“Australian history does not read like history but like the most beautiful lies.”
– Mark Twain
It is unfortunate that so much of Australian history is often deemed as boring since the nation wasn’t born with a civil war, just a referendum, and we didn’t rebel from our English heritage so much as follow them into war whenever they asked us to. As many a Buzzfeed list will remind you, Australia as a country is a harsh place, we have deadly weather and deadlier creatures, but from these harsh conditions come fascinating stories – albeit, not of the civil war magnitude. They are much more personal. And it took an English migrant to pursue one of these stories in “Lasseter’s Bones”.
In 1931 Harold Lasseter’s body was found in Central Australia’s deserts. His diary revealed that he’d found gold, worth millions but that he’d give it all for a loaf of bread. The gold is still yet to be found. Filmmaker Luke Walker finds Lasseter’s 85 year-old son, still searching the desert, not only for gold, but something far more precious. Now, 80 years since Lasseter set off from Alice Springs to meet his fate, is it possible to piece together the fragments of history he left behind? Armed with a camera and the unshakable belief that he will find gold in Lasseter’s story, Walker sets out to unravel the tangle of myths, lies and legend that lie buried with Lasseter’s bones in the heart of Australia.
From the Werner Herzog school of documentary-making, Walker’s strong authorial presence pervades each scene to the enhancement of the film. He is an engaging presence, a stand in for the audience as he uncovers Lasseter’s life story, finds new sources, animates retellings and journeys to the most deadly of all places – central Australia. He is at times both amazed and bewildered by this enigma of a man – was he just unlucky, was he a liar, was he a man just too far ahead of his times, or perhaps a combination of all three.
While I won’t spoilt the ending, there is one definite side story relating to the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge that is truly remarkable, and personally, this presents an even more interesting story to me – that of lost potential and a man who dreamed bigger than what life had handed him. Walker wonders, in another time, in another place, with more education, or wealth, would Lasseter’s story had a much happier ending. At the time of his death Lasseter projected on to his 5 year old son the life he wished he would have had, and the son, to a large extent, makes it his life mission to fulfi that. A beautiful coda when he could have easily felt abandoned for a dream of a river of gold (literally).
It was a ten year mission to bring the documentary full circle, and ultimately it seems Walker is satisfied that a story that was in danger of being lost “is now available to a new generation who just thought Lasseter’s was the coffee shop on Neighbours”.* I think Harold Lasseter would be pretty happy about that.