Opening image: Mia Wasikowska as Abby, finally reunited with her beloved Blueback after years abroad and a lifetime working for its protection.


Sunlight and a coastal breeze drift through your window, you doze between the dream world and the real world until your mum knocks on the door and calls your name. Before you know it, your doona has been flung off, you’re screaming bloody murder and the day has begun. You get over yourself, have brekky, chuck on your wettie and head to the water.


For some kids growing up in Australia, this was their morning ritual – no imagination needed. The land and sea, their true home. Play came in the form of water and sandy toes, and the signs of a good day were salty brows and a freckle-speckled grin.


It’s also the opening scene of Blueback, Robert Connolly’s screen adaptation of Tim Winton’s 1997 classic novella. “A fable for all ages” in the words of Tim Winton. “A love letter to the ocean” in the words of Robert Connolly.

Director Robert Connolly is a long time fan of Winton’s work. After years of writing the screenplay, Covid hit and the director finally had the opportunity to create the film.

Blueback – the book – tells the story of a young Abel, and his friendship with a blue groper, “Blueback,” a fish that can live up to 70 years that rarely leaves the place it calls home. Together, through youth to adulthood, Abel and Blueback navigate the changing, threatened world of the Australian coast in the town of Longboat Bay.

Robert Connolly first read Tim Winton’s book back in 1998, long before he had children of his own. By the time he got to writing the screenplay – after several other successful films – his daughters, now 18 and 20 had something to say about it. “Oh great, Dad. You've made films all your life and every one of them has a male protagonist.” Abel soon became Abby, but that wasn’t the last input Connolly’s daughters had in the film.

Ilsa Fogg is a similar age to Connolly’s daughters – it added to the meaningful experience for the director and the breakthrough role for Fogg.

The story is a kaleidoscope of relationships dancing together: a girl and the ocean, a girl and a giant, blue fish, a mother raising a daughter, a daughter’s bittersweet journey as her mother ages. All the while, the blue waters surround them, like a wise and quiet character watching them all unfold – a character itself, a different kind of mother watching over her children with wisdom and quiet pauses, fully respected and present.

Training director Karla Hart and director Robert Connolly.

This may have something to do with Connolly’s training director, Karla Hart, an award-winning filmmaker and Noongar woman. Shot in Western Australia’s Bremer Bay, Hart’s family did the Welcome to Country when the crew arrived on site. The film presents a harmonious and respectful relationship with First Nations people of this Country. The cast features a young Pedrea Jackson and Clarence Ryan, a Noongar local who used to swim these very waters as a boy. The comfort of the cast on home soil, with home accents melts the screen away.

Radha Mitchell, plays Abby’s mum Dora. The scene is a sweet remembering of what it felt like to wake up in the simple days of the ‘90s.

The film opens with Abby’s eighth birthday. Abby and her mum, Dora, head out for the morning on the sea ready to dive. “Alright Abby, this is the deepest part of the reef,” Dora says as she holds her wedding ring out over the ocean, turns her hand, and lets it fall. Abby, endlessly frustrated with another one of her mum’s antics, masks up and jumps in. “Straight down, follow the chain, equalise,” Dora reminds Abby, “Just glide.”

“You know, we did a test screening with young kids,” shares director Robert Connolly, “and their favourite scene was when the mum drops the ring in the water and makes the eight-year-old swim down to get it. Then at the same test screen, there was a mother there who got furious with me and said how irresponsible it was! I thought, isn't it interesting: it's the kid's favourite scene because they're a generation desperately wanting more responsibility. The film suits a lot of my own politics about empowering and giving a voice and agency to younger people.”

Ariel Donoghue as young Abby with a gaze that perfectly captures Dora’s rebellion and determination.

When sharing the logistics of the film with his daughters, Connolly recalls they were quick to jump in. “Well, you’re all gonna be swimming in some of the most incredible reefs at Ningaloo. Have you thought about the sunscreens you’ll use? Some sunscreens don't break down and damage the coral.” Rob reflected, “It took a 16-year-old to go, ‘What do you know?’ She wrote a whole list of things and really challenged me. And that's why with this younger generation, I feel great optimism. They're gonna push us to work with best practice and low impact.”

