Strange Birds In Paradise – A West Papuan Story

While the Indonesian army continues to dominate the indigenous inhabitants of West Papua, three friends gather in Melbourne to record outlawed folk songs with renowned Australian rock musicologist David Bridie.

Donny Roem is a recent exile.  With his two young brothers and 42 other refugees, he crossed the Arafura Sea to Australia in a homemade canoe.

Jacob Rumbiak was a child soldier in the West Papuan resistance movement.  His moving story is one of oppression, torture and escape.

Charlie Hill-Smith, an Australian writer, cartoonist and comedian, is their friend. His passion for contact across cultures has led him to forge close friendships with the Melanesians and the Javanese families he met as a teenage exchange student.

Afloat in an extraordinary musical tradition from the West Papuan highlands, hearing stories of escape, oppression and exile from Jacob and Donny, listening to the defiant songs of murdered musician and independence hero Arnold Ap, Charlie confronts a basic question: how could these two vibrant cultures be at war and how can the rest of the world seemingly not care?

This film is his search for an answer. With his friends as guides, he searches through the archival footage of recent Indonesian history. He seeks out experts and revisits his own innocent tourist footage shot many years ago in West Papua. He returns to Java to discover a local political resistance.  Melbourne animators help him re-imagine stories of flight and battle, while artists in Java help him create iconic characters from Indonesian mythology as shadow puppets.

Charlie travels again to West Papua and visits the places Donny and Jacob still call home.  He records the fate of West Papuans trying to maintain village life while adapting to the Indonesian economy. He visits the battered, pitiful resistance and the refugee camps along the Papua New Guinean border.

In the end, Charlie is inspired to blend his own journey of discovery with scenes of the studio recording to create an extended musical meditation. He documents an inspiring concert at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, which brings together the exile community in Australia in a moment of defiant celebration.

An extraordinary story of an imaginative, adaptable culture confronting tyranny with the joyful power of art, music and self-expression.


Click on the following link to listen to an ABC National Late Night Live interview.

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~ by Tavurvur on June 12, 2010.

6 Responses to “Strange Birds In Paradise – A West Papuan Story”

  1. I look forward to seeing this film – Stange Birds! Taurvur, would you know when the film will be avaliable for purchase? Regards, Tali

  2. Hi Tali,

    I’m not too sure when the film will go on sale – it’s currently screening around the world. It last screened at the Sydney Film Festival in a documentary competition on Thursday 10 June.


  3. Cheers Tavurvur, I’ll keep track of the film. Thanks again!


  4. Thanks for the article Tavurvur. Hope the film makes its way to Canada.

  5. Hi this is Charlie, the director of Strange Birds in Paradise, the film is still doing the rounds of film festivals. It won best documentary in the Inside Film 2010 awards last week and has been nominated for 4 Australian Film Industry awards (Dec 2010). The DVD with lots of extra music should be available in March 2011 –

    cheers Charlie Hill-Smith

  6. hi Don.. how are you now.. it’s been a long time not see you.. glad to heard when you came to Papua in last December.. i miss you man..

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