On 27 May 1967, 97.7% of white voters in Australia approved “the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled ‘An Act to alter the Constitution’ so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population?’ This is the background to September.
Set in the sweeping Western Australian wheat belt in 1968, September tells the story of two 16 year old boys, one black and one white, whose pure and unaffected friendship begins to fall apart under the pressures of a changing social and political climate.
Ed (Xavier Samuel) and Paddy (Clarence John Ryan) have been best friends for as long as they remember. While Ed goes to school, Paddy works with his father, Michael (Kelton Pell) labouring without pay on the farm owned by Ed’s father, Rick (Kieran Darcy-Smith).
Ed and Paddy spend their afternoons together – laughing, reading, smoking and building their own make-shift boxing ring in the golden wheat fields where they spar each day and dream of future glories. Their two families maintain a friendship while grappling with social and racial boundaries.
But the winds of change, however, soon blow their way – both from within and from without. A new girl, Amelia (Mia Wasikowska) moves into the neighbourhood, increasingly becoming the focus of Ed’s attention. At the same time, the national Aboriginal rights movement is gathering momentum and, when white farmers are finally forced to start paying wages to Aboriginal workers, the delicate, though unjust equilibrium of Michael and Rick’s relationship cannot be sustained. For the first time, Paddy starts to see things as they really are – and the result is heartbreaking.
Peter Carstairs has directed a very fine film. It starts out slowly, maybe a little too much so, but this enables the viewer to enter into the wide, dry and languid landscape of the Australian outback.
Beautifully acted, the story is simple and straightforward: a cash of cultures in an era of change. But it is also about the consciencization of a young white Australian lad about the nature of racism and how he could so easily replicate it in his lifetime. Ed and Paddy both have to decide whether they will be their fathers.
But these young men embody the hopes of a nation, a dream we are still hoping to realise. This film helps us do so.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting