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English: High Ground


WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised that the following links, videos and articles may contain names, images or voices of deceased persons.

About the film

High Ground is set in the 1930s in Northern Australia and is inspired by true events.

In 1919 World War One army sniper-turned-policeman Travis loses control of his team during a confrontation in Northern Australia. A group of soldiers, many of them war veterans themselves, massacre almost everyone of a tribe of the Yolngu Aboriginal people. One young boy, Gutjuk, survives and is rescued by a veteran sniper, Travis, and raised (as Tommy) by missionaries in a military outpost.

The past comes back to haunt them all, 14 years later, as Tommy’s uncle, Aboriginal warrior Baywara, wreaks his revenge on the soldiers who killed his family and conducts a spate of attacks on their properties.

Travis recruits Gutjuk as his tracker. Gutjuk joins Travis for reasons of his own, a reckoning of their shared past.

Together they embark on a manhunt, which unravels a secret that ultimately pits them against each other.

Source: High Ground (Film) - Creative Spirits

Interviews with the Director

Books in the Library

Background Information

A brief snapshot of the historical, social and cultural context of Stephen Johnson's 'High Ground' for Year 12 VCE English and EAL students. Also includes introductory information about characters, themes and film techniques.

Historical Context

"While High Ground is a fictionalised story that draws from the conventions of the Western genre, it tells of a 'true history,' " says directory Stephen  Johnson. The massacre, for instance, is based on the Gan Gan massacre in which mounted police killed more than 30 Yolgnu people.

Useful Websites

Note taking template

Film Techniques

An overview of the main film techniques in Stephen Johnson's film 'High Ground' for Year 12 English and EAL students. Include examples and tips on how to include film techniques in essay writing.


There are many broad themes touched on in the film including:

  • Frontier life
  • PTSD
  • Intergenerational trauma
  • Rural life
  • Indigenous integration
  • Policing Indigenous peoples
  • Indigenous massacres

Teaching resources