What does it truly mean to be Australian? This is the question Australian filmmakers have been asking themselves since the beginning of our film industry over 100 years ago. Now, on the 100-year anniversary of the release The Sentimental Bloke, I believe it is time to reflect on how our film industry has flourished and helped to shape our unique identity as Australians. So, on behalf of the Australian Film Institute, I welcome you to this year’s AACTA Awards. This is a special night, a night where we recognise the best and brightest of our industry, but also a night where we come together to celebrate and appreciate the amazing films which have helped shape who we are as a nation. Whether that be to celebrate our shared values or, more importantly, to challenge attitudes within our community. The Castle, by director Rob Stich, introduced us to the Kerrigan family and the house at 3 Highview Crescent, Coolaroo, twenty years ago, and immediately etched itself into the hearts and vernacular of the Australian people, establishing itself as a landmark Australian film.
As you will recall, The Castle tells the story of the Kerrigan family – the working-class patriarch Darryl, craft-loving housewife Sal, and their children: newlywed Tracey, ideas-man Steve, convicted armed-robber Wayne and the youngest son Dale who is the film’s narrator. The Kerrigans love their “Castle”, a house in an outer Melbourne suburb where the quirky family lives in the firm belief that they are the luckiest family in the world. Their house is so close to the airport that planes almost scrape their roof. But instead of complaining, proud patriarch Darryl feels lucky to have such an up-close view of man’s conquest to nature. High-power lines buzz over the toxic landfill that is their backyard but the Kerrigans couldn’t be prouder of their house. When an inspector drops by, Darryl gives him ‘the tour’, pointing with pride to a fake chimney and garish plastic trim which he is sure will increase the house’s resale value. Not that the Kerrigans intend to move. 3 Highview Crescent is not a house; it is a home brimming over with love and improbable characters who warm the audience’s hearts even as we laugh at their lack of sophistication. This family of Aussie battlers face the battle of their lives when they learn their “Castle” is being compulsorily acquired by a huge consortium. What follows is a David vs Goliath story; the true Aussie battler takes on “The Man” and triumphs.
The Castle taps into the sadness, fear and outrage that the average person feels when confronted by Big Government and Big Business. It also resonated with a theme that is strong in the Australian character: resistance to unjust authority. Darryl’s actions are underpinned by a strong Australian belief in The Fair Go. Over and over, he says ‘no’ to the money and the strongarm tactics of government and company representatives. Instead, he hires a small-time and inept solicitor, Dennis Denuto, who...