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Using film to tell the story of our national history

Using film to tell the story of our national history

 Director and ARC DECRA recipient Associate Professor Tom  Murray with actor Balang Tom E. Lewis in 2018. Credit: Tarpaulin  Productions

Associate Professor Tom Murray is an academic and film producer based at Macquarie University, whose screen production research has been supported since 2014 by a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA). A major outcome of the project is a feature-film documentary, which made its debut at the 2020 Sydney Film Festival.

The Skin of Others is a story told through the extraordinary lives of two remarkable men: Aboriginal WW1 soldier Douglas Grant (c.1885-1951) and acclaimed Indigenous actor Balang Tom E. Lewis from the Murrungun people, who plays Grant in the film.

The film movingly interweaves Grant’s experiences during two major conflicts of Australian and world history: the Frontier Wars that remade sovereign Aboriginal nation-territories into the Commonwealth of Australia; and WW1, a conflict that has provided Australian histories with a foundational narrative of tragic heroism and national pride in the ANZAC story. Within this broad narrative Balang Tom E. Lewis demonstrates his incomparable ability to inhabit the skin of others, portraying Grant’s heroic actions in war and peace in a lead performance full of empathy and understanding.

‘This is also the story of Australia, its violent past and its future potential,’ says Dr Murray. ‘It recounts a tragic national history of Australian colonial relations with First Nations people, explores the ways we tell the story of our nation, and ultimately dreams of a more reconciled and inclusive Australian future.’

Dr Murray has been awarded an ARC Future Fellowship for work on a new documentary-film history project The Mangatharra Road, which aims to demystify Australian pre-colonial isolation by demonstrating Indigenous Australia's connection to South-East Asian cultural and trading networks.


A song that Dr Murray co-wrote with David Bridie for the documentary, called ‘The ballad of the bridge builders’, was voted 'Best original song composed for the screen' at the 2020 APRA Screen Music Awards.

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