Original classification rating: PG.
This clip chosen to be PG
Wandjuk Marika, the great artist and poet of the people of Arnhem Land in northern Australia, speaks to the historian Geoffrey Blainey of being one with the land and of his passion for land rights to assist his people to preserve their nomadic culture.
The director carefully presents a key Indigenous figure to discuss the relationship between the inhabitants and their land. Wandjuk Marika was a great man and a great leader of his people. He’s now been dead for many years but his words, and the beautifully photographed footage of him and his family in the countryside, add a grandeur to the documentary. As do the extraordinary photos of the anthropologist, Donald Thomson, that capture the canoe hunt of the men of the Arafura Swamp region of the Northern Territory in 1937. These photos were recently shown to the director Rolf de Heer by David Gulpilil to persuade him of the need for a feature film about this pre-European era. The result was the remarkable Ten Canoes (2006).
This clip shows Wandjuk Marika, artist, poet and Elder of the Yolngu people, speaking about how he and the land are closely interwoven. Over footage of a group of Indigenous people walking through the bush after a successful hunting trip, narrator Graham Kennedy describes these people’s knowledge of nature and their food-gathering skills. The image dissolves to historic black-and-white photographs of young Indigenous men hunting in the Arafura Swamp in the NT. The narrator makes the point that during the Great Depression these people were living in prosperity while many people in the Western world were starving.
Educational value points
- In the clip, Wandjuk Marika says that the land is him and he is the land, illustrating that in Indigenous Australian cultures land means much more than just a physical place. Indigenous people such as Marika have a deep spiritual affinity with the land and feel connected to their country by the rituals of secret or sacred ceremonies. All around they can see signs of the presence of their Dreaming ancestors, in places where these ancestors dug out valleys or split rocks as they passed. Because the land sustains them, every individual has a sacred duty to protect the land and has a specific role and obligations to individual people, sites, parts of the country such as rivers or hills, or totemic animals such as emus or goannas.
- Some Indigenous Australians have great knowledge of how to hunt and gather food according to seasonal cycles, and also of sustainability, this knowledge having been built up through the experience of countless generations. They know when and where to go for specific foods, and may stay in the area for a limited time so they do not over-hunt or over-harvest the food, ensuring there is enough food for the next season when they return.
- The narrator refers to the 'nomadic way of life’ of traditional Indigenous Australian peoples and explains that this description was related to their understanding of the land and the food it produced. However, these people were not wandering aimlessly, but were moving deliberately from place to place within their land area each season to manage both food supplies and the land. They also travelled in search of a better climate, for trade, and for rituals and ceremonies associated with caring for the land. As non-Indigenous Australians 'unlocked the land’ and used it for agriculture and animal husbandry, many Indigenous Australians were not only dispossessed of their land, but were also deprived of access to their hunting areas and water supplies.
- The Arafura Swamp, where the people in the photographs are shown hunting and cooking the magpie goose, is a large area of freshwater wetlands in Arnhem Land and is home to an incredible variety of bird, plant and animal life. This includes what is possibly the largest population of crocodiles in the world, and the platforms shown above the waters of the Arafura Swamp, where the people prepared and cooked the magpie goose, were to protect them from crocodiles. This practice is shown in the Australian feature film Ten Canoes (2006).
- Wandjuk Marika (1927–87), a member of the Rirratunga clan of the Yolngu of eastern Arnhem Land, was an Elder, artist, musician, dancer and cultural ambassador for his people. He worked closely with anthropologists such as Donald Thomson and Ronald and Catherine Berndt to communicate Yolngu customs and promote greater cultural awareness and understanding among non-Indigenous Australians. He fought for Indigenous Australian land rights and opposed bauxite mining on his people’s land. He also instigated the fight for copyright for Indigenous artists whose work was frequently used without authorisation or payment.
- Donald Thomson (1901–70), who took the black-and-white photographs used in the clip, was an anthropologist and a passionate defender of and advocate for the rights of Indigenous Australian peoples. He took many photographs of Indigenous peoples in eastern Arnhem Land and in Cape York, Queensland. His photographs show people in fully functioning and self-supporting societies, and cover domestic life, food gathering, housing, artefacts and religious life.
- Geoffrey Blainey (1930–), who talks in this clip, is one of Australia’s foremost and most controversial historians. In 1993 he coined the term 'black armband view of history’, expressing his view that past European achievements are now belittled and that there is a 'guilt industry’ about the treatment of Indigenous Australians by non-Indigenous people. This film was made in 1982, well before that debate. Blainey has written more than 30 books, including The Tyranny of Distance (1966), Triumph of the Nomads (1976) and A Very Short History of the World (2007). He has held chairs in economic history and history at the University of Melbourne.
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