Mr Richard Frankland

Richard Joseph Frankland is a Gunditjmara man who inspires through his writing, his films and his music.

Born in 1963 Richard is the third youngest of six children, and grew up mainly in Portland in south-west Victoria. His father, also named Richard, was a farmer and court clerk of European descent who died suddenly when Richard was six. As a consequence his mother, Christina Saunders, and her family have had the biggest influence on Richard’s life.

Christina comes from a long line of Gunditjmara warriors. Her father, Chris Saunders served in the First World War and her brothers Reg and Harry Saunders served in the Second World War. Reg was the first Aboriginal to become a commissioned officer and went on to see active service in the Korean War. Harry, who was killed on the Kokoda Trail, was the inspiration for one of Richard’s early films. Christina herself fought her own battle at home: in the 1970s she and Lorraine Onus prevented Alcoa from building a smelter on Gunditjmara land, taking the case all the way to the High Court of Australia.

At the age of 13 Richard dropped out of school and lived on the streets of Melbourne for a short time for a few months before finding work in an abattoir, then as an apprentice glazier. After a stint with the Army Reserve he enlisted in the Regular Army in the late 1970s. In 1988, he was appointed as a field officer for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Over the four years he worked in this role he was deeply affected by the families he met and the stories he heard.

Richard drew on his experiences as a field officer to make the 1992 documentary, Who Killed Malcolm Smith? It received the Australian Film Institute’s Best Documentary award – the first of many awards Richard has since received for writing and directing. Other work inspired by his Royal Commission experience included the television drama No Way To Forget (1996) and the play Conversations with the Dead (2001), as well as songs and poems.

The diversity of Richard’s work is demonstrated through films such as Harry’s War (1999), which he wrote and directed based on his uncle’s Second World War experience. It explores the idea of what it is to be Australian and the relationships between black and white soldiers. In his other documentaries such as The Innocents (2002–03), Richard tells of the experiences of children affected by war and violence in Palestine and Mexico. During his prolific career he has produced over 50 films and documentaries.

Richard’s work in film is not restricted to serious topics.  His sharp sense of humour shines through in the film Stone Bros which he made in 2009 – a ground breaking Indigenous comedy within the ‘road movie’ genre.