At a gas station/convenience store, Charlie and the woman grab a case of alcohol. The white cashier watches them with suspicion. He asks for ID, seeming to disapprove. Charlie hands over his ID, which is a single-sided laminated card. The cashier scrutinizes it and then scans it on a machine and hands it back, selling them the alcohol. On the way out, the woman comments on how Charlie really isn’t banned from buying alcohol. The woman invites him “home” to have a drink.
While walking, they see two white police officers strewing possessions around a dry grass field nearby. “Go back to your community,” they say to people the camera can’t see. The woman panics and says to hide the grog because she is banned and they’ll both get in trouble, Charlie for giving alcohol to her. After the police leave Charlie learns that the woman lives outdoors. She calls other unhoused Aboriginal people to come out of the tall grass. She says the police should just shoot them like they did in the old days.
Charlie spends the night drinking with the people, who are shy but happy to have something to drink. In the morning, Charlie wakes outdoors on a mattress among other sleeping people. His face is contemplative and grieving in the morning. He takes the woman to the ATM and they take out more money and buy more alcohol. He spends another night drinking and sleeping rough. In the morning, he opens a beer while the others sleep soundly. He and the woman smile as they walk to the liquor store gas station the next day.
At the urban encampment, Pete and Lulu sit across from Charlie. They tell him he has brought shame to them. Pete says, “She’s wrong skin for you.” Lulu says Charlie has broken the law and is drinking poison that rots the brain. The men walk away slowly, discussing how Charlie just “helped himself to a woman.”
Charlie runs out of money at the ATM. The woman uses her card to get cash. The white cashier at the gas station tells Charlie and the woman that the cops told him to report any suspicious grog purchases. He warns Charlie to be careful, and says they are talking about changing the law to imprison for eighteen months anyone providing banned people with drink. In the next scene, police cars drive toward the encampment. The circle of the people drinking scatter. Charlie picks up a shovel and shouts as he smashes the cruiser’s windshield. Luke steps out and begins assaulting Charlie, punching him in the stomach while saying, “I trusted you, you useless black bastard.”
In the next scene, Aboriginal men are being rounded up. Luke lectures Charlie, saying he has learned his lesson to not go soft on a “blackfella.” Luke says he can’t sit on the grass all day and call it the old times. Charlie tells him to fuck off and says he is still trying to change their culture. The scene cuts to Charlie being sentenced in a courtroom. His hair is combed and tied back. He wears a suit and tie. When found guilty of the charges, which Charlie doesn’t deny and doesn’t show remorse for, the white judge asks him if he has any remarks. Charlie speaks in his language, translating to English that his home is his country, and that he was living peacefully in his home and the police came to throw him out.
Charlie is transported to prison, where a white man shaves his long gray hair and beard with an electric clipper. Charlie sits with a stoic expression. The scene cuts to Charlie standing among other new inmates in green standard-issue prison T-shirts and khaki shorts. Next, he loads bedding into industrial laundry machines while guards monitor. For food he is served mashed potato and a ladleful of mashed peas. Lights go out and Charlie lies down on his bunk. Pete comes to visit Charlie. They sit in silence on the same bench. Pete says it is hard to talk to him when he doesn’t look like himself. Pete says he got a license for his rifle. Charlie says nothing and Pete leaves. The routine of Charlie’s prison life repeats as before.
Charlie’s white parole officer says upon release he’ll have to report to her and that he’ll be banned from buying alcohol or associating with other banned drinkers. She arranges for him to be transferred to a dry house as a transition from prison. That night Charlie stands awake after lights out, looking through his cell bars. He says, “I want to go home now, back to my own country, where my place is.” The scene fades to shots of the natural landscape, and then to Charlie, his hair long again, sitting before his fire on the ground. Charlie removes several cigarettes from behind his ear and throws them into the fire.
