What is the significance of "the bush" in Charlie's Country?
The undeveloped hinterlands around Charlie's community represent Aboriginal Australians' traditional relationship with the land. As an Indigenous man whose attempts to live as he likes are hindered by racist police officers and condescending, unhelpful bureaucrats, Charlie is compelled to give up any society that involves white-settler interference. The bush is where Charlie believes he can reconnect with his people's traditional hunting practices and attain the freedom denied to him in the outstation community. The difficulties he encounters while fending for himself in the bush speak to how colonialism in Australia has severed people from their territory and destroyed the place-based knowledge they once maintained. In this way, living freely in the bush exists as a fantasy for Charlie, who cannot so easily escape the damaging colonial influence imposed upon his life and identity.
What is the significance of the Sydney Opera House in Charlie's Country?
As one of the film's key symbols, Charlie's memory of performing at the Sydney Opera House plays a central role in Charlie's character backstory. Several times throughout the film, Charlie examines a wrinkled photograph of himself as a young boy. He speaks to himself, talking about how he danced for the Queen of England when he was a boy. The event marks a confident and happy point in his life that he returns to in his memory when feeling sorry for himself. Although he tries to rekindle his pride with the memory, the reminder of who he once was seems to have the inverse effect, bringing up only grief. The pride and significance of the memory isn't activated until Charlie tells the story to the young men in his community while passing on the traditional dance he performed. To embody the memory in this way allows Charlie to regain energy from his past, rather than wallow in self-pity.
What role does the importance of community play in relation to Charlie's failure to survive in the bush?
Feeling alienated and rebellious after police confiscate his hunting tools, Charlie tries to live in the bush, which Old Lulu refers to as a "natural supermarket." The idea of living without interference from white settler society is appealing to Charlie, who has a nostalgic attachment to the time he spent in the bush as a boy. However, his optimism is shaken when the abundant food he imagined amounts to a small root and a single barramundi fish. Although he is skilled at hunting, Charlie makes the mistake of trying to fend for himself, lacking the community support his ancestors would likely have had as they lived in the bush. Having to hunt, cook, build shelter, and tend the fire proves too much for Charlie to do on his own. As a result of his rejection of community, Charlie starves. Underscoring the importance of community, Pete appears above Charlie to rescue him just as he is on the point of death.
What is the significance of Charlie having quit smoking?
Charlie's addiction to smoking is significant because it is one of several examples of how colonial influences have led to negative health outcomes for Aboriginal Australians. Tobacco is one of the several vices Charlie lists when passing the police, whom he sees as a symbol of an ongoing colonial presence: "You come from far away and bring us alcohol," he shouts, "ganja, tobacco…all bad!" During a checkup with the doctor who comes to the community early in the film, the audience learns that Charlie's lungs are in poor condition due to his years of tobacco and cannabis smoking. This revelation explains why, in a previous scene, Charlie helps himself to cigarettes from a young man's pack and then burns them in his fire, choosing not to smoke them. The full significance of Charlie's resentful attitude toward smoking does not become clear until the audience learns that Charlie harbors a fear of his health deteriorating to the point that he will die in the hospital in Darwin, far from his community. With this information, the audience understands Charlie has quit smoking not just because the doctor recommends it, but because he is morally opposed to how Aboriginals from his community continue to die out of sight, away from their own people.
Rolf de Heer allows the camera to linger on Charlie for extended shots where little happens in the way of action. What effect does this directorial choice have?
The melancholic mood of Charlie's Country is established through static shots of the protagonist's face and body. By allowing the camera to linger on Charlie's often stoic, often contemplative, sometimes mournful expression, de Heer captures the extent to which Charlie is lost in grief. A deeply isolated figure, Charlie is often sitting on the ground before his fire, alone. What he sees in the flames is a mystery to the audience, and perhaps the fire is merely something to focus on in place of other people. The audience is left to speculate as to what thoughts are passing behind his heavily lined, elderly face, but it is clear that Charlie is lost in himself. The effect of leaving the camera rolling on Charlie for so long is that the audience is immersed in Charlie's experience of reality, where time passes slowly, little seems urgent, and there is nothing to look forward to. In this way, the audience comes to feel the depth of Charlie's disconnection from a fulfilling life.