Pay Back


In Pay Back we follow Paddy, an Aboriginal man in prison who has a vision seeing an elder telling him that "tomorrow is pay back".

Paddy collects his belongings and is dismissed from prison. "Have a nice life, Pat," says the guard. "Yeah," is Paddy's brief response.

He ignores an offer to take another exit. Outside two painted Aboriginal men start to sing and dance as the pay back ceremony begins. Paddy joins their dance with the media filming and recording the ceremony.

Finally one of the painted men raises his weapon and spears Pat in his thigh. "You've got your pay back. Now you're free," he says. Paddy moans and is taken to a waiting ambulance. One of the men also enters the car.

I don't like 'massage films', I like question films.

— Warwick Thornton when asked about Pay Back


Peter Datjing
George Djilaynga
Charlie Matjiwi
Larry Yapuma
Release dates
1996 - Australia
M - Mature

Pay Back is shot in black-and-white.

Warwick was inspired by ABC filming a traditional pay back but taking sides and "making a mess out of it". Warwick brought his "fire, anger and passion about traditional law going along modern law" into the film.

Warwick's film shows the full, authentic payback ceremony (including spearing).

The old painted man that enters the ambulance to go with Paddy has the job to make sure that he is okay. In spearing him this man has taken responsibility for Paddy.

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Harvard citation

Korff, J 2018, Pay Back, <>, retrieved 17 May 2021

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