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Sweet Country:"An Australian Western"

Celebrate NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week is an Australian observance lasting from the first Sunday in July until the following Sunday. NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. It has its origins in the 1938 Day of Mourning, becoming a week-long event in 1975.

Due to the long-lasting nature of film imagery, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.


Sweet Country (2017)

Westerns are quintessentially American. Australian director Warwick Thornton has taken the conventions of the Hollywood Western, overlaid them with an Australian veneer sourced from the Australian outback frontier of the late 1920s and created a film that is indelibly Australian.

When Aboriginal farmhand Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) kills white settler Harry March, a hunt ensues that leads to Sam’s trial. The events that lead up to the shooting, Sam and his partner Lizzie’s (Natassia Gorey-Furber) escape to country and Sam’s trial before a judge in a small Northern Territory town are told simply yet contain complex notions and underpin stories about the land and the people who inhabit them, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

The mood and pace of the film respects the sense of timelessness the police, trackers and the accused experience when they enter the natural landscape. The film slowly builds to events and conclusions that are not what they may appear to be.

You must remember that this was a time when Aboriginal people were considered no more important than the animal stock on a farmer’s property. Harry March (Ewen Leslie), in fact, asks Fred Smith (Sam Neill) where Smith got his “black stock”. Smith replies, “We’re all equals here”. Smith is an exception in the expression of his views.

The clash and strain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures is pinpointed in the story of an Aboriginal boy, Philomac (Tremayne & Trevon Dooley), who strives to acquire the goods and trinkets possessed by the white settlers while being intertwined with the culture of traditional Aboriginal living.

All the standard Western characters are present, from the Indigenous elders Archie (John Gibson) and Sam, preacher Fred Smith, and settlers Harry March and Mick Kennedy (Tom Wright), to the local constabulary Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and the saloon owner Nell (Anni Finsterer).

Characters are not simply cast as villains and heroes. Even the basest individuals exchange moments of mutual concern while acknowledging the hardships of the extreme conditions in which they live and survive. Thornton’s decision to use non-professional actors in his film enhances the experience.

The notion of the American Wild West and its rule of law and frontier justice are complemented in Warwick Thornton’s film by Aboriginal lore.

The term “sweet country” is reflective of the connection that Sam and Archie have for their country and their strength of character and deeply held beliefs; it is equally ironic in its statement that the land is being purloined by white settlers who don’t have the same relationship with the people and their land.

Thornton’s cinematography and direction are superb. His framing of landscapes and characters is loaded with atmosphere and expressions that talk more loudly than words. You can smell the natural world and the intrusion of the settlers. Hygiene clearly was not uppermost on the settlers' agenda.

I would happily watch Sweet Country again to gain even more from subsequent immersion in the film. Sweet Country is fabulous storytelling and a superb film in all regards. Essential viewing. Unmissable, as in, don't miss it.

Official Trailer Sweet Country

WATCH Sweet Country:

Available to Buy/Rent/Stream on Apple TV+, Netflix, SBS On Demand, Google Play, Prime Video Store and Stan. Check availability in your region.

Link to all available video-on-demand online services:


Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards

Best Film

Best Lead Actor

Best Direction

Best Original Screenplay

Best Cinematography

Best Editing




The Beach (The Beach is an Australian television lifestyle documentary series)

Director Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah & Sweet Country) is alone and lonely; he is angry for letting himself get to this stage in life. Confused, he forces himself to survive on the beach, alone.

This six-part Australian series follows filmmaker Warwick Thornton (Sweet Country) as he embarks on a personal journey to reconnect with nature by living on an isolated beach. Physical, mental and spiritual changes lead to a transformative experience as Thornton lives his remote days relying on the land - just like his ancestors, the Kaytetye people, did.

Available to stream only on SBS On Demand:


Acknowledgement of Country

Screen Speak acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present.


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