Two thirds of the way through Ivan Sen’s Goldstone a brothel madame combats the defiance of one of her trafficked girls with some discouraging advice: you can’t fight the world, you can’t change it, you can only find the place you fit within it. That worldview is put squarely to the test throughout Sen’s measured and deceptively nuanced new genre flick, an Outback crime drama that continues the story of Aboriginal detective Jay Swan (Aaron Petersen) after 2013’s similar but slightly less compelling Mystery Road.
Jay’s existential angst this time around is more deep-rooted. In Mystery Road, Sen effectively evoked the limbo that an indigenous police officer finds himself in – trusted neither by his white police colleagues nor a rightly suspicious Aboriginal populace. In Goldstone, Jay is bereft after the death of his daughter, drunkenly pulling into the eponymous township on the trail of a missing persons case, but himself equally lost. Rather than the familiarity and distrust of the first film, he’s now an actual outsider blowing into a hard town populated with hard people. The local sheriff, Josh (Alex Russell) is comfortable with where he is, but Jay’s arrival stirs things up and Josh begins to question the blind eye he’s been turning to the dubious partnership between the mayor (Jackie Weaver) and the manager of the local goldmine (David Wenham).
“They all look for the goldstone and they worship the same god,” explains local elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), “Money God”. The goldmine begat the town so it will come as no surprise that its influence is felt like a corruption in the barren landscape. Continuing a theme from Mystery Road the wilds of the Outback are spoken about in fearful tones and stories of large and dangerous wild dogs have followed Jay, more as metaphysical threat than a real physical one. The one time he does fear that something is out there and rushes for his gun, he may or may not come face-to-face with a spirit who guides him, suggesting it might not be the Aboriginal people that the land is fixing to evict.
The film wrangles with Australia’s colonial past on the periphery and alludes to it through the young pan-Asian group of girls that are flown in and forced to service the mine workers to pay off debts, and form part of the central narrative. More than one reference is made to the recent spate of suicides by young people from the Aboriginal community – a very real and tragic epidemic – and the running of booze into the dry area in order to loosen morals. The typical behaviour of those from the community is described in one exchange as “drinkin’ an’ fightin’”. It’s a description that also applies to Jay Swan as he dishes out his own brand of justice, but it’s in his search for his own people and a land to call his own that Jay’s story, and all of those marginalised characters in Goldstone, really resonates.
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Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson