Robbie Thorpe Documentary

By Anthony Kelly

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Anthony Kelly

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"I'd encourage people to throw in some coin to get this film made. Robbie Thorpe is one of the great activists of our times." - Alex Ettling


Aboriginal resistance to the invasion of Australia never ceased. It continues today.

Aboriginal political activist Robbie Thorpe stands as part of a long line of Indigenous resistance to invasion. His story is an important one.

This short documentary will trace Robbie’s life and politics and explore what is at stake for a First Nations person upon land that was stolen and whose sovereignty never been ceded.

Robbie Thorpe has organised challenges to ongoing genocide, colonization and assimilation for over 30 years, working toward indigenous economic and political independence.

He has launched High Court legal actions, run a series of high-profile and controversial political and cultural interventions and remains a fierce and unrelenting advocate for his people.

Robbie is Krauatungalung (Gurnai) / Djapwurrung (Gundditjmara) raised at Bung Yarnda or the Lake Tyers ‘Mission’ in Eastern Victoria. He is outspoken and always provocative, providing voice and leadership yet also acting as a mentor and quiet support to indigenous and non-indigenous people alike. He stands unapologetically on the most controversial and radical edge of Indigenous politics.

The documentary will offer insight into the making of this Aboriginal activist leader, about the patterns of modern resistance to oppression, and what this has to say about Australia now.

Running time: 25-35 minutes

Production: Shoot over November 2015 – May 2017

Post Production: May– September 2017


This documentary is being created on a bare bones budget and I will be covering many of the aspects of the production of the documentary. I'll be using my own camera, basic lighting, sound and editing gear. Labor is being provided voluntarily.

Funds raised through this campaign will go toward professional production and post-production costs.

$5,000 is the target and if we exceed this, all money will go to making the standard even higher and expanding it's distribution.

A rough breakdown is below:


$800 - Hire costs for larger equipment such as a camera slider / steadycam / cinematic lenses plus transport costs to locations within Victoria.

Post production

$800 - Music rights for Indigenous artists

$600 - Access to original news and historical footage

$800 - Professional sound mix

$700 - Professional colour grading

$300 - DCP (Digital Cinema Package) authoring - for cinema / festival screenings

$400 - Dedicated archival hard drive to ensure all project interviews and materials are backed up and archived for posterity

$600 - Distribution; Including promotion kits / festival fees / DVD duplication

Distribution and Impact Strategy

Well you're part of it. These days, promotion, distribution and the eventual impact of a documentary project starts sometimes before the camera does.

Good grassroots distribution is based upon word of mouth. This crowd-funder and your active support will be an important part of it. Although we'll be aiming for film festival screenings, small - local screenings will be the primary and preferred distribution method. Screenings can aim raise badly needed funds for First Nations Liberation (FNL) and other grassroots Indigenous organisations. It is also intended that any profits from ticket and DVD sales go toward organisations of Robbie's choosing.

With an adequate budget, the doco will be broadcast quality but we have no commitments from TV or online broadcasters as yet. This may change.

We know that well-produced documentaries can boost grassroots campaign efforts through engaging people deeply and personally. Issues covered in this doco; invasion, occupation, treaty, sovereignty will remain hot topics as the national debate around the 'Recognise' constitutional change proposal heats up over 2016 and 2017.

Robbie's scathing critique of 'Recognise' deserves to be heard.

Films like this also form important activist and people's history. Full interviews with all subjects will be archived and made available to specialist Indigenous archives such as the Foley Collection.

Director's Notes:

I am a Melbourne based independent documentary film maker and editor but it is through decades of peace, environment and social justice activism that I got to know Robbie Thorpe.

I first met Robbie around 1989 when he would attend activist meetings around Melbourne arguing for us to join the Pay the Rent campaign – in which non-indigenous people would contribute a small percentage of their income to Indigenous controlled organisations or campaigns, which would then provide an independent economic base for Aboriginal resistance. Pay the Rent exemplified Robbie’s strategic vision - as a tactic it was brilliantly constructive. It emphasized independence, practical solidarity, and drove home Robbie’s key messages that Indigenous Sovereignty was never ceded, nor was a there any form of treaty and that all non-indigenous people in Australia are living on the proceeds of an horrific, illegal and premeditated act of genocide.

