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WILLABERTA JACK [from the CAAMA Collection]

Year: 2007

Classification: Exempt - Ronin Recommends: G

Runtime: 26 min

Produced In: Australia

Directed By: David Tranter

Produced By: David Tranter

Language: English narration, Alywarre dialogue with English subtitles

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"Frankly nobody should review or write about SWEET COUNTRY until they have seen this remarkable film". - Geoff Gardner, Film Alert (March 2018)

WILLABERTA JACK is the outstanding short film that inspired filmmaker David Tranter to expand the story into a screenplay for the award-winning feature film SWEET COUNTRY (2017). Tranter's original documentary is a true story of the Northern Territory in the 1920s when it was Australia's last frontier – rugged and harsh.

Willaberta Jack and Harry Henty were both cattlemen – one Aboriginal, one white. Henty was a returned veteran of World War One who took up a station near Hatches Creek. Henry was regarded as an aggressive and hard man who would often beat his Aboriginal station hands and put them in chains. Tracking a runaway stockman in 1929, Henty wrongly accused Willaberta Jack of protecting the escapee. Jack was a proud stockman who was the trusted manager of a neighbouring station. Henty attempted to force his way into the house of the absent station-owner to look for the escapee and in the ensuing fracas, Henty was shot and killed. Willaberta Jack, fearing unjust treatment under white law, vanished into the bush with his wife. Jack eluded search parties for several months before giving himself up to the police. He was arrested and taken to Darwin in chains for trial.

This atmospheric re-telling of Willaberta Jack's story, and the tragic aftermath of his trial, is a riveting account of the harshness of outback life at that time, and of the perils of being a black man who challenged the white man's dominance.

The film was supported through the Australian Government's programme for the Maintenance of Indigenous Language and Records, through the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts.

  • Nominated for Best Documentary - Winnipeg Indigenous Film Festival, 2007.


"Sweet Country comes from my family. It was story from up in the Territory, north of Alice Springs and Philomac was my grandfather. I made a documentary about him and his older brother called Willaberta Jack.

Then I was in the Tiwi Islands with Steve McGregor and Murray Lui working on a film as the sound recordist. After the shoot we went back to the house and had a cup of tea and Murray said that Willaberta Jack story, that would make a great movie. And I said yeah – but I'm not a writer. But I wanted to try so I went and bought myself a couple of sketch books, and I started drawing the story in pictures and it took me about two weeks.

Then I sat down with Stephen Cleary who helped me type it up into a treatment. I took it to the Ignite Screenwriting workshop and they helped me get 128 pages written in four days. I was real proud of myself. In the end we did three drafts and I sent each draft to David Jowsey and Steven Mcgregor, and Steven was the one who got the script to the point of making it.

Me personally, I'm just happy to share the story with Australia, with the rest of the world. I'm just pinching myself too, you know, there's been great reviews. But I just really hope that Australia will embrace it, and have a look at their past because it's not just our story, it's everybody's story."

- David Tranter, director of Willaberta Jack, and screenwriter and sound recordist of Sweet Country.

Story-tellers: Donald Kemarr Thompson and Alec Petyarr Peterson

Director - David Tranter
Writer - Steve McGregor
Photography - Allan Collins, Warwick Thornton, Jason Ramp, Colin Richards, Robyn Nardoo
Sound recording - David Tranter
Editor - Dena Curtis
Music - David Page
Translations - David Moore
Narrator - Paul Henness
Development producer - Trisha Morton-Thomas
Series producers Barbara Clifford, Elizabeth Warning
Executive producers - Rachel Clements, Citt Williams