Australian Screen

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My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978)

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clip Zigzag education content clip 1, 2, 3

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Essie Coffey instructs some young people on how to track animals. They are looking for porcupine tracks, and finally find one. A porcupine never walks straight says Essie, but always walks in a zig zag. They follow the porcupine to a hollowed log.

Curator’s notes

While it was carefully constructed, this sequence is very much the equivalent of an Indigenous home video, with the family out on a hunting and gathering expedition, and in this instance, looking for the prized flesh of the porcupine or echidna.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Muruwari woman Essie Coffey in the bush near Brewarrina, New South Wales, teaching two young children how to track a ‘porcupine’ (echidna). She shows the children the tracks made by the animal and explains that an echidna walks in a zigzag rather than a straight line. The group follows the tracks to a fallen tree log, where the two young children with the help of another adult break open the log and discover not one but two echidnas.

Educational value points

  • The ways in which Coffey demonstrates to the children how to track an echidna offer insight into the ways cultural knowledge is often imparted in Indigenous communities. Coffey involves the children directly in the learning process by showing them the echidna’s tracks, explaining the zigzag nature of the tracks and then getting the children to follow the tracks. Under Coffey’s guidance the children locate the echidna in a log by listening and looking. The learning experience is consolidated when the children experience the excitement of finding two echidnas.
  • The clip captures the passing on of traditional knowledge and skills to Indigenous children through active participation in activities such as hunting an echidna, considered a delicacy in some areas. Through observation, imitation, practice and storytelling, children are taught skills such as tracking, hunting and gathering. In the clip the children are shown learning at an early age how to read tracks to identify the type of animal and the direction and speed of its movement.
  • The clip shows Coffey’s role in passing on cultural knowledge to young Indigenous people. Coffey’s knowledge is based on her own childhood experiences of living in the bush. Her family had moved to isolated bushland to avoid being placed on an Aboriginal reserve. Coffey said that this early experience strengthened her resolve to pass on her cultural knowledge to young Indigenous people.
  • Coffey (1940–98) was a Muruwari woman born near Goodooga in NSW. In the mid-1950s she married and lived on an Aboriginal reserve at Brewarrina in western NSW where she co-founded the Brewarrina Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Museum and the Western Aboriginal Legal Service. Coffey served on government bodies such as the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1998 for service to the Aboriginal community.
  • My Survival as an Aboriginal, which Coffey made in collaboration with non-Indigenous filmmaker Martha Ansara, was the first documentary directed by an Indigenous woman. It was also one of the first Australian films in which an Indigenous Australian was directly involved in deciding how she and her community would be represented rather than having their story mediated through a non-Indigenous filmmaker.

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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.

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