But Pay the Rent was only one of Robbie’s campaigns. In 1990 Robbie appeared at the newly established ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) offices in Gertrude street, Fitzroy dressed in full traditional garb, painted up, with spears and a possum skin cloak. ATSIC had been condemned by many of the radical Indigenous networks as another form of assimilation. Robbie walked into the ATSIC office and inside, he re-dressed slowly in a business suit. He painted his face white, picked up a briefcase and walked out again to the glare of media cameras.

In 1991, Robbie ceremoniously marched to the statue of Melbourne’s revered ‘Founding Father’ John Batman in Collins Street and, before a crowd of several hundred people, proceeded to put him on trial for crimes against humanity, genocide and murder. The statues hands were made red – his crimes were listed and hung around the statue’ neck.

I witnessed this form of expertly conceived, theatrical, deeply symbolic protest action from Robbie many times over the next two decades.

In 1997, Robbie, then a 39-year-old Melbourne University law student walked into the Melbourne registry of the High Court and began the process of taking Australia to the World Court to decide who has the right to hear and decide cases involving sovereignty over the land known as the Commonwealth of Australia.

On Invasion Day 2003 a tall ship appeared at a St Kilda beach and, again in the full glare of news cameras Robbie declared that the new arrivals would be welcome if they respected sovereignty and the law and agreed to pay the rent for their stay. The Captain and officers who refused were put back on their boat and sent packing, the crew and convicts who agreed were welcomed according to Wurundjeri tradition. It was history as it should have been – instilled with the sense of justice and right that Robbie relentlessly espouses.

In 2006 he was again in the international spotlight with the 60-day Camp Sovereignty during the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, which Robbie rebranded as the StolenWealth Games and declared the Black GST (Genocide to end, Sovereignty acknowledged, Treaty to be made).

Robbie’s actions have attracted criticism from Prime Ministers, Premiers, Andrew Bolt, and even other Aboriginal activists, including Elders.

To me, Robbie has been a primary educator. I’ve listened to and learnt from Robbie throughout my work as a social justice and human rights campaigner. I know Australia is a crime scene and I know why. Robbie draws the threads of two centuries of oppression together by relentlessly focusing our attention on the core injustices. I believe that Robbie’s messages are critical to modern Australia. I want to explore why and examine his political impact as an activist.

I have been interested for many years in how Robbie sustains himself against such great odds. What drives him to continue to resist colonialism in a country that was occupied 228 years ago? His public rhetoric is powerful, unforgiving and relentless but I want us to get a sense of who he is and the forces that shaped him.

As a filmmaker I have an opportunity to forefront important and under-heard narratives. The issues of sovereignty and treaty raised by Robbie are vital to me not only as a social justice activist but also as a citizen of this colonial-settler nation state which we call Australia. Through this film I will be continuing to interrogate my place as a non-indigenous Australian, a process that began in late high-school, and also taking a place amongst a long line of non-indigenous filmmakers depicting, documenting and collaborating with Indigenous artists activists and communities.[i] From patronizing and racist ethnographic films to more recent powerful collaborations, non-indigenous filmmakers seem to be getting better at respecting and working with Indigenous subjects and subject matter. As a non-Indigenous filmmaker respect, consent and appropriate cultural pathways[ii] are vital. I’m committed to extensive and continuing consultation with all subjects. Good observational documentaries are based upon listening and a high level of trust and respect between maker and subject, which tend to be basis for solidarity work in any context.

Through this film I will be looking for ways I can interpret, communicate and depict the struggle that Robbie articulates to audiences beyond those already engaged. I will be looking to ways to maximize its social and political impact.

I want to thank Robbie for his trust so far. I've been filming him sporadically for several months now and I'm sure he will be well and truly sick of me and the camera by the end of it.

Robbie stands as part of a long line of Indigenous resistance to invasion. I believe that his story is a critical one.

- Anthony Kelly, January 2016

[i] See Fitzsimmons, Trish, Australian Documentary: History, Practices and Genres. Cambridge University Press 2011

[ii] Screen Australia’s Pathways & Protocols

Info, background and updates:

Please keep and eye on this website for updates and screening information later in 2016.

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Anthony Kelly