Gem is the driving force of Emu Runner. It is through her eyes that the story unfolds. She is a child full of wonder and intrigue and anchored by the deep cultural roots of her Ngemba people and country, and thus her sense of belonging is implicit. Her remote country town may struggle to exist, and yet, it is a place that offers great freedoms and a way of life where time slows and simple pleasures are found. At the same time Emu Runner presents the fragility of this world and how quickly it can change. The unexpected death of her mother puts Gem and her family’s lives into a state of flux as they contend with their sorrow.
Emu Runner is about Gem’s search for meaning at time when nothing makes sense. Rather than turning her gaze inward she looks to nature for the answers. The emu is Gem’s connection with her mother and its arrival after her death cannot be ignored. The emu is Gem’s past, her present and her future. Flightless these birds may be, but ultimately they are a symbol of speed, agility and grace. They are always moving forward, as Gem must. They hold other valuable life lessons for Gem and her family, as it is the male emu that is fully responsible for raising the young, just as Gem’s father finds himself fully responsible for his children. Like the male emu, Jay Jay Daniels is fiercely protective and is prepared to step up to meet the challenge he has been dealt.
Eleven-year-old Rhae-Kye Waites, from the remote New South Wales town of Brewarrina, plays Gem in this family drama of loss and redemption, acting alongside the celebrated actor/director Wayne Blair, who plays her father Jay Jay Daniels. Waites and Blair deliver emotionally charged and honest performances at the centre of a dynamic ensemble of Brewarrina locals, augmented by Logie award-winning actor Rob Carlton and emerging talent Georgia Blizzard in small key roles.
Premature death is an issue that repeatedly touches the lives of Indigenous Australians. It is a reality I have become more aware of through my longstanding association with the Indigenous community of Brewarrina. I believe story-telling offers an accessible way to shine the spotlight on this pressing issue, hopefully creating a greater awareness and understanding about the profound impact loss and grief has on others. Stories have the power to engage audiences on so many levels, touching their hearts and minds and by transporting them into the worlds and lives of people that are often far from their experience. It has been a privilege to create a story in partnership with the Brewarrina Indigenous community.
Emu Runner invites audiences into Gem’s world as she faces the hardest test of her life. My aim is to paint a positive and uplifting story for Gem. I hope audiences come to understand the adversities which arise from living in a remote community as well as marvel in the richness of our First Nation’s culture and the beguiling beauty of the Australian landscape.
—Imogen Thomas 2018