Saturday, November 8, 2008

Someone Needs to Make a Movie About Maconochie

Being the girl who's obsessed with Australia and all, I hate to admit this. But I'm tired of reading The Fatal Shore. I adore Robert Hughes, but I'm so ready to move on to someone else. Maybe it's the fact that I have just purchased all these books and I'm eager to read them. It could also be that I spend 1-3 hours on Internet research each day, and want my book reading to be more of a break. My brain needs a rest and Hughes doesn't give me a rest. I sit there reading with pen in hand, fervently underlining important stuff. And the book is FULL of important stuff.

I don't know.

I AM almost at the end. That's the good news. A few nights ago (election night), I was working my way through chapter fourteen. Abolition. I was half paying attention to the words in front of me, and half thinking about Obama. Then suddenly Alexander Maconochie entered my life. At a time, when it's become hard to believe in heroes, I suddenly have one on my TV screen and one in the book I'm reading.

I had never heard of this Maconochie man before. But that's not saying much. I'm American. A few years ago, I probably would have had no idea who Matthew Flinders was or Gough Whitlam.

I've been wondering if Maconochie is a name well known to Australians or has he been forgotten and ignored? If so, that's sad.

He was an amazing man. I'll try to explain in a nutshell what Robert Hughes talks about. Basically Maconochie tried to change the prison system which had been extremely abusive and degrading to the convicts.

Hughes says:

Because it was fixated on punishment alone, the Old System had produced mainly crushed, resentful, and embittered men and women, in whom the spark of enterprise and hope was dead.

Maconochie was given the chance to run his experimental program on Norfolk Island. His system included rewards for good behavior, benefits for working hard, group therapy, reading materials, etc.

One of my favorite parts, of the Maconochie story, is where Maconochie has the idea to set up a day to celebrate the Queen.

Throughout the morning, Maconochie wandered among his prisoners affably chatting with them. When the convicts sat down to lunch--at tables in the open air, like men, not like hogs at swill--they were further amazed to be given pannikins of rum-and-lemon, the rum paid for out of Maconochie's own pocket, with which to toast their own sovereign.

There's an incredibly touching story about his work with a mentally handicapped and severely abused convict. The poor guy spent two damn years chained to a rock. Naked. He was basically a toy for all the local sadists. His fellow prisoners were not allowed to speak to him. The punishment for them would be flogging--something this guy himself endured enough times to have welts on his back infected with maggots. Locals found joy in throwing things at him.

Maconochie helped this pour soul. Hughes says:

....when Governor Gipps visited Norfolk Island in 1843, he recorded his amazement on seeing the former wild beast of Goat Island bustling about in a sailor's uniform, open and frank in his demeanor, returned to his human condition.

When I was reading this chapter, I thought about how amazing Maconochie was. I thought though there must be a catch. He was great to the convicts, but I imagined he was horribly abusive to the Aborigines.

Then I read: He wanted the convicts to read travel and exploration books, starting with Cook's Voyages because the "the whole white race in this hemisphere wants softening towards its aboriginal inhabitants."

Okay. But then I thought. He's good to the convicts. He seems to want sympathy for the Aborigines. So, he MUST be anti-semitic. I bet he hates Jews.

Nope.

For the dozen or so Jewish prisoners, who suffered badly from anti-semitism of other convicts, and the lack of any means to conduct their own religious ceremonies, he set aside a room in the barracks as a makeshift synagogue.

I don't remember reading much about his treatment of of women, children, and animals. Maybe there's something wicked to be revealed there.

What IS definitely wicked is that like most compassionate and forward thinkers, he was disliked by those in power and fired.

I'm completely intrigued by this guy and am wondering what has been written about him on the Internet. I'm also wondering if anyone has considered making a movie about this guy. Someone needs to! Or maybe they have already. I shall now go and look.

Lord Wiki has written about him! That's good. So, the man has not vanished into complete obscurity.

There's a prison named after him in Canberra. The Alexander Maconochie Centre.

This website has a photo of him. It also has great romantic scandals involving his daughter and a convict. It would make a great subplot for the movie.

I'm looking at Maconochie's photo and wondering who should play him in the film.

Here's a recent news article about the prison in Canberra. It sounds pretty awesome.

I guess our views of it would depend on our feelings towards punishment. Like most people, I do have revenge fantasies. I'll admit that. But the fantasies that trump those are ones of reconciliation and redemption. I guess it coincides with my spiritual beliefs. I don't like the idea of Hitler rotting in hell. I like the idea of Hitler being reincarnated over and over until he becomes a compassionate Israeli doctor, saving the lives of Jewish and Palestinian children who suffer from cancer.

I didn't find a movie about Maconochie, but I did find that there was a book written about him in 2001 by John Clay. Maybe someone will make a movie inspired by the book.

Oh! Here we go. The Australian composer David Lumsbaine composed a song about Maconochie. Now we need a movie. Okay? Or....I guess a documentary or miniseries would be cool. It's just I picture a big production. Maybe Baz Luhrmann can do it as his follow up to Australia. Personally, I think this story seems more interesting than the WWII Darwin thing. I've read about that storyline and it just doesn't excite me.

Also.... Nicole Kidman playing a character left in control of farm land during a war? Sounds a bit familiar. I think I'm having major deja vu here.

I can't honestly say I look forward to seeing the movie, but I did enjoy this trailer on YouTube.



7 comments:

(dis)enchanted said...

I can honestly say I don't remember learning about Maconochie in history, though if I did, it would have been basic/slight. We learned the general issues, sure, how "great" Capt. Cook was etc (blah), and then on to world history. The rest of the world was seemingly more important than the heroic figures and sacrifices that were made on our own shores. Maconochie certainly deserves his own movie; definitely not to be romanticized or manipulated like usual Hollywood style though.
I love your writing. It reminds me to be more aware of what is going on in my home country. Past and present. Thanks !

Dina said...

Disenchanted,

I don't know what we learned in our history classes. I don't think I paid much attention.

I agree the movie needs to not romanticize or manipulate. I hate seeing a historical/biographical film and then learning that the part that moved me to tears never happened.

The stuff in Hughes book about Maconochie was interesting enough. I don't think anyone would need to embellish it.

Thanks for liking my writing. I like your writing too. I wish you updated your blog more! Although I know you got a lot going on.

Cellobella said...

Never heard of him - but did you say he was featured in The Fatal Shore - which I've read - a loooong time ago. So maybe I have heard about him but forgotton.

Thanks for reminding me.

Dina said...

Cellobella,

There are a lot of people in that book. It would be impossible to remember all of them!

Retarius said...

Yes, an overlooked person in our history. His experiment was doomed to fail because the main purpose of Norfolk Island was to scare the bejeezus out of the convicts on the mainland and keep them in order. They wouldn't allow him to turn the island into an enlightened place as it would have taken away a useful goad.

By the way, how do I follow your blog? I can't find the right icon to click.

Retarius said...

Belay that last: I found it at the bottom of the page.

Dina, I think you'd get a lot more joining if you move it to the top of the sidebar; it's quite inconspicuous down there.

Dina said...

Retarius,

Although I don't agree with their goal (of course!) I do understand what they were trying to do there. But Maconochie didn't even want to try his experiment on Norfolk Island. At least I think that's what Hughes said. But that's where they put him. There had been trouble because they wanted him use his new program with some of prisoners (I think the new ones) but not the old and he felt that wouldn't work.

Thanks for the note about the followers thing. I'll move it up!!