school girl and her younger brother who, after a tragic event, are stranded in the Australian Outback. With little food and water and nothing but thousands of miles of land before them, the two set out to find their way back to civilization, to find their way home. Peter, the younger brother is about six years old and utterly dependent on his older sister for survival. The movie is about their adventure . . . their walk through a magnificent rocky desert and their walk through thirty thousand years of time.

I first saw the movie in 1978 when it was making the rounds in San Diego. It wasn't a high budget "must see" movie, nor was it nominated for any "best foreign film" Oscars. It was playing at one of those theaters that show avant garde type movies and foreign films. I saw it. I thought about it. I thought about it for eighteen years. The haunting images of the movie stayed with me like a favorite piece of clothing or food of which one never seems to tire. It took eighteen years to understand why the story never left my side. After a recent viewing of the re- released video, I knew why.

Early on in the movie, the two lost sojourners meet and befriend a lone Aborigine who is on his "walkabout". At first he is reluctant to help. And there is the obvious language barrier. Finally as the Aborigine is about to leave, the young boy points to his mouth, making a gurgling sound indicating a need for water, the Aborigine smiles, and the barrier is vanished in the twinkling of an eye.

The Aborigine is at home in this primeval desolation. He is living exactly how he lived thirty thousand years ago, wearing almost nothing and hunting his food using sticks fashioned as spears. The two children, Mary and Peter, are dependent on him for survival.

The movie is a sensuous travelogue of sorts, weaving its story between scenes of crimson rock and close up images of kookaburras, gang-gangs and finches winging about. As the story unfolds, Peter, who is a non stop talker, develops the ability to understand and be understood by the Aborigine. At one point in the movie, young Peter is seen tramping about, half naked, made up in Aboriginal face paint, content in his new role as a young warrior. And Mary, feeling safe now, begins to relax into their pattern of walking, eating when food is found and enjoying the beauty that surrounds them. Thirty thousand years apart, and yet they seem to have found that special place in their hearts . . . together, they are content.

"Walkabouts" have come to symbolize unscheduled wanderings, reconnections with nature, searches for that primitive self that lies buried within. We long to feel the pulse of the earth, to walk, to marvel, to find that special place in our hearts, as we too. . . make our way home.

As the movie ends, Mary (a few years older now) is seen living in an apartment. Her husband is discussing a possible job change. As he's talking, Mary stares blankly over his shoulder. Mary's husband is unaware of her thoughts, as we see the Aborigine, Peter and Mary swimming in a canyon water hole, somewhere . . . somewhere in "the land of lost content."

So for the past two decades Walkabout has been in my thoughts. The images, the modern and ancient joining, contentment found and lost. It's my story. It's all of our stories, as we . . . find our way back home.

Robert Ross is a  columnist and can be reached by E-mail at: 

Copyright 1997, by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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