The re-telling of Australian history has degenerated into a squabble between two factions, each of which derides the other in order to claim the high moral ground.
If, however, you are committed to neither the black armband nor the white blindfold, you will be both surprised and absorbed by the Englishman Luke Walker’s apolitical quest to find the fabulous deposit of outback gold claimed to have been discovered by Harold Lasseter while he was lost in Central Australia.
Returning to the area years later, Lasseter died trying to relocate the seam and his body was found in 1931, with a diary that left subsequent explorers none the wiser.
Over the course of his investigations (which brought him to nearby Tabulam), Walker’s obsession with the mystery of the gold’s whereabouts gradually but inexorably became redirected at solving the riddle of the man himself. Who exactly was Lasseter? Was he a charlatan or visionary? What other extraordinary projects did he envisage (his design for a bridge that would span Sydney Harbour was uncanny for its prescience).
Walker’s companion for much of the time was Lasseter’s 85-year-old son Bob, a sprightly, cheery fellow with an Amish beard and an indomitable spirit to match.
He has been looking for his father’s reef for yonks and it is his good-natured openness and the working relationship he forms with Walker that give the film its unforced intimacy.
It seems to be generally the case that in any such venture, it is the searcher, fired from within, who finds himself and his motives in the spotlight.
And so it is here, for no matter how closely his tracks are followed, Lasseter, like his gold, remains ever distant while Walker himself gets closer to us as he is drawn deep into sacred Aboriginal terrain.
Enlivened by rudimentary but helpful animation and old re-enactments, interspersed with rare archival footage, including excerpts from a 1950s Lowell Thomas TV documentary and another featuring the matinee idol narration of James Mason, Walker’s movie is refreshingly personal and intriguing.
~ John Campbell