Any Questions?

In conversation with Martin Thomas and Béatrice Bijon, co-directors of Etched in Bone

In the midst of a very busy last six months or so (including spending last term teaching five modules across three institutions, AND working a part time job!), I had the distinct pleasure of hosting Q&As after a couple of brilliant documentary screenings.

Back in late October, I hosted a Q&A with Martin Thomas and Béatrice Bijon, co-directors of the documentary Etched in Bone, following a screening for the Menzies Australia Institute (King’s College London) in partnership with the Australian National University.

This vital documentary, produced over eight years, examines the theft of Aboriginal human remains by the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land in 1948, their removal to the Smithsonian Institution in the US, and their eventual repatriation to the Arnhem Land community of Gunbalanya after a long campaign. As well as covering the film’s production history, and questions of access to, collaboration with, and advocacy for Indigenous Australian communities, we also had a chance to discuss the increasing momentum towards repatriation of human remains from British institutions, including the work currently being carried out the Manchester Museum in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

A similarly important discussion followed the London Australian Film Society’s recent screening of The Australian Dream, shown as part of our Australia Day double bill at Regent Street Cinema. In recognition of First Nations communities, we have screened on an alternative date since 2017, when we showed Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country. As a result, we try – where possible – to use the ‘Australia Day’ slot to show films that offer a critical engagement with Australian histories and/or Indigenous culture/s.

This year’s event followed October’s successful, sold-out screening of the documentary The Final Quarter, which used archival footage to trace the tumultuous final stage in the career of Aboriginal AFL footballer Adam Goodes, which ended in booing, bullying, and racist taunts (both on the field and in the media). Written by Wiradjuri journalist Stan Grant in collaboration with Goodes, The Australian Dream picks up and expands upon the themes covered in The Final Quarter, broadening the discussion beyond racism in sport, and using Goodes’ experience as a prism through which to tell a deeper and more powerful story about race, identity and belonging in contemporary Australia.

Joining me on the stage afterwards were Border Crossings / Origins – Festival of First Nations director Michael Walling and former semi-professional footballer (and health practitioner) Wendle Nightingale. Pushed for time, our all-too-brief discussion was almost over before it began, although we did manage to delve into questions of identity and race, and whether responsibility for such matters was an individual or collective concern.

Here’s to more inspiring, insightful films (and conversations) in the future!

If you’re in the UK, you can stream Etched in Bone on Vimeo (via Ronin Films). Australian audiences can access the film via SBS on Demand.

The Australian Dream recently screened on ABC TV (Australia) and is currently available via ABC iView. UK audiences will have another chance to see the film when it is released (on demand + limited theatrical) in late March (via Dogwoof). Visit for more info and details of theatrical screenings.

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