Hot film shares Arab history

The Furnace sheds light on the little-known connection between Australian and Arab history, and revived an ancient Indigenous language to boot.

A LOCAL film director has helped bring WA’s multicultural history to the Arab world while shedding some light on a little-known connection between the two far-distant lands.

After receiving critical acclaim at the Venice Film Festival, first-time director Roderick McKay’s feature film The Furnace made its official Arab premier at the El Gouna Film Festival in late October.

Set in WA during the 1890s gold rush The Furnace brings to life the forgotten history of Australia’s ‘Ghan’ cameleers.

“We always wanted Australia and the world to pay attention and be aware of this history,” McKay said. 

“It’s pretty incredible to have gotten there.”

Sikh, Muslim and Hindu camel drivers, given the derogatory name ‘Ghan’s’, crucially opened up Australia’s outback interior to trade and sought local knowledge from indigenous tribes.

“This film was our attempt to correct this historic omission and honour them and their contribution to the formation of the country,” the director said.

Mr McKay sought community guidance and input to authentically portray a diverse range of cultures.

Language revived

Actors seamlessly switched from Hashto, Dari, Punjabi, Badimaya, Cantonese and English throughout the action-packed film.

The dormant indigenous Badimaya language was also revived in the making of the film following a delicate and complex consultation process.

The director said his proudest moment was seeing the Badimaya language consultant in tears after hearing the actors speak his language on set for the first time. 

“You can’t really top that,” he said.

McKay and his wife Tessa are recently out of quarantine after attending the Venice Film Festival as the only Aussie entrants; The Furnace received a two-minute standing ovation.

But McKay says the Covid-outbreak meant an extra trip to Egypt for the El Gouna festival wasn’t on the cards.

“I’m not leaving Western Australia for a very long time,” he said.

The Furnace will hit Australian cinemas on December 10.


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