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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
This Oz western delivers racial sensitivity and good old-fashioned storytelling. It opens in 1897, when a title explains that Western Australia was crisscrossed by camel caravans whose drivers, brought by the British largely from Afghanistan, India, and Persia, ensured the transportation of goods across the punishing desert. Unlike the white settlers, these predominantly Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu traders developed close relations with the indigenous population whose knowledge of the terrain was vital for survival. Young Afghani Hanif Glial Abdullah works with Jundah, his good-natured Sikh foreman, and together they have formed a close bond with Woorak and his tribe, even communicating in the Aboriginal language, Badimaya. One day a racist settler shoots Jundah dead, and Hanif stumbles upon the bodies of massacred Chinese men alongside Mal Riley, a severely wounded white man.
Mal’s carrying stolen gold bars but, because they are stamped with an identifying crown, he needs to get them to a furnace so they can be melted down and reformed. Given his injuries, making a partnership with Hanif and his camels is the only way he will be able to get the bars to a smelter he knows, yet neither is willing to trust the other. For Hanif, exhausted by unrewarding years in the outback, a share in the ill-gotten loot could get him back home, so he hesitantly agrees. Gold of course never brought anyone luck in a Western, and they’ve got the army on their tails, led by short-tempered Sergeant Shaw. MacKay, the director, makes no secret of his intentions, which are to ensure that a suppressed chapter of this country’s development be acknowledged. This goes not just for the contributions made by Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu caravan drivers, but even more for the friendships they made with Aboriginal people, brought together by the contempt of European descendants. There’s something gratifying about seeing communication and mutual respect between multi-ethnic communities.