In Charlie's Country, cigarettes are a symbol of the detrimental consequences of colonial occupation of Australia. While passing the police station at the beginning of the film, Charlie resentfully accuses the white man of having brought poor health to his people with several foreign vices: "You come from far away and bring us alcohol, ganja, tobacco…all bad!" Charlie has had to give up smoking because his lungs have been damaged by years of tobacco addiction. Although Charlie takes cigarettes from a local man while passing by, he does not smoke. Instead, Charlie tosses the cigarettes whole into his fire, his decision not to smoke them resembling a ritual offering.
The Bush (Symbol)
The bush (the undeveloped hinterlands of Australia) to which Charlie escapes is a symbol of Aboriginal Australians' traditional relationship with the land. Feeling alienated from life within his heavily policed community, Charlie tries to fend for himself in the bush to reconnect with the traditional hunting practices of his people and live with a freedom denied to him in the community. However, he experiences difficulty, with limited food available and much of the traditional survival knowledge now lost. In this way, the bush emphasizes the difficulty of reconnecting to the land when colonial influences have displaced people from their territory and sought to destroy traditional cultural practices.
Performing at the Sydney Opera House (Symbol)
Throughout the film, Charlie remembers how he performed a traditional dance for the Queen of England at the opening of the Sydney Opera House. This memory is a symbol of Charlie's pride. As an aging, lonely man, Charlie goes back in his memory so often to remind himself of his former identity as a talented performer who had the honor of representing his culture to the Queen herself. While the memory seems to bring up grief for Charlie when he is at his lowest, at the end of the film he recounts how he danced for the Queen to the young men to whom he is passing on the traditional routine. In this scene, Charlie's energetic retelling reveals the full significance of the memory.
The traditional dancing that Charlie teaches to the young men at the end of the film is a symbol of the spiritual fulfillment that comes with preserving ties to Yolngu heritage. As Charlie and his friends grow older, they realize that younger generations are at risk of losing connection to the cultural traditions of their people. Although Charlie resists passing on the tradition when asked initially, he realizes that without him to do so, the knowledge might die with him. While teaching the boys at the end of the film, Charlie taps into a pride, energy, and purpose that speaks to the spiritual engagement inherent to the dance ritual.
Alcohol Ban (Symbol)
The government-imposed ban on drinking for people with charges related to drunkenness is a symbol of colonial oppression and hypocrisy. Disproportionally levied against Aboriginal people, the ban on possession of liquor is evidence of how the Australian government unfairly penalizes and targets the Aboriginal population without addressing the underlying social issues that can cause and exacerbate substance abuse. Rather than working to create policy that helps problem drinkers attain sober, stable lives, the prohibition drives drinking underground, putting people such as those Charlie meets in Darwin in ever-more precarious circumstances.
Charlie’s Country Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Charlie’s Country is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.