My Own Private Oz

Philip Brooks

France 2000, 52 min

Philip Brooks visits family and friends on a journey to the Tasmania of his childhood and Melbourne, the setting of his wild youth. Through their conversations he tries to discover what made Australia so bad that he had to flee. He uses his own personal story to depict Australia from the mid-50s to mid-70s and relates his personal confrontation with the past to the overall issues of the Australian identity.

The insights on a nation presented through his friends reveal an Australia whose main difficulty is reconciling with its European past, which originated from a population of English convicts. According to one friend, this feels so burdensome that self-discipline is strongly revered yet it simultaneously breeds intolerance to deviant behaviour.

With footage of the beautiful landscapes and archive material characteristic of the period from fiction films and documentaries, the film relies heavily on words and its guiding element is Brook’s own voiceover presenting his personal reflections.

He bravely reveals his own past step by step, drawing a picture of a frustrated youngster who eventually had to escape. As a child he felt confined, and in his wild youth he became addicted to drugs. But his final incentive to run away was Australia’s intolerance to homosexuals, or – as he gradually realises – that he lacked the courage to come out of the closet to his friends.

The more general history of Australia remains a backdrop for his own personal search and need for reconciliation. At times a little too heavily loaded with thoughts and reflections, his own story is powerful nevertheless, and his need to tell it is heartfelt. If he reaches any conclusion, it may be that Australia isn’t worse than anywhere else, but deviating from the straight and narrow is easier to do far away from the environment of friends and home. “It is the easiest thing for me in the world to be Australian – but in Paris.”