REVIEW: Jabiluka – Director David Bradbury


Jabiluka means many things to many people. For many political activists throughout the 1990s and into the 00s, it echoes the direct actions that blocked exploitation of uranium mining in the sensitive Kakadu National Park. For mining companies and mainstream Australia, it represents a resource management issue, as well as a holiday destination. But for renowned activist filmmaker David Bradbury, Jabiluka is a remarkable documentary film that defines a generation.

Bradbury’s delineation of the Jabiluka story is tricky, like Academy Award-winner Bradbury himself. He starts off with a mockumentary set in 2012 that anchors the dangers to the world of a nuclear reactor – this one a fictional one in Indonesia –leaking radiation into Darwin and Kakadu National Park, home to the Mirrar people. He then flashes to 1997 when this documentary was made, and shows these native custodians of these people who have a relationship with the land that stretches back tens of thousands of years.

Yvonne Margarula is the traditional elder of the Mirrar people and the one leading the battle to stop uranium mining in Kakadu at the Ranger Mine. In interviews with Yvonne and other indigenous peoples we come to learn the differences between “black fellas” and “white fellas” go much, much deeper than the skin–all the way to spirit.

Bradbury carefully shows both sides of the cultural equation–members of the Northern Land Council that oversee indigenous rights; mining company executives that talk about the safe and easy management of uranium; locals; scientists and more. He uses audio samples from actual meetings over photo montages to devastating effect–hearing white mining reps culturally batter and swindle the rights of indigenous people, and to see how they target the custodians with money and exploit their weaknesses is shocking, and moving. The embedded cultural clashes in these meetings is so deep and implicit that we forget these indigenous people have more than another language between them and us–they have a different worldview.

Bradbury lyrically evokes the wet landscape of Kakadu and the direct spiritual connection the mob there have to the land through the eyes of the camera. This is one of the most important World Heritage sites in Australia, encompassing pristine wetlands and majestic escarpments, and the land has its own story here on full display. Bradbury makes ample use of indigenous sounds like the didgieridoo and clapsticks to ambiently score this journey he takes us on back to the land.

This is a documentary about politics, about two cultures clashing, and the rights and respect that need to be followed. Many of Bradbury’s films examine different facets of the dangers of nuclear power, but Jabiluka is perhaps the most lyrical, and powerful, in that we are not being hit over the head with facts, but shown the living truth of an older culture. His story speaks through the indigenous people, and through the land itself, and in this way it will resonate and stay with you for a very long time.

With talk of a renewed push for uranium mining in Jabiluka by the current Australian government, everyone needs to see this film which is as powerful as it was when first released, and as relevant as ever to all Australians, and all the world.

*** Stars

Rak Razam

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