Storm Boy – Far from a Washed Up Classic

Author Colin Thiele was born in 1920 to a German immigrant family in the South Australian wine region, when he started school in Eudunda, he didn’t speak English, only German.

One can only imagine that German families that held onto their German ancestry, such as Thiele’s family seems to have done, may have experienced discrimination, much like those of Italian and Greek ancestry did. It’s also a plausible argument to say that Thiele, who went on to become a teacher, and a principal while also serving in the military, knew what it was like to be an outsider.

So, when Colin Thiele released his novel Storm Boy in 1964, in which the three lead characters were all outsiders, it seems logical to think that Thiele used personal experiences to tell such a fantastic story.

The story of Hideaway Tom, Fingerbone Bill, Mike; the Storm Boy and three pelicans.

In 1976 long time TV director Henri Safran released what appears to be his first feature film in Storm Boy which went on to become a classic having won four awards, including ‘Best Film’ at that year’s AFI awards (now AACTA Awards) and nominated for a further six.

The film was also an Australian box office hit, earning $2,645,000 at the time in cinemas. That translates to just under $17,000,000 today – just slightly more than what the 2021 Australian film The Dry earned at the Australian box office. The Dry’s performance has been celebrated country-wide within the film industry.

Storm Boy (1976) was a great achievement.

Thiele’s perceived life is seen within the film. A child on the outside, the themes of teaching, learning and understanding are shining through strongly.

Where this film fits within reconciliation is its portrayal of its Aboriginal character, Fingerbone Bill; portrayed by the incredible David Gulpilil.

The character is not really written in a stereotypical way, but rather paints Fingerbone Bill as just another outsider, but a friend to Hideaway Tom and Storm Boy. Nothing is made of his Aboriginality aside from a few yarns about why he is on the outside. But it is not a feature of the film.

Fingerbone Bill is just a bloke, an outsider, and when Storm Boy and his father need help, Fingerbone is there to help.

The relationship begins to build when Storm Boy finds three baby pelicans that need to be raised, as their parent was killed by hunters. But it is not only one relationship that builds, it the relationship between Tom and his son Storm Boy, The relation between Tom and Fingerbone Bill, and of course between Storm Boy and Fingerbone Bill. They all come to appreciate one another through the raising of the pelicans, and their respect for the environment.

The film is well helmed by Safran, while the film is nearly 50 years old, how could it not look great having been filmed in the Coorong, on Ngarrindjeri country. But it is Safran’s ability to give the characters such breath of life and not only the human ones (looking at you Mr. Percival),  that really elevated it.

The result was an Australian classic that, inflation considered, out-matches the box office performance of 2021’s second highest film to date (The Dry). The film also gave David Gulpilil one of his earliest roles, helping him become one of the most recognisable Aboriginal faces, and names today.

Storm Boy was remade in 2019, filmed in the same place and starred Jai Courtney, Finn Little, Trevor Jamieson and Geoffrey Rush. However, the remake was not as well received as Safran’s 1976 adaption, which is proving to be a film for ages.

 

Written by Travis Akbar