Reel Classic: Walkabout



Even though Nicolas Roeg is a British director, his 1971 film Walkabout is embedded into the Australian New Wave of the 70’s. Not to forget that “walkabout” is a rite of passage for an Aboriginal Australian adolescent, as he lives in the wilderness on his own on his journey to manhood.

In a national geographical style, Roeg depicts the extreme beauty, mystic and major importance of nature, with shots of breathtaking Australian landscapes and wild animals. We are projected in the core of this primitive world, and it is indeed a pleasure for the eye. However, there is a very interesting parallel established, the clear gap between a pure wilderness and an oppressive city. A tour through the city has been made, for us spectators, by three characters, a British father (John Meillon), daughter (Jenny Agutter) and son (Luc Roeg). From being in the heart of urbanism, this family is going picnicking out in the desert, away from vexatious sounds, in the calm of genesis.


From the beginning, the distinction between those two environments is clear and pronounced. With talents of visual storytelling, Roeg takes us on a mystical adventure, exposing us to the suicide of the father, who leaves his two children in good hands. But this last fact is not understandable at first.

Indeed, lost, they will try to find a way out, and gain the road again. On their way, they’ll find an Aboriginal Australian boy (David Gulpilil), who will guide them on his walkabout, which will not only be limited to his own survival, but of theirs as well.

A journey across an Australian desert is set forth, and with it, lots of conveyed values through beautifully aesthetic scenes and shots. I dare you to take your eyes off the screen while the camera offers you something you might never have the chance to see for real. While our two protagonists get deeper and deeper into that new way of life introduced to them by this boy, who they barely can communicate with, they nevertheless hold on to the unique object still connecting them to “civilisation”: the radio.


Little by little, the unexplained suicide of the father is explained. The movie is structured from death to death, with a unique experience of life in the middle. That first tragic event is at the core of the story; a man tired of his life, seemingly pulled from an American ad from the 40’s. With him at work and his wife in the kitchen, he puts an end to an absurd and oppressive situation, offering his children the possibility to escape and live something that cannot be explained with words.

The last element I will quickly put into light, is the slight sexual tension coming from the girl. Indeed, she is sublimated in many scenes, placed in astonishing situations in which she is showed as if she was the model of a painting. She is the centre of interest from beginning to end. She is Eve.

Walkabout is not just any film, it is an extremely visual story, with lots of symbolism hidden in a wild nature, rejecting the automated ritual of city life.