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Vacant Possession

Vacant Possession (Margot Nash, 1995) wr. Margot Nash, dp Dion Beebe, ed. Veronika Jenet; Pamela Rabe, John Stanton, Toni Scanlan, Linden Wilkinson, Rita Bruce, Olivia Patten as Millie, who provides the commentary on the actual relationship of white and black; John Stanton, the father, has PTSD or 'shell-shock', following WW2 air crash with loss of crew; 95 min.

You may never have heard of this, which is a pity. Vacant possession = terra nullius, and it's actually set in modern Botany Bay. I hope it's not forgotten; it's very good.

... we can see that Vacant Possession is very much a 'white story', and Nash asserts herself that this is what she perceived as the strength of the film. That is whilst the film deals with the 'difficulty and ambivalence of the relationship between white Australians and the land, and between indigenous peoples and colonisers, the film doesn't as such attempt to tell 'Aboriginal stories'. Nash states herself that: 'I came to understand that as a white person I couldn't tell Aboriginal stories. That's for Aboriginal people to do (Corbett, 1995:18). Nash also talks about this process in one interview, about the difficulties of being overtly 'politically correct' only ending up in 'cliche land'. Nash therefore acknowledges the difficulties that come with her position, but this is the one criticism (that I am aware of), that was made of the film. Anna Dzenis, in her review points to moments where the film was 'heavy handed', 'wearing its heart too much on its sleeve' (Dzenis, 1996:54). I would agree with Dzenis that there were rather self aware or obviously 'well intended' moments in the film, like Dzenis, however I would also agree that by no means was the film's 'overall vision' destroyed by these moments. Carly Harper.

Vacant Possession is like a love letter to the land. It is a love letter that acknowledges the difficulty and ambivalence of the relationship between white Australia and the land, and between indigenous people and colonisers. It also hints at a different connection that Aboriginal Australians have with the land, a bond not confined to the dream of owning a house. Pamela Rabe, quoted in Corbett 1996: 18.


Claire Corbett 1996, 'Sacred land and haunted houses', Cinema Papers, no. 104, June: 18-21.

Anna Dzenis 1996, 'Vacant Possession—film review', Cinema Papers, no. 110, June: 52, 54.

Catherine Simpson 2000, Imagined Geographies: Women's Negotiation of Space in Contemporary Australian Cinema, PhD dissertation, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia.

Garry Gillard | New: 27 October, 2012 | Now: 27 December, 2019