Abby’s marine biology career started with her art. Captivated by the beauty and wonder she first painted the blue groper which turned into a fascination of all threatened sea life.

However, it's not just young people. Mia Wasikowska, who plays Abby as an adult, was highly active in the costuming of her character. Connolly recalls, “Mia was really big on the fact her character could only ever have ethically balanced brands. She said, ‘I'm gonna be a model for this kind of person.’ So, the fact she was wearing a Patagonia wetsuit is not by chance.”

Surrounded by the illustrations of her younger self, Abby’s trip home is a remembering of her becoming and the love that led her activism.

The activism doesn’t just live behind the camera – the film itself is an act of activism. Rob shares, “I feel like with activism, the first step is the Jacques Cousteau thing: it is about falling in love with something. And I feel like the film is a love letter to the ocean. The film celebrates actual activism at different levels – it’s got the global and the local. Here's a mother saying, ‘I'm gonna save this bay and she creates a marine sanctuary.’ Here's a daughter saying, ‘I'm gonna save the world's oceans. I'm gonna become a world-renowned marine biologist and crack the scientific issues we're facing.’ And both are right.”

A daringly close encounter with Blueback.

Blueback centres around a big fish that Abby meets on her birthday, a blue groper, a fish known as the puppy dogs of the sea thanks to their large size and docile, loyal nature. “They're very friendly and they come right up to you,” says Connolly, who worked with Creature Technology to create the blue groper, a delightfully lifelike, underwater puppet. Abby soon names the fish ‘Blueback’ and their relationship is enchanting. You’re left wanting your own blue groper friend, fawning over it as if it were your neighbour’s new golden retriever. As Abby grows up, she is faced with protecting Blueback from a world of extraction and destruction.

Left and centre: Dora plays a fearless woman who’s not scared of a fight – from environmental advocacy to being a rev-head sending it in the tinny – what can’t she do? Right: Fulltime slimebag Costello, about to drop the line, “Not till you’re 18,” before winning over the local council with his profit margin.

Enter Costello, a big-buck developer who seeks to line his pockets from the coastline. He’s brilliantly played by Erik Thomson and completely repulsive – lurking around Dora’s house to map his next luxury development, his fishermen “accidentally” harvesting protected species – a true slimebag. “There’s a scene with Costello where [teenage] Abby (played by the incredible Ilsa Fogg) says, ‘I'll vote to stop you.’ And he goes, ‘Not until you're 18,’” shares Connolly. “I had a screening totally for these teenagers and they were growling at him because they're like, ‘We’re gonna vote one day.’”

The differences between Dora and Abby bring a refreshing element of reality and complexity to the pure plight of saving the environment – showing that once again, none of us can do it alone.

The film does something not many films get to do: it shows a young person living through the highs and lows of activism. Someone living through these changing times, navigating power struggles, using the tools and gifts they have to fight. And while Connolly was inspired by “the Greta Thunberg generation” the question becomes, who inspires “the Greta Thunberg generation”, because whether it’s saving our home planet or saving the local coast, the responsibility cannot lie solely on the shoulders of teenagers.

However, in Longboat Bay it’s not just the teens that rise up. Single mum Dora writes letters to her local MPs late at night (thank you Radha Mitchell for playing a mum who reflects a generation of women fighting for so many things). The community protest development (long live the homemade dolphin mask), and art is used to shift perspectives and swing votes. Blueback is a film for a generation fighting an uphill battle against not just small local developers but, more dauntingly, global conglomerates as well.

Opening image: Mia Wasikowska as Abby, finally reunited with her beloved Blueback after years abroad and a lifetime working for its protection.


God Creates Dinosaurs. God Destroys Dinosaurs. God Creates Man. Man Destroys God. We Create Roaring Journals.

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