Dispossession and the Making of Jedda

Dispossession and the Making of Jedda

Hollywood in Ngunnawal Country

By Catherine Kevin

Anthem Impact

Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Culture

Anthem Studies in Australian History

Dispossession and the Making of Jedda (1955)' brings together a history of race relations, pastoral boom and film-making. It is a personal account of coming to terms with a history of dispossession and colonial power relations in a place that has offered the author a strong sense of belonging and settler-colonial family heritage.

PDF, 130 Pages


August 2020

£36.00, $64.00

EPUB, 130 Pages


August 2020

£36.00, $64.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
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About This Book

In 1955 ‘Jedda’ was released in Australian cinemas and the international film world, starring Indigenous actors Rosalie Kunoth and Robert Tudawali. That year Eric Bell watched the film in the Liberty Cinema in Yass. Twelve years later he was dismayed to read a newly erected plaque in the main street of the Yass Valley village of Bowning. It plainly stated that the Ngunnawal people, on whose country Bowning stood, had been wiped out by an epidemic of influenza. The local Shire Council was responsible for the plaque; they also employed Bell’s father. The Bells were Ngunnawal people.

The central paradox of 'Dispossession and the Making of Jedda (1955)' is the enthusiasm of a pastoral community, made wealthy by the occupation of Ngunnawal land, for a film that addressed directly the continuing legacy of settler-colonialism, a legacy that was playing out in their own relationships with the local Ngunnawal people at the time of their investment in the film. While the local council and state government agencies collaborated to minimize the visibility of Indigenous peoples, and the memory of the colonial violence at the heart of European prosperity, a number of wealthy and high-profile members of this pastoral community actively sought involvement in a film that would bring into focus the aftermath of colonial violence, the visibility of its survivors and the tensions inherent in policies of assimilation and segregation that had characterized the treatment of Ngunnawal people in their lifetimes.

Based on oral histories, documentary evidence, images and film, 'Dispossession and the Making of Jedda (1955)' explores the themes of colonial nostalgia, national memory and family history. Charles Chauvel’s ‘Jedda’ (1955), a shared artefact of mid-twentieth-century settler-colonialism, is its fulcrum. The book newly locates the story of the genesis of ‘Jedda’ and, in turn, ‘Jedda’ becomes a cultural context and point of reference for the history of race relations it tells.


"This book makes a vital and important contribution to the study of colonialism in Australia and should be considered an indispensable text for scholars in Indigenous Studies, History, Film Studies and Cultural Studies. Its accessible analysis of Jedda makes it an excellent teaching resource for undergraduate and postgraduate courses, especially in Australian Film Studies. — Camille Nurka, Independent scholar, Australian Historical Studies"

This book brilliantly evokes two intersecting histories – the making of Jedda, a remarkable film set in Australia’s north, and the nature of race relations in faraway Ngunnawal country, where those who financed Jedda made their fortunes. In its intimate exploration of the legacies and paradoxes of settler colonialism, it illuminates not only the times it portrays but also our own. — Ann Curthoys, professor emerita, Australian National University

A remarkable and unexpected story. In Catherine Kevin’s telling, Jedda becomes much more than a landmark in Australian film history. The book also brings together the history of her own settler family, who were members of the pastoral elite that financed Jedda, and the larger history of what Whites did to Indigenous people in taking possession of the continent. Jedda is a tragic tale of the spectacular remote outback, but it is also entangled in surprising ways with the dispossession and marginalisation of Aboriginal people in country much closer to the places most white Australians call home. — Frank Bongiorno, professor of history, Australian National University

This engaging book offers a new approach to an iconic Australian film. It narrates the untold histories of both the Yass Valley graziers who financed the film and the Ngunnawal people whose lives uncannily paralleled the colonial and assimilationist themes Jedda explored. Intimate and searching in the questions that it asks, this thoughtful study reveals the complexities of family memory which can both illuminate and suppress uncomfortable histories. — Shino Konishi, senior lecturer, Centre for Western Australian History, University of Western Australia

This is a significant book because it reveals aspects of Australian history that have been hitherto hidden in the memories of descendants of settler-colonial families. The story herein is a remarkable convergence of not only a cast of very notable names from both the Aboriginal community and settler-colonial grazier families but also one of the most important characters in early Australian cinema history, Charles Chauvel. An amazing tale, well written and a good read. — Gary Foley, Professor of History, Moondani Balluk, Victoria University

"In Dispossession and the Making of Jedda, Catherine Kevin offers a quietly compelling account of a paradox that defined settler colonialism in mid-20th century Australia: its fascination with Aboriginality at a distance—on screen and in the scenic centre and north of Australia—alongside its inability to see the ongoing dispossession of Aboriginal people close to home. At the heart of Kevin’s narrative is the glaring disparity she discovered between the taken-for-granted relations of Yass Valley woolgrowers with the Ngunnawal people (who worked in their homes) and the “colonial nostalgia” that drew these same woolgrowers to participate in the adventure of making Jedda. — Felicity Collins, La Trobe University, Journal of Australian Studies, https://doi.org/10.1080/14443058.2020.1836740"

In Dispossession and the Making of Jedda, Catherine Kevin offers a quietly compelling account of a paradox that defined settler colonialism in mid-20th century Australia: its fascination with Aboriginality at a distance—on screen and in the scenic centre and north of Australia—alongside its inability to see (let alone comprehend) the ongoing dispossession of Aboriginal people close to home. — Felicity Collins (2020) Dispossession and the Making of Jedda, Journal of Australian Studies, DOI: 10.1080/14443058.2020.1836740

Author Information

Catherine Kevin is a senior lecturer in history at Flinders University, Australia. She has published on the histories of domestic violence, pregnancy and miscarriage, feminism and maternity, post–World War II migration to Australia and the making of the film ‘Jedda’ (1955). Kevin’s work has appeared in a range of Australian and international journals and edited collections.


Anthem Impact

Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Culture

Anthem Studies in Australian History

Table of Contents

Prologue: ‘Jedda’ (1955): Cultural Icon and Shared Artefact of Mid-Twentieth Century Colonialism; 1. Making ‘Jedda’; 2. ‘Hollywood’ in the ‘Fine Wool Hub’; 3. Looking North: Mrs Toby Browne’s Colonial Nostalgia, ‘Jedda’ and the ‘Opening of the Territory’; 4. Memories of ‘Jedda’ after the National Apology; Epilogue: ‘Bogolong’ Memories: The Vagaries of Family History; Index.


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