Zach’s Ceremony – Interview with Aaron Petersen

After watching the teaser for Zach’s Ceremony, I knew this was a story that needed to be told.

Zach’s Ceremony is a universal story about father and son relationship, culture, tribal lore, the injustices and the importance of knowing connection.

The past month I have been researching my own roots as a result of producing a film based in WW2. As I discovered information about my Grandfather, that not even my own mother knew, I felt the bonds of my family strengthen, along with my own sense of self.

Like that of the Native American, the Aboriginal cultures are vital to our own collective understanding here in Australia. It is a rich ancient culture that still exists today, which is a rarity throughout the planet, and it is one that runs through the veins of our red dirt that we all call home.

I caught up with Petersen to find out more about the project as I was deeply moved by the teaser and wanted to share the story with our readers.

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Can you give us an overview of the project, what is Zach’s Ceremony all about?


Zach’s Ceremony follows the life of a young boy, Zach, from the age of 9 through to 15.

Zach grew up in Sydney with his father Alec, who is from Far North Queensland, a proud and passionate Aboriginal man who believes in the importance of his culture and sharing this story with his children, every Australian and the global community.

We follow Zach as he struggles with his identity, straddling 2 worlds; modern vs ancient Australia, black vs white and where home really is city vs outback, whilst also desperately wanting to make his father proud of him.

Zach finds himself in trouble whilst in the city, running with a ‘naughty’ group of friends and exploring as teenagers do.

It is this rebellious teenage behaviour which creates a divide between father and son. Tensions rise as Alec becomes frustrated with his son’s choices and direction in life.

Wanting the best for his son and feeling that he had lost his way, Alec wants to see Zach on a better path and encourages him transition into their culture through the ancient rite of initiation and sends him to be with family in their hometown of Doomadgee, QLD.

How did you come to work on this project?

I met Alec in 2008 whilst working on an ABC3 TV Series called ‘On The Edge’, he was the presenter and voice-over artist and Postbox Studios (our post-production facility) was handling post-production on the 13 part series.

Alec was coming into the studio regularly and beyond sharing stories about our family, lives and in particular our sons, he started telling me about his plans with Zach. My immediate reaction was one of envy; why didn’t I have something like this in culture to share with my sons?

At the same time, I also had two nephews who are indigenous Australians and I knew my own boys were getting to that age of being inquisitive and start wanting to know more about the world.

I asked my brother-in-law if he was going to teach his kids about their Aboriginal culture. His response came as a shock to me, he said “Well, no. Because I don’t know much about my family. When I was young, we were sent to a mission on an island and ostracized.”

I was so amazed. Here is this amazing ancient culture, and yet, its own people are uneducated in knowledge and disconnected?? Why? Don’t they want to know about it or are they afraid to talk about it? How do you re-introduce a connection?

I wanted to know more.

As little as 6 years ago, Indigenous Affairs wasn’t a talking point like it is today, and in the life of the project I’ve seen that change.

So whilst Alec wanted Zach to go through his Aboriginal initiation ceremony, help him begin his journey and learn about what it means to be an Aboriginal man, he also wanted to share this story with others to better educate the misbeliefs and beauty of their heritage.

Being invited into Zach and Alec’s life, along with the ancient Aboriginal culture seems like an extremely personal and special thing, tell us about that.

Over the years that we filmed Zach and Alec, we became part of their extended family and they really made us feel welcome.

We’ve filmed for such a long period that my Producer, Sarah Linton, started her own family over the same period and managed to work through. With the 3 individual families coming together, it created one big family. The Zach’s Ceremony family.

When I would go up north to film, my boys knew “Daddy is going to spend time with Zach, his little brother Bailey and Alec”. In turn Zach and Bailey would ask about my boys as well.

Whitefellas getting invited onto cultural land and taking part in the events is simply amazing. An incredibly unique opportunity, and one I will remember forever. I will share the stories with my boys.

How does Zach & Alec feel about the project?

They both believe in the project very strongly. Alec feels that it will help tell a story that we all need to hear.

Whilst it is a universal story between father and son, one that most people can relate to, there are also political and social topics that come up throughout the time-passing in the documentary.

With Zach – I had to work very hard to earn his trust and respect, in order for him to be able tell stories that even his own family doesn’t know about.

Whilst Alec wants to share the story of his culture, this is also an amazing opportunity for Zach to tell his own story as a modern-day Aboriginal. He faces a lot of challenges in his every-day city-life, and this documentary gives him an opportunity to share his story with the world and to make a difference.

You have recently launched a Pozible campaign, can you tell us what stage the project is at and what you need help with to complete it?

To date, Zach’s Ceremony has been entirely independently/privately funded by myself, Alec and Sarah. We struggled to get attention from the funding bodies but have learnt a lot from each experience.

We have shot 75% of the documentary and now we need just a little help to complete the film. This Pozible campaign will help secure the ending of the film and key interviews. So grab yourself a part of the film with a signed Poster, DVD or be a part of the credit role.

What do you feel are the messages that need to get across to society and governments surrounding Aboriginal matters?

This is history beyond what we know as ‘Australia’ and it is something we should embrace and respect. But for some reason we keep it swept under the rug.

The healing process starts with a conversation. Breaking down the barriers, starting at the point where everyone can talk about what we’ve got in this country and where we are going.

The First Australians are so unique! No-one else has this – 50,000 years of a continuous living culture!

So the message is really just to start… start talking.

This is my first feature documentary, actually it’s a first for everyone involved in the film and it’s a natural progression for all of us.

Do you think you’ll do more of these sorts of projects?

Yes, we would love to!

Native American culture has a very similar story to the First Australians and it gives some insight into where our society could be going.

Alec spent some months with the Sioux Indians near South Dakota and felt an immediate link to their stories and culture. They shared the same connection and we would like to explore other indigenous cultures and the common bonds.

Want to get involved?

Head over to the Pozible Campaign and help Aaron and the team finish the project so this story can be told. We’ll continue to update you here, but if you’d like to know more please also visit the project website

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