LASSETER’S BONES. Documentary film directed by Luke Walker. 101 minutes. Rated PG (adult themes).
Perhaps, the legend of Lasseter and his reef of gold is not so well known these days. Back in the 1930s and the succeeding decades, probably everyone knew about Lasseter and his search for gold. It was dramatised for eager readers by Ion L. Idriess in Lasseter’s Last Reef. We all read it in those days.
The reef has never been found again. Was it a real? Was Lasseter’s account and his diary telling the truth? Was the man who allegedly found him and buried him telling the truth? Or was Lasseter a con man and a fraud? Did he really die in the desert? Did he actually flee the country and go to the United States? Many people have answered ‘yes’ to all these questions?
Documentary filmmaker, Luke Walker, not only became interested in the story and wanting to find out the truth, he became deeply obsessed. This is his story, his own personal compulsion to search out the truth, his going to the different locations, his tracking down anybody connected with Lasseter and his story, the interviewing them, raising all kinds of questions.
This makes for a very interesting documentary. Walker is very much at the centre of the film, on screen a great deal of the time, inviting the audience to share his experience.
However, he really does search out quite a number of characters to interview. The most prominent is Lasseter’s son, Bob, who is still searching for the reef. He discusses the story with great enthusiasm, reveals that he has been searching the years – he is 85 at the time of the film being made. There is a striking scene with him standing on a ladder with binoculars searching for significant mountain landmarks, and the camera pulling back to show that the ladder is standing on the roof of his vehicle. There is an image of him at the end, sitting in front of his father’s memorial statue, outside Alice Springs.
Walker has done a lot of research about Lasseter, his early years in Northern New South Wales near the Clarence River, his having many brain waves about developing the town, submitting to the government all kinds of intuitions about contributions to the World War I effort. Then there is his diary, claiming that there was a relief. And then his death.
Walker also tracks down relatives of Lasseter’s partner, relatives of the man who found Lasseter and buried him, relatives of those who researched Lasseter’s claims at the time as well as those who accused him of fraud. The film also includes footage from American Lowell Thomas’ television documentary of 1957 in search of Lassiter. Walker goes to libraries, to archives, getting a variety of opinions about what happened.
There was also talk of the reef being near an aboriginal sacred site. Walker goes out into the desert, interviews a group of aboriginal women who offer memories of Lasseter’s last days, feeding him, caring for him. There is also an extended interview as Walker goes out with an elderly aboriginal man near a sacred site and the aborigine reluctant to tell the story, threatening spears if Walk were to go to the site, and his being tired of giving the interview.
With all this information, the different perspectives, Walkers and supporters and critics, it is still up to the audience to make up its mind about what really happened to Lassiter and whether there really was a reef.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 31st 2013.