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From Sand to Celluloid – Two Bob Mermaid (1996)

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'Swimmin' … that's for white fellas' education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Aboriginal kids cling to the fence that keeps them out of the pool area. In the pool, Koorine (Carrie Prosser) races a young girl (Megan Drury). They talk about being like Dawn Fraser and Esther Williams. Koorine’s friend convinces her to sign up for the annual competition and introduces her to Eleanor (Celia Keane), who calls the Aboriginal kids outside the fence ‘a bunch of monkeys’. Koorine talks to her mother (Tess Leahy) about being a swimmer like her heroes. Her mother tells her that swimming is for white fellas.

Curator’s notes

Koorine is a character who for the moment is tempted by white privilege, and exploits her ability to pass as a white person. The class divide and the restriction of dreams imposed upon Koorine as a consequence of racism, is echoed in this clip.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Koorine (Carrie Prosser), a young Indigenous girl whose Indigenous identity is unknown to her school friends. Koorine lives in 1957 in a rural town where Aboriginal people are excluded from the swimming pool. After a race in the pool Koorine and her friend decide to enter a swimming carnival. In subsequent scenes Koorine hides her Indigenous identity from her friends by ignoring her brother, who calls her Tidda – meaning sister, and by not openly responding to racist comments made by her friends. At home when Koorine talks to her Aboriginal mother (Tessa Leahy) about her dream of being a great swimmer her mother replies: ‘Swimmin’ ... that’s for white fellas’.

Educational value points

  • The clip portrays the conflict between Koorine’s Aboriginal heritage and her dream of becoming a swimming star in a rural community where Indigenous people are excluded from the pool. Koorine is able to swim with her white friends because she is fair skinