Original classification rating: PG.
This clip chosen to be PG
Wandjuk Marika is visiting Melbourne from his home in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. He shows Geoffrey Blainey some of the plants and leaves that Aboriginals use to keep colds and other ailments at bay. Geoffrey Blainey recalls the all but forgotten story of how Aboriginal medicine was taken by the Allied forces on D-Day as a protection against air and seasickness. The Allies had run out of manufactured sea and airsick tablets so this traditional medicine was used instead.
Wandjuk Marika, the great Aboriginal artist and poet of his people, speaks nine languages besides English and is clearly proud of the Aboriginal lore he grew up with. Blainey talks to him in Melbourne, although one can’t help wishing Wandjuk was taking Blainey on a wander around his own country in Arnhem Land. Still, the director effectively brings out both Wandjuk Marika’s expertise, and Blainey’s own fascination with the subject. Blainey telling the story of the seasickness drug to camera with Wandjuk posed in the background is particularly effective.
This clip shows the artist and Elder Wandjuk Marika speaking to historian Geoffrey Blainey about some of the plants that can be found in a suburban garden in Melbourne and that are used by Indigenous Australian peoples as bush medicine. Blainey tells the story of a drug made from the corkwood tree, found in New South Wales and Queensland. The drug was issued to Allied service people before the invasion of Normandy during the Second World War as a substitute for scarce sea- and airsickness tablets. Graham Kennedy provides the narration.
Educational value points
- This clip shows that traditional Indigenous peoples have their own bush medicines, some of which are made from plant leaves. Plants were and still are used to treat conditions such as colds, stomach wounds and heart ailments. In the clip Wandjuk Marika talks about some of the plants used as bush medicine, including the leaves of the paperbark tree to treat colds. Many Indigenous people use bush medicine as an alternative to, or often to complement, Western medicines.
- One of the drugs mentioned in this clip, made from the corkwood tree to stun fish, has been adapted and used in Western medicine. Corkwood leaves have been treated and scopolamine extracted and used in ophthalmology as a sedative and as a muscle relaxant. Corkwood was also used during the Second World War in presurgical anaesthesia and for the treatment of shell shock, as well as for airsickness and seasickness prior to the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy.
- Marika (1927–87), a member of the Rirratunga clan of the Yolngu of eastern Arnhem Land, was an Elder who worked closely with anthropologists to record and preserve Yolngu customs and promote greater cultural awareness and understanding among non-Indigenous Australians. He fought for Indigenous land rights and for copyright for Indigenous artists, whose works have often been used without authorisation or payment. Marika was also an artist, musician and dancer.
- Marika comments authoritatively on some medicinal plants in Melbourne, evidence of common Indigenous plants and knowledge across Australia. For example, paperbark trees grow in many different environments. Across Australia there are diverse plants and diverse local Indigenous knowledge. In Victoria aromatic plants such as river mint and old man weed have also been used for coughs, colds and chest complaints.
- The Blainey View, from which this clip is taken, was a ten-part series made in 1982 and based on material from Geoffrey Blainey’s book Triumph of the Nomads (1975). This clip was taken from Footprints, the last part of the series. Blainey is known for his work in economic history, and in Footprints he emphasised Aboriginal peoples’ achievements in their relationship to and knowledge of their environment.
- Geoffrey Blainey (1930–) is one of Australia’s foremost and most controversial historians. Later in the 1980s he expressed controversial views regarding Asian immigration and in 1993 he coined the term ‘black armband view of history’, expressing his view that past European achievements were being belittled and that there was too much focus on the negative treatment of Indigenous Australians by Europeans.
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