Wrong Side of the Road opens with scenes of police breaking up a performance of the two groups, arresting a band member and his subsequent escape from a police vehicle. It continues with run-ins between the musicians and the establishment. The racism encountered when the bands turn up at a gig and the white hotel manager discovers they are black, the insensitivity of the police and bureaucrats, and the difficulties in tracing one’s family after being adopted out (“Stolen Generations”), reflect the problems encountered by many urban Aboriginal people. Wrong Side of the Road (named after a song from Us Mob) reveals the injustices Aboriginal people constantly face. The thread that runs through Wrong Side of the Road is the story played by Les Graham in the film, of a young man looking for his mother. The film’s script comes from the life stories from members of the bands, and people around the bands and at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music. They weren’t necessarily playing … We have survived the white man’s world.
Not Perfect… But Certainly Ahead of Its Time
“Wrong Side of the Road” is a somewhat obscure film from the period that some call the “New Wave of Australian Cinema”. It is a fictional (albeit semi-autobiographical) road movie about two real-life bands – No Fixed Address and Us Mob, but pulls no punches in portraying the socio-political issues that Aboriginal (or Indigenous) Australians faced at the time – and in fact is still quite relevant even up to this day. Not many Australian films up until this point had tackled this subject matter (although “Backroads”, from 1977, is an early example however) – in this aspect, “Wrong Side of the Road” was certainly groundbreaking.
Some critics might say that this film is “too left-wing…”, “too politically correct…” or perhaps even “too racially biased…” – but in honesty, the film is done from a perspective that mainstream Australia hadn’t really either seen or heard previously. As a viewer, the issues dealt with in the film certainly resonated their point across quite loudly. Also given that just about everyone in the film is starring as themselves, it adds to the film’s credibility as an honest portrayal of Indigenous Australia – yet it doesn’t pretend to be a documentary – it is filmed more from a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the subjects’ lives (with a few flashback scenes spliced in-between). However, the film does suffer from being a little slow-moving in some parts – a trait not uncommon with many Australian films from this period, which is sadly what bogs it down a bit. It does unfortunately detract from what is otherwise a quite good low-budget socio-political film.
Although there is one thing about this film which does make it enjoyable to watch – that is the soundtrack. The music is in one word – awesome! Both bands had originally formed in Adelaide in the late 1970s, and were involved in the Centre of Aboriginal Studies in Music.