The history of humanity is not the telling of stories but their retelling: perversely, the retelling of a story can have considerably more power than its incarnation, its first telling or its truth.

Ancient fertility myths retold as Christian canon have created today’s calendar as well as countless structures for social cohesion and social control. Baudy oral histories retold by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault took age-old, authorless stories and sanitised them into fairy tales for the burgeoning printing press. Hollywood films remade as Hollywood films continue to drive a lucrative industry that reinforces social norms through stereotype and cliché.

Retelling Australia’s colonial invasion story as European heroism empowered the aggressor to inscribe a new origin myth upon a land whose Dreaming is older than any story the rest of the world had ever heard. 

Anyone can retell a story. Only an artist can create one anew. That’s why they power our world. That’s why institutions of culture, government and philanthropy vie for closer or exclusive association with them. And that’s what makes institutional decision-making so crucial for a nation and for the world.

When the Ian Potter Foundation chose to distance itself from the work of artists awarded two years ago with the Ian Potter Commission via ACMI, the gesture reverberated across the nation. Their public statement called the film “very controversial.” Soda_Jerk said the Foundation called their work “un-Australian.” Responses have been concerned with censorship and social control.

Soda_Jerk describe TERROR NULLIUS as “a counterculture film which offers an un-writing of Australian national mythology”. It’s screening every hour on the hour for free at ACMI until 1 July, when it heads off to Sydney. I saw it sitting on the floor of a packed space among people of all ages and backgrounds, and together we laughed and cheered and sighed and fist-pumped and laughed again. This is an Australian story of the most constructive kind: the kind that makes you think.

I loved seeing Soda_Jerk’s archive of the Australian cinema exploding stereotype and cliché to portray known characters as the new actors of well-known Australian myths – myths in turn exploded into new truths. I loved seeing small glimmers of racism awareness and feminist awakening reinterpreted as powerful defiance. I loved how every sampled film was listed in the credits not just chronologically, but by prime minister, inspiring you even after TERROR NULLIUS was over to think through the relationship between political leadership and the work created by artists.

Let’s keep having that conversation. Let’s make sure that more artists and not fewer are submitting their work for philanthropic and government grants. Let’s invite philanthropists into conversations with artists. Let’s put TERROR NULLIUS on the high school curriculum – where a generation of Australians already comfortable with mash-up and hack culture can understand their cultural inheritance as something they have the power to interpret, change and create anew.