My Ancestors Raised Pigs

I remember reading somewhere – maybe in a history of the Bega Show – that one of my ancestors was a champion pig breeder.

I have no idea what that means. The closest I’ve come to day to day agriculture is growing up on the outskirts of Lismore, where there were cattle in the paddock behind us. Occasionally, on the way to the saleyards they would break through the fence. My childhood “chore” was to jump over the fence and collect the dung, which I would then mix with water to put on the vegetable garden.

We would also regularly visit the farm of Uncle Barney and Aunty Maisie who lived at Goonengerry, near Mullumbimby.

That’s me with my back to the camera, along with assorted family members at the farm of Uncle Barney and Aunty Masie at Goonengerry
Years later, working in Renmark, I did this.

And so it was with some interest that I went to see the film, “Gunda”. I’d seen the trailer the other week and thought, “yep I want to see that”. 

When I told friends at lunch yesterday I was going, and told them a little about the film, they instantly referred to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, and the 1990s classic, “Babe”.

It’s not like that, I told them. “It’s a ninety minute documentary film, shot entirely in black and white, there’s no commentary and there are no humans in the film”, I told them. Doesn’t sound great? But it’s definitely worth seeing.

The film was shot on farms in Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom. The connection with Norway is an appropriate one, as that country is also the home of “sakte-TV” (slow-TV), which has seen “marathon length” programs of everday life, such as train journeys receive high viewership.

In some ways, the film is a prime example of that. Over about ninety minutes, the film focuses on the everyday lives of a family of pigs. On the surface, not a lot happens. But in other ways, an awful lot happens, as the pigs (for example) transform from being very young (a few hours after birth) to being independent from their mother.

Though the pigs are at the centre of the film, there are side stories of chicken and cattle.

As I watched the film I couldn’t help but watch it with “human eyes”, to portray the events in terms of human emotions. In part, that’s because the film focuses so much on the animals eyes (giving you an insight into their “soul”), and because there’s so much about their experiences (eating, drinking, looking after their babies), in common with our lives. As you watch, you imagine the animals are, at times, happy, sad, and sometimes bored.

The film also sees the world from the perspective of the animals. For example, when a tractor comes into the film, you see the world from the line of sight of the pigs, and in close-up.

The film’s executive producer is Joaquin Phoenix, a well-known vegan, and so you have to think about the film from that perspective. 

I really enjoyed the film. But as I watched it, I wondered about how my view might of the day to day lives of the animals might differ from that of my ancestors who were much closer to it all. I’d like to think they looked after the animals they had.

Author: James O'Brien

Born / Currently : Lismore / Widjabul Wia-Bal - Bundjalung Live : Sydney / Gadigal - Eora Also : Brisbane, Bourke, Renmark, Wagga, Perth Pronouns : He/him/his.

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