The texts I will refer to are “Rabbit Proof Fence” (RPF), a film by Phillip Noyce, “immigrant chronicle” a collection of poems by Peter Skrzynecki, and documentary “Through Australia Eyes” (TAE) by William Fitzwater.
A sense of belonging arises from the connection and disconnection between people, culture and communities. In IC, the persona is confused about his cultural identity. He struggles to recognise his cultural identity, which is similar to Ellen Youie in TAE, who does not feel completely Australian or completely Chinese. Whereas, in RPF, Aboriginal people are very clear about their cultural identity.
My thesis is that one’s strong connection to family, communities, culture and land provides them a strong sense of belonging, which can ultimately influence one’s emotional and physical well-being. Without the feeling of connection, one may experience confusion of self-identity, loss of direction and feels insecure.
There are also many barriers, which prevent one from feeling belong to their culture, such as distance and language, which we see in these texts that people are struggling and facing challenges created by these obstacles. These texts all powerfully explore the concept of belonging and the centrality of culture through a variety of film and poetic techniques.
RPF: Opening scene
The name of the film, “Rabbit-Proof Fence” is a metaphor stands for the barrier that alienates Indigenous Australians from the White Australians. This stands for the notion of alienation, which is essentially the opposite of belonging. Therefore, this rabbit-proof fence acts as a guide for Molly, Gracie and Daisy to connect with their family and place where the sense of belonging can be explored.
A character’s traits are created through their words and actions. In RPF, Molly’s strong connection to the land and her family is showed in the opening sequence.
The tracking aerial shot of Australian landscape with Molly’s voiceover in her own Aboriginal language, this shows her connection with her culture and land.
The close-up shot filming Molly’s mother embracing her, she looks at the bird flying in the sky, and tells Molly the spiritual bird will always look after you. This scene highlights Molly’s relationship with her family, which creates a feeling of Aboriginal kinship and intimate relationship between Aboriginal individuals, families and their land. This enhances Molly’s sense of belonging, and this scene also highlights Aboriginal beliefs and values. The opening scene of the film shows the significance of one’s connection to family, culture and land in fostering one’s sense of belonging, which provides them the feeling of security and enhances their self-esteem.
IC – Feliks Skrzynecki
The poem “Feliks Skrzynecki” explores both aspect of belonging and not belonging. This poem is in tribute to persona’s father, Feliks, who has a strong feeling of connection to his homeland, Poland. Whereas the persona himself is confused about his cultural identity.
The first stanza begins with the line, “My gentle father”, which illustrates the relationship between father and son. The use of relative pronoun “my” demonstrates persona’s feeling of his father belongs to him.
The simile “Loved his garden like an only child” explores Feliks’ strong sense of belonging to his garden; perhaps the only place he feels belongs, and reminds him of his homeland in Australia. His garden is the place where he “spent years walking its perimeter”. The word “perimeter” in the hyperbole symbolically refers to Feliks’ boundaries of belonging in Australia. This suggests one’s physical environment does not necessarily indicate that one belongs.
The use of negative connotations “too violently”, “that formal address” and “I never got used to” highlights the persona’s confusion and frustration to his father’s culture, which shows his resistance to belong. However, his father’s strong connection to his culture is evidenced in his conversation with his Polish friends. Their conversation contains their past in Poland, which bonds them with each other in Australia. The persona feels excluded from their conversation is because he cannot emotionally and physically connect to what they are saying.
Feliks is juxtaposed with his son, the persona, who begins to lose connection with his father’s culture, as he is moving “further and further south of Hadrian’s Wall”. This line symbolically emphasises the cultural barrier between the persona and his father.
The poem “Feliks Skrzynecki” explores the role of cultural identity is crucial for an individual to gain their sense of belonging.
IC – Postcard
Peter’s confusion and uncertainty about his cultural identity is further emphasis in the poem “Postcard”. He constantly resists connecting with his Polish cultural heritage, but there’s always a force pulling him back. The postcard of Warsaw “sent by a friend” “haunts” him “since its arrival.” The word “haunts” suggests the persona’s unease and discomfort feeling towards his father’s place of origin. He does not have any emotional feeling that he should have towards his cultural heritage. The repetitions of the line “I never knew you” again create distance between the persona himself and Warsaw. The rhetorical question “What’s my choice to be?” restates his frustration, as he cannot control his feeling of belonging to a place his related to. The line “And refuse to answer” clearly reinforces his alienation and rejection to his unfamiliar cultural heritage and the city, Warsaw. The feeling of alienation emerges from his lack of direct experience in Warsaw, contrasting with Molly’s experience of her land and Feliks’ past life in Poland.
TAE – Opening sequence
Similarly, Ellen Youie in the documentary “Through Australian Eyes: China episode” is also struggling to find her cultural identity and sense of belonging. In the opening sequence, there is a close-up shot of Ellen playing the piccolo with her voiceover speaking in an Australian accent: “One of the closest links I have with Australians is through the Moomba Youth Band.” She refers to “Australians” as if they are separated from her. The Moomba Youth Band creates connection between Ellen and Australia, just like Feliks, his garden is the only place he feels connected to in Australia. However, Ellen said, “I don’t feel completely Australian but I don’t feel completely Chinese either.” This emphasises her issue of loss of identity, and creates a feeling of not belonging, therefore she goes on a physical journey to find where her roots lie. It is difficult for individuals to possess a sense of belonging when they are unsure of their own identity.
Language is one of the most important features for an individual to connect with a particular culture or country. Without the ability to speak or being restricted to speak with a particular language will disconnect one from that culture.
RPF – Moore River Settlement
After the force separation of the three girls from their family and place, they were sent to the Moore River Settlement Camp. When the girls communicate with each other in Aboriginal language, the nun shout harshly, “We don’t use that jabber here, you speak English.” The use of colloquial language “jabber” reflects the rejection and disrespect attitude towards the girls Aboriginality from the white society. The girls are forbidden to use their Aboriginal language, which powerfully disconnect them from their culture heritage, and create an unpleasant atmosphere in the camp where they physically and emotionally do not belong. In Australia, most Indigenous people identify strongly with a traditional language identity. Cultural heritage and knowledge is passed on throughout each generation by language. Language plays a role in maintaining one’s wellbeing, self-esteem and a strong sense of belonging.
TAE – Ellen in Canto/Lojow
Similarly, Ellen Youie experience difficulties to connect with people in Canton because she is unable to speak Cantonese. When she was in Canton, she said “Saturday morning in Canton and I can easily lost myself in the crowd. The bad thing is I can’t communicate with any of them because I don’t speak the language.” This suggests her willingness and desire to belong, but disappointment because she cannot find any connection due to language barrier. In the scene when Ellen visits her great aunt in her mother’s village, the camera shows a female translator sit besides to assist Ellen to communicate with her great aunt. She says in a regret tone, “Meeting my great aunt was a memorable experience and I am sorry I could not speak to her in Cantonese.” Being unable to speak Cantonese blocks Ellen from her cultural heritage, and separates her from the community in Canton. These scenes effectively indicate language is a huge barrier to one’s cultural identity and sense of belonging.
In conclusion, the three texts effectively communicate different aspects of belonging through a variety of film and poetic techniques. In evidence, one’s cultural identity determines where they belong, which is through connection with a particular culture where one’s family is related. At the same time, there are many barriers that prevent one from having their sense of belonging to their families, cultures, communities and land. Language keeps people connected to culture and strengthens their feelings of pride and self worth. One’s strong sense of belonging will keep them well physically and emotionally.