As a proud Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi and Dharawal man, Stan Grant learned from the earliest age about the exploits of Pemulwuy, Australia’s first Indigenous resistance fighter who led a 12-year war against British Colonial oppression.
So the former broadcaster, author and writer of The Australian Dream was delighted when Phillip Noyce, who has wanted to tell Pemulwuy’s story for more than 50 years, asked him to serve as a co-executive producer on the biopic.
Catriona McKenzie (The Walking Dead, Supernatural, Redfern Now) is attached to direct the drama scripted by Jon Bell (Cleverman, The Gods of Wheat Street, Mystery Road).
Andrew Dillon and Ian Sutherland will produce Pemulwuy for That’s-A-Wrap Productions with Noyce, Mathew Walker and James Robinson serving as executive producers alongside Grant.
A member of the Bidjigal clan, Pemulwuy led the opposition to British forces’ attempts to take over traditional hunting grounds from the early years of the colony until he was shot dead in 1802.
Bennelong, who helped establish a short period of relative peace between the two peoples, was among his contemporaries so their relationship will be a big part of the narrative.
While the Pemulwuy legend has been passed down from generation to generation by First Peoples, his name does not appear in any school history lesson.
“This is a foundation story of Australia, a story of a hero whose struggle lives on today, but for most Australians it’s in the shadow lands,” Grant, formerly the ABC’s global affairs and Indigenous affairs analyst and now the Vice Chancellor’s Chair of Australian/Indigenous Belonging at Charles Sturt University, tells IF.
“It is an action drama with intense battle scenes but it is also a love story between Pemulwuy and his wife and children. In some ways, his mother is the voice of the film.
“Part of my family is Dharawal and we are formed by this story, Pemulwuy lives in us and it is an honour to be part of this project.”
Phillip Noyce and Catriona McKenzie.
The filmmakers are working with a number of community elders who descend from the Dharug, Bidjigal and Dharawal communities, who will act as custodians and ambassadors of Pemulwuy’s story.
The ambassadors supporting the creative team include Dharug language expert Richard Green, Colin Isaacs (Bidjigal elder), Yvonne Simms (Bidjigal elder) and Vic Simms (Bidjigal elder).
Sutherland tells IF an Australia-wide casting search will be conducted, similar to that Noyce did with Rabbit Proof Fence, noting: “We’re hoping to find the next David Gulpilil.”
A couple of well-known UK actors are attached and the plan is to shoot in May-July 2021. Private investors are funding development, the producers will use the Producer Offset and apply for Screen Australia investment.
Grant has participated in the writers’ room and has been liaising with the elders who are consulting on the project.
After writing the AACTA Award-winner The Australian Dream, which used the experiences of Indigenous AFL legend Adam Goodes to tell a deeper story about race, identity and belonging, he is working on several documentary ideas. The film directed by Daniel Gordon has screened in the US on ESPN.
He has published three books: Talking to My Country; the sequel Australia Day; and On Identity, a companion piece exploring the dilemma of identity for anyone with mixed ancestry.