Imogen Thomas wrote Emu Runner in consultation with Frayne Barker, an Aboriginal Ngemba woman, from Brewarrina, a small town in northwestern NSW, Australia. Frayne has brought to this project her knowledge of the pressing issues and challenges that come from living in this isolated community.
Positioned near the banks of the Barwon River, Brewarrina is home to a large Indigenous community. It is the traditional land of the Ngemba, Murrawarri, Ualari, Weilwan and Baranbinja people. Brewarrina was where these tribes came together to partake in important ceremonies as well as to enjoy the abundant fish that the river offered, while utilising the stone fish traps that have been there for over 40,000 years. To this day the river continues to hold great significance as well as nourish its community.
In 2003, Imogen Thomas worked on an arts initiative with the Ourgunya women’s shelter in Brewarrina. This experience introduced her to a large number of women and children from the community and placed her in a unique position to listen to their stories and gain a very real sense of their lives and personal struggles. She was confronted by the effects of unemployment and poverty on the health of the community and the lives of its members cut short. What was apparent to her was the resilience and strength of the women who had to manage the many social problems arising from these conditions. It was during this engagement that Imogen was introduced to Frayne Barker, director of the Gainmara Birrilee Pre-school. Friendships and subsequent visits to the area inspired Imogen to make a film set in this special place.
Before embarking on a feature-length project with the Brewarrina community, Imogen made Mixed Bag, a short film about racial stereotyping and prejudice. From the film’s inception Frayne Barker was involved. The production also engaged the support and participation of the broader community who made up the majority of the cast and also worked behind the scenes.
Mixed Bag was completed in 2008 and went on to be screened at both national and international film festivals, receiving many nominations and awards. For Imogen, the real mark of the film’s success was the community’s response, which was overwhelmingly positive. Mixed Bag was a vital stepping-stone in her journey to making a feature film.