Australian Screen

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My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978)

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clip Lessons on survival education content clip 1, 2, 3

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Essie Coffey gives the children lessons on how to survive in the bush. She shows them different sorts of fruits and trees.

Curator’s notes

The power of Essie Coffey and her command over the young people is evident, and it is Essie Coffey’s passion for cultural knowledge and what it offers can be recognised as a driving force in this documentary.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Muruwari woman Essie Coffey at Brewarrina in western New South Wales teaching a group of Indigenous children about surviving in the bush. She tells the children that they can always find something to eat in the bush and shows them how to determine if the fruit of a particular tree is ripe. Coffey then takes the group to a particular type of eucalypt and explains that they can quench their thirst by chewing the leaves or twigs.

Educational value points

  • In the clip Essie Coffey works with young people to identify and use plants that can provide sustenance in the bush. Coffey teaches the children by walking with them through the bush, asking them to identify a fruiting tree and then showing them how to identify the ripe fruit from the under- and overripe fruit, and how to extract moisture from the leaves of a particular eucalypt. In this way, through observation, imitation and listening, children learn traditional skills such as hunting, gathering and tracking.
  • Women such as Coffey have an extensive knowledge of their environment including what can be eaten, when to collect particular foods and how to prepare foods. In many parts of Australia seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are important sources of food and medicine for local Indigenous people.
  • Coffey’s lesson to the children is a way of imparting cultural knowledge and a strong sense of pride and identity as Indigenous Australians. When Coffey was a child her family had moved around the country 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.
  • The clip is an example of an observational style of documentary filmmaking. The observational sequences have no voice-over commentary, intertitles or interviews, but rather present an unobtrusive observation of the everyday life of the subjects. The filmmaker leaves it to the viewer to determine the significance of what is said and done, but it could be argued that the filmmaker manipulates the story through dextrous editing and choice of camera angles and shots.
  • Coffey (1940–98) was a Muruwari woman born near Goodooga, NSW. In the mid-1950s she married and settled 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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