Diversity on Film
Cameleers from Afghanistan, Persia and the Punjab region straddling India and what is now Pakistan — all dismissively referred to as “Ghans” by white settlers — were brought to Britain’s then-colony Australia to help cart goods through the desert, often on an indentured basis.
“It’s a hugely important part of Australian history that not only is the rest of the world not so aware of, but Australians themselves aren’t aware,” MacKay said.
Their interaction with local Aboriginal populations mean that some Australians today living in remote desert communities do not know the true history of their Sikh and Afghan last names.
Five languages are spoken in the film besides English: two Afghan languages (Pashto and Dari), Punjabi, Cantonese and Badimaya, a language of Aboriginal Australians.
Because the last speaker of Badimaya died one year before shooting, a team had to piece together appropriate dialogue with the Aboriginal community.
“It was certainly a much more exhaustive and lengthy process but also a great deal more meaningful because we felt we were really doing our bit from stopping this language from vanishing off the face of the earth,” MacKay said.
MacKay said the timing of the film — arriving in a year in when non-white talent is being actively sought out by the Western movie industry — was accidental, but fortunate.
“You’re walking in the shoes of this Muslim character. Pitching a story like that in 2014 when diversity on screen wasn’t such a big agenda was tricky and not a lot of people were interested,” he acknowledged.
“So I’ve bizarrely enough watched the world come more in alignment with that.”