Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Couldn’t Be Fairer (1984)

play May contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Email a link to this page
To:
CC:
Subject:
Body:
clip Discovery is just a word education content clip 1, 2

Original classification rating: M. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Historical footage of Indigenous people in both cultural activity and in the process of being institutionalised in the mission church.

Curator’s notes

Couldn’t Be Fairer offers good historical footage, and allows the audience to gauge the shifting social frameworks over the years that allowed racist views to be expressed quite openly. Films like Couldn’t Be Fairer show us the colonial attitudes that have shaped Aboriginal oppression.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows black-and-white archival footage of Indigenous Australians engaged in traditional ceremonial activities, building a shelter, fishing with spears and collecting food. This footage includes narration by Aboriginal activist Mick Miller, who details the treatment of Indigenous people since Australia was colonised by the British in 1788. The second half of the clip shows footage of Indigenous people on a Christian mission in the 1930s. The original narration, included with this footage, claims that the missions are giving Indigenous people 'the benefits of civilisation’ and includes the intertitle 'Happy halfcaste girls in the orphanage’.

Educational value points

  • Miller says Indigenous Australians have a deep spiritual affinity with the land and refers to the land as 'the source of all life and meaning to us’. During Dreaming, the creation time, it is believed that spirit ancestors travelled across the land, setting out laws for Aboriginal social and spiritual behaviour and creating the natural environment, which Indigenous people then became a part of. Indigenous language groups belong to different homelands. The land sustains them and in return they have a sacred duty to protect it. Indigenous identity is derived from this stewardship and the ongoing connection it provides to Dreaming.
  • In the 1930s the Australian Government adopted a policy of assimilating Indigenous Australians. From the 1870s Indigenous people had been increasingly housed on reserves and missions. According to an academic, James Jupp, until the 1930s it was believed that Indigenous Australians were a 'vanishing race’, but when this proved to be incorrect the Government adopted a policy of assimilation. This was to be achieved by instructing Indigenous Australians in a Western way of life.
  • Government reserves and church-run missions were set up to protect the welfare of Indigenous people. In this period a Western way of life was defined as 'civilised’ and superior to Indigenous culture, which was seen as 'primitive’. Thus, assimilation was viewed as a way of improving Indigenous welfare. Many Indigenous people were taken to missions or reserves, where they were often discouraged from using their languages or cultural practices and were introduced to Christianity. A consequence of the confinement of Indigenous people to these settlements was that their tribal land could more easily be occupied by settlers.
  • Under the policy of assimilation, up to one in three Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities. These children were taken to church or state institutions such as the orphanage shown in this clip or raised by non-Indigenous families. The Government believed that children with light skin or of mixed European and Indigenous descent could be absorbed into mainstream society through acculturation and intermarriage. Children who were removed from their families for this reason are known as the Stolen Generations.
  • The removal of Indigenous people from their lands denied them access to traditional sources of food, and as a result the Government distributed rations that included refined flour, sugar, tinned or salted meat and tea. At some reserves and missions the rations were of poor quality, were nutritionally inadequate and did not include fresh fruit and vegetables. A poor diet was not restricted to the missions. The Great Depression of the 1930s left large numbers of the Australian population with little money for a balanced diet.
  • Because British settlers did not recognise the land ownership system of Indigenous Australians and so declared Australia to be 'terra nullius’ (land with no legal owner), as Miller says, Indigenous Australians became 'marginal people in our own country’. Indigenous people who resisted this settlement were sometimes shot, arrested and kept in chains and in some cases their waterholes were poisoned. In 1992 the High Court overturned 'terra nullius’ in the Mabo (No 2) judgement. Land rights legislation had been passed in various states and territories in the 1960s and 70s but the Mabo judgement recognised an inherent right to the land, arising out of Indigenous law and custom.
  • The original narration heard in this clip is indicative of the cultural blindness of the time to the complexity of Indigenous culture or its longevity, with Indigenous Australians being seen as 'primitive’ and childlike, and needing to be civilised and protected. The camera focuses on a woman being dressed in European clothing as if such garments represent 'civilisation’. The positioning of Indigenous Australians as 'other’ is demonstrated through the use of dehumanising language, for example, referring to Indigenous men as 'bucks’ and children as 'piccaninnies’.
  • A belief in the superiority of Western culture shaped attitudes towards Indigenous Australians and informed government policy in the 1930s when this footage was taken. This belief was behind the policy of assimilation that was pursued by the Government until the 1960s. In the archival footage the commentator reinforces the assumption that the welfare of Indigenous people will be improved by introducing them to a Western way of life. He concludes that 'the good work of the Sacred Heart missionaries turns the primitive people into a happy healthy community’.

This clip starts approximately 4 minutes into the documentary.

This clip shows black-and-white archival footage of Indigenous Australians engaged in traditional ceremonial activities, building a shelter, fishing with spears and collecting food. This footage includes narration by Aboriginal activist Mick Miller, who details the treatment of Indigenous people since Australia was colonised by the British in 1788. The second half of the clip shows footage of Indigenous people on a Christian mission in the 1930s. The original narration, included with this footage, claims that the missions are giving Indigenous people 'the benefits of civilisation’ and includes the intertitle 'Happy halfcaste girls in the orphanage’.

Mick Miller, narrator When the British, to use their word, “discovered” Australia, we had already been here for at least 60,000 years. Our culture was rich and complex. Based on a deep spiritual affinity for the land. The land is our mother. It is the source of all life and meaning to us. We were on the continent in small clan groups. We had no need for houses of parliament, or cathedrals, paved roads or fences, but the white man took that as evidence of our backwardness. They called us savages, subhumans. We were shot, poisoned, kept in chains. Our women were raped. They drove us from our land, and they desecrated it. Later, they decided to civilise us, to make us like themselves.

Original narration from Christian mission footage The Australian blacks are a vanishing race no longer. Earnest efforts by those who know and understand them are today bettering the condition of the Aborigines. The blacks are encouraged to live the old free life, but they are given the benefits of civilisation as well. And one big benefit is regular meals. Rations are issued to all who apply, and there’s no reluctance to apply. Some are reluctant to go. Along with the bucks and the youngsters, the women get their food the new way, but they still carry their babies the old way. The piccaninnies take their exercise seriously, even if some of them take it a bit out of time. “Well, how do you like this fella (inaudible), Mary? Too much altogether walkabout (inaudible).” So the good work of the Sacred Heart missionaries turns a primitive people into a happy, healthy community.

Mick Miller In less than 150 years, our ancient civilisation had been destroyed. It was accepted that we were doomed to extinction. We had become marginal people in our own country. Our land was now their land.

Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer Discovery is just a word from the documentary Couldn't Be Fairer as a high quality video download.

To play the downloadable video, you need QuickTime 7.0, VLC, or similar.

You must read and agree to the following terms and conditions before downloading the clip:

australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

This clip is available in the following configurations:

File nameSizeQualitySuitability
couldntb1_pr.mp4 Large: 19.6MB High Optimised for full-screen display on a fast computer.
couldntb1_bb.mp4 Medium: 9.2MB Medium Can be displayed full screen. Also suitable for video iPods.

Right-click on the links above to download video files to your computer.

Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer this clip in an embeddable format for personal or non-commercial educational use in full form on your own website or your own blog.

You must read and agree to the following terms and conditions before embedding the clip:

australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

Copy and paste the following code into your own web page to embed this clip: