High Ground: Film shot in NT shines a light on Australia's grim history

Witiyana Marika was a co-founder of Yothu Yindi with Dr G. Yunupingu. Picture: Supplied.
Witiyana Marika was a co-founder of Yothu Yindi with Dr G. Yunupingu. Picture: Supplied.

A movie shot in some of the NT's most famous locations with iconic local performers is another stepping stone towards reconciliation, according to a prominent Indigenous leader.

High Ground stars renowned Australian actor Simon Baker and was 20 years in the making for the film's executive producer Witiyana Marika, who is also the co-founder of Yothu Yindi - a band known for their hit song 'Treaty'.

It debuted overseas last year but will be released in Australia in late January.

The story is set in early 20th century Arnhem Land, and follows Traditional Owner Gutjuk, played by Jacob Junior Nayinggul, as he teams up with ex-soldier Travis after a massacre of Indigenous people by European settlers.

Shot across stone and floodplain country around the NT, the film makes stars of East Alligator River, Cannon Hill, Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park.

Mr Marika said the movie can teach Australians about the country's history and the stories of the people who were there at the time.

"I'd like to say Australia, Katherine, it's a true story and I'd like to tell people to see the film and embrace it," he said.

Mr Marika has a long history performing with Yothu Yindi and is a senior cultural ambassador in the Rirratjingu Clan at his home community of Yirrkala.

He said the movie allowed him to take his leadership role on to the big screen, as his character is also a family leader.

"In real life I do lots of counselling and mediating here within the families... first time in a movie," he said.

Most importantly though, he said the movie's release can help promote "health and unity" about the darker chapters of Australian history by putting them on the big screen.

Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Witiyana Marika on set. Picture: Supplied.

Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Witiyana Marika on set. Picture: Supplied.

The film has a strong Indigenous cast including newcomer Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Mr Marika said he enjoyed seeing more Aboriginal Australian people on screen.

"That's what I'd like to see, and what I can see," he said.

"[I want to see] younger people, getting them to an art or a drama and maybe a film."

Mr Marika said Jacob could have a long future in filmmaking if he chooses it.

"Jacob is just an amazing young person.

"I can see a great future for him."

Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Alex Holt act out a scene. Picture: Supplied.

Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Alex Holt act out a scene. Picture: Supplied.

A former Katherine local also starred in the movie. Alex Holt lived in the town in 2020 and was a last minute addition to the film's cast for a minor role.

He said director Stephen Thompson appeared at his work one day looking for aspiring actors.

"Stephen Thompson just happened to rock up one day... I had no idea what was going on," he said.

"He was looking for some people to act in the film."

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Without giving too much away, Mr Holt said he had one of the more unique on screen appearances.

"It's the most violent scene in the film... I have a pretty inglorious death, I'm taking a sh*t and I get beaten to death with a stick.

"It was an absolute mind blowing experience, it really took you aback, the amount of detail gone to."

He said the film tells a valuable story about Australia's early colonial history.

"I think a lot of Australian's aren't familiar with the story... of the frontier wars... and brutal colonisation," he said.

"It will be an eye opener to a lot of people."

The Australian release of High Ground is scheduled for January 28 and will include screenings at Star Cinema in Katherine.

This story High Ground film shines a light on Australia's grim history first appeared on Katherine Times.