Charlie sits before another small fire deeper in the bush. The elderly man and Pete come sit with him. They joke about how Pete is always finding Charlie in the bush. The elderly man and Pete light cigarettes. The elderly man asks Charlie again if he is going to teach the children to dance. Charlie says no, and tells him to ask Bobby. Pete says Bobby has been taken to hospital in Darwin because his lungs are bad from smoking too much. Soft piano music plays and Charlie looks stricken. Charlie then says that he would like to teach the children how to dance. He is smiling.
Charlie sits surrounded by men and young boys. He explains how when he was a boy, he traveled to Sydney with other boys to dance for the Queen of England. He says many people were at the Opera House. He then shows them how to dance while others beat a rhythm and play the didgeridoo. The dancing involves chanting, beating the ground, crouching, and jumping while low to the ground. The scene cuts to the same dance after nightfall. There is a fire and Charlie and the boys are shirtless. They have white on their skin and red shorts on. The film ends with a stationary shot of Charlie sitting alone before a fire. He looks wistful and contemplative, but content. The fire crackles and birds sing. The credits roll in the right half of the screen.
At the bank machine, Charlie meets an Aboriginal woman who needs Charlie’s help buying alcohol, as she herself is banned because of a law that prohibits people with alcohol-related offenses from being anywhere near drink. While it had been unclear to the audience what Charlie intended to do with his cash, the woman’s question about whether he is going to buy “grog” seems to make him change his mind and go with her.
Racial animus arises when Charlie and the woman go to purchase beer. Because they are Aboriginal, the white gas station attendant looks upon them with suspicion and assumes that Charlie’s I.D., when scanned, will show that he has an alcohol-related offense on his record. However, Charlie is clear to buy liquor, and the man has no choice but to sell to him. Charlie remains calm through the exchange, perhaps because he is unfamiliar with life outside his community.
De Heer continues to develop the themes of racial animus, ongoing settler colonialism, and substance abuse when the woman brings Charlie to the outdoor area where she lives with other Aboriginal drinkers. When they arrive, white police are throwing people’s possessions around and shouting for them to return to their community, an overt hostility that suggests the unhoused people are routinely harassed by police. In a glib remark, the woman says she wishes the police would just murder them like they used to.
Although Charlie appears horrified by the condition these people live in, he joins their modest outlaw community, providing alcohol from them to drink despite the personal risk involved in giving liquor to banned people. The shots of Charlie staring in grief toward the distance reveals the continued isolation he feels even when surrounded by people. However, he is reticent and unyielding when Lulu and Pete visit to reprimand him for disgracing himself by descending into alcoholism. Charlie continues on his destructive path of substance abuse until the police arrive. Rather than scatter like the others, Charlie defiantly smashes the police cruiser’s windshield. In an instance of situational irony, Luke, the cop with whom Charlie earlier traded friendly jibes, now reveals the racial hatred he feels toward Charlie, attacking the elderly man while calling him a “black bastard.”
Charlie’s isolation reaches a new low as he undergoes the monotony of life in prison. In time, his stubborn resolve wears and Charlie wishes to return to his community. Back among his people, Charlie becomes again a solitary figure sitting before a small fire. Lulu and Pete find him, jokingly bringing attention to how often Pete has had to track Charlie throughout the film. Lulu again brings up the idea of teaching the children how to dance. But when Charlie suggests Bobby teach them, he learns Bobby has been taken to a hospital in Darwin. In an instance of situational irony, Bobby suffers from the same lung condition as Charlie.
Finally realizing he is the last person who can pass on the disappearing cultural practice of traditional dance to the younger generation, Charlie happily agrees. The film closes with a scene of Charlie repeating the story of how he once danced for the Queen. Rather than the shy, inward way he expressed it earlier in the film, Charlie now tells the story full of pride and energy. Engaged with his body and spirit in a way the audience has not seen apart from the brief elation he experienced after catching and eating a fish, Charlie reconnects to his community by passing on his traditional knowledge. With this ending, de Heer concludes the film by underscoring the importance of community and the need to retain Indigenous cultural practices in settler-colonial states.