The Road 6i - Representations: Mystery Road


Mystery Road and a grim timeline of violence

‘But I’m almost over anger because it’s been happening forever, especially to indigenous women’ 

Ivan Sen, Interview with  Sharon Verghis, The Australian, September 21, 2013

An interview Sen gave during the release of Mystery Road refers to a ‘grim timeline’ of missing and murdered women from his own biography. His 2004 documentary, Who Was Evelyn Orcher? investigates ‘the abduction of his grandmother’s sister as a child from her home in Toomelah, NSW, in 1949. In this case, Orcher, a member of the Stolen Generation, was not taken by a random stranger but by government welfare workers’. In the interview Sen refers to three other women in his family who went missing ‘Eight years, five years and three years ago… [One] was last seen in a bar with some cowboy … a week later she was found under the road. Her killer was never found’ (Verghis 2013).


In his acclaimed film Mystery Road (2013), Ivan Sen reworks the genre of the outback Western and the figure of the Aboriginal black tracker, the classic in-between figure of colonial history, through the character of an Aboriginal policeman, Jay Swan.  Swan is called  to investigate the mutilated body of a young girl found in a culvert, reminding us of the real life death of Theresa Binge, a relative of Sen’s, a decade earlier. At the same time, Mystery Road references present-day stories of young girls lured into trucks for sex in the mining towns of Western Australia.

Sen’s 2016 sequel, Goldstone places Jay Swan in a small mining town where the search for a missing tourist leads to a trail of young Chinese women being trafficked to supply forced sex for the fly-in fly-out workforce. The films track parallel histories of the traffic in racialised women’s bodies against a landscape marked by exploitation of the land and unremitting settler violence.

Through his documentaries about Lois Roberts and Evelyn Orcher and his feature films, Mystery Road and Goldstone, Sen, whose own Gamillaroi  mother was taken away at the age of fourteen to labour on a remote farm ‘as the government’s child slave’, has produced a chilling, though mostly unremarked, national archive of the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women.


Please Read

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.