Updated: May 10
ARTISTIC RESPONSE to THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON
By Ayomide Abolaji
Blood talks. A siren Song calling for its likeness Will you answer it?
♥ They took away what was yours by chains, chords, collars It’s time to sever
♥ Connection to this Arid land. Let the mountains House you and keep you.
♥ She is a dark horse no other, strong and tender Much to uncover
♥ Ancestral stories make-up the lining of her uterus she births
♥ Her babes. Labour pains, water breaks, blood seeps and leaks You must protect them.
♥ Guard them and guide them These kids are your legacy You are fierce mother
♥ Your mother’s crimson red hair, another’s mother’s skin glistens jewel black
♥ Mary Mary quite contrary, Your lamb’s fleece may be white as fresh snow
♥ But they will never forget your blackness: tar brush paints you dangerous
♥ Fight for her life, yes Fight for her children she will Gun cocked, ready, aim
♥ Fire and moonlight Stardust and fresh brown earth is Their inheritance
♥ They swore your existence criminal You vowed your existence blessing
♥ Take his calloused hand His kindness buries the stench of the enemy
Your son hugs a stranger better than a father Yes, it’s in the genes.
♥ Does their lineage Boast of fortunes With happy endings guaranteed?
♥ What was their happy Ending? Possession of a body not their own?
♥ Pillaging and conquering Sowing seeds of savagery All on their own
♥ Will you scream for them Who say, defeated, there was Always violence?
♥ Are we the weaker sex? Because our bodies tend to be softer?
♥ As if our softness does not flow like water and nourish the growth of their strong roots
♥ As if they do not lap greedily at our wombs
♥ As if our downy flesh was not forged from the sinew of Gaia’s core
♥ They forget that our softness makes us malleable
♥ Malleable enough to morph love into armour
♥ Which historically they have used without discernment
♥ How much longer must we wade in the waters of the outback?
♥ How much longer will our stories be told by pale mouths?
♥ Filtered till all meaning is lost And all that is centred is the white voice?
When will we hear ourselves? Be seen? Be held?
♥ How will we carry ourselves? Like we matter♥ Because we do
♥ Witness us. Witness her.
♥ Born warrior It is woven in her skin It careens through the marrow
♥ No more bowing No more cowering It’s between the eyes
♥ It’s in fingertips on the trigger
♥ Fight for her life Fight for her rights
♥ Fight for her children For her blood and brethren She will
♥ Misogyny tried to silence you. Racism Tried to debase you
♥ Null and void you, make You something you have never Been. So scream bloody murder
♥ Exsanguinate the old version of you Now engulfed by the truth of your DNA Family waits for you Home calls for you.
♥ So holler out your battle cry Make a mockery of the colonialism that threatened to erase you. Watch sex and kin rally around you Black woman. Mother. Daughter. Sister. Wife. You.
♥ Speak. We’re listening. Speak. We can hold this. Far and wide. We hear.
♥ From nameless woman Of a man’s tale, to the Legend: Molly Johnson.
© Ayomide Abolaji
Ayomide Abolaji’s REVIEW of the film
THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON
The poem above is inspired by a visually stunning piece of cinema featuring brilliant wide shots of rolling hills and snowy peaks, along with a warm and crisp cinematography that juxtaposes with the gritty realities of its characters. The first Australian feature film with an Indigenous woman writing, directing and performing the lead role.
Based on the Henry Lawson short story of (almost) the same name, The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson comes to the silver screen in its third medium. With previous success as a play and novel, the film follows the heavily pregnant mother of four, Molly Johnson, and the events that ensue in the absence of her husband when she finds an escaped Indigenous Australian convict (Rob Collins) wounded on her land.
While keeping to “the essence of the Henry Lawson short story and his underlining themes of racism, frontier violence and gender violence” (Purcell, 2022), Purcell injects the film with personal Indigenous stories that she grew up hearing and gives it a layer of verity that might have otherwise been missing.
The dialogue from Yadaka (Collins) and Molly (Purcell), in particular, carries a rhythm and fluidity attributed to seasoned storytellers — paying homage to those present in Purcell’s real life and history. Skin is not just black but “black shining skin in full moonlight”. Every word is purposeful and deliberate. Enhanced further by the silences that are almost as vast as the landscapes captured. Silences that allow the audience to reflect on what has just taken place; to sit in anticipation of what may follow such stillness; to bask in the quiet; or to do all of the above.
Unlike Lawson, by naming the drover’s wife, Purcell instantly bestows the character with an autonomy and identity outside of her husband. This act is important not only because of the feminist issues tackled in the film, but because Molly’s identity – her heritage – is integral to the film’s plot and message. A centring of marginalised and often misrepresented voices, as well as the administration of a hard pill to swallow: it is all still relevant.
Beyond the issues of misogyny, racism and colonialism, The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a film about the fierce love of a mother. In Molly Johnson, Purcell gives us a character who is willing to go to great lengths to ensure the safety and freedom of her children. All one has to do is listen to ‘A Mother’s Scorn’, track 14 on the film’s official soundtrack, (composed by Salliana Seven Campbell) to understand. By having this theme of love threading through the film and showcasing Yadaka as a father figure, Purcell highlights an importance of family and community to Indigenous people.
The film does have some shortcomings, however. There are certain points in the film that can only be likened to being on a rollercoaster and waiting for the exhilaration of a fall that sadly never comes. Some of the characters fall into stereotypes that render them one dimensional and cliché. And as we head to the film’s conclusion the events become predictable.
Nevertheless, none of this takes away from the cultural significance of what Purcell has done. She has created a film that counteracts the erasure of Indigenous Australians and prioritises the female gaze in a male-gaze-saturated genre.The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnsonis an essential disruption.
THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON is available on demand from today, 13 June.
Bibliography Gbogbo, M. (2022) ‘The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a compelling story weaving in present and historical truths’, ABC News Australia, 12 May. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-03/the-drovers-wife-the-legend-of-molly-johnson-leah- purcell/101032364 (Accessed: 8 May 2022)
About Ayomide Abolaji
Ayomide Abolaji is a talented writer/poet, model and co-curator of Vague Culture Club, where her obsession for K-dramas (amongst other media and literature) is given space to flourish. As well as being a crew member at VAGUE, she is a member of the Manchester-based writing charity/collective, Young Identity. She has performed at various events including One Mic Stand at MIF (2019); Deranged Poetesses – an annual event ran by Apples and Snakes’ Stockton division (2019); opened for Benjamin Zephaniah (2019); and Manchester Central Library’s celebration of International Woman’s Day (2020). Gifted with a beautiful voice it is not unusual for Ayomide to accompany her poetry with some singing.
♥ Ayomide’s poetry often delves into topics such as race, the visibility of black people, spirituality, mental health, sexuality, and feminism. She currently works as a production assistant for Inside Job Productions where her main role is to help facilitate the practical film courses they run in two prisons across London.
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