The Land Speaks in Brilliant Countryman Documentary
Bondi local Peter Pecotić explores European and Indigenous ideas of ancestral lands in his new documentary, Countryman. The film premiered at the Croatian Film Festival in November and charts Mr Pecotić’s relationship with his ancestral lands in Croatia alongside the Indigenous relationship to country of Warumungu man Joseph Williams.
“I was first introduced to the idea of ancestral lands as a child when my father showed me two jars. The first was filled with sea water and the second with soil from the island of Korčula in Croatia. When my father left to come to Australia his mother gave him the jars as a reminder of his home.”
Mr Pecotić’s family can track their history on Korčula back to the 1200s. While Peter typically spends four months of the year on Korčula, COVID kept him in Australia in 2020, so he decided to retrace his father’s steps from a road trip to Far North Queensland in 1958.
“I got to meet the descendants of Croatian migrants that my father had met back in 1958. Then I was able to cross the Queensland-Northern Territory border and meet Joseph in Tenant Creek. I quickly realised that he was another descendant but coming from a different context,” Mr Pecotić said.
Mr Williams has Warumungu ancestry on his mother’s side and Yugoslavian ancestry on his father’s side. He told The Beast that, as co-producer of Countryman, he was pleased to be able to share indigenous relationships to land in the film.
“I’m sharing a bit about country and my mum’s people from up here [Tennant Creek], trying to show that we’re well connected to our lore and our country,” Mr Williams told The Beast.
“I think people could learn a lot from the film, that we’re still practising our lore, and I hope people respect us more for doing that.”
Mr Pecotić learnt the craft of filmmaking through producing smaller corporate films for his event clients while working for an event management company in China. Countryman is his first documentary.
The comparison between European and Indigenous concepts of ancestral lands surfaced during the film’s development. For Mr Pecotić, the film explores the connection to family, identity and memory that is found in his family’s land in Croatia.
“It’s like congregating at the grave of a family member – memories surface and conversations start,” he explained.
“The mountain your mother grew up on or the sea your father learnt to swim in can operate in the same way. Time is just a construct, and you and everyone who came before you are all there at the same time.”
In collaborating with Mr Williams, Mr Pecotić found not only a new way of considering country but a new perspective on Australia itself.
“Migrants come to Australia and they want to do their best and survive, and so land here can be seen as a commodity. You want to get a farm or a house because that means security, and it’s the land back home, the old world, that is sacred. What I’ve learnt is that the land here is sacred too. For people like Joseph, Australia is old world.”
The filmmaking process also revealed the interconnected experiences between Indigenous Australians and Croatian migrants, particularly with Mr Williams beginning the search for the Croatian side of his family and identity.
“For me, I learnt to never give up if you’re lost,” Mr Williams told The Beast.
“If you’re trying to find your people or your parents, keep looking, because I found mine.”
Countryman will be playing at several community screenings in Sydney, Melbourne, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs in 2022. You can follow
@countrymanmovie on Instagram for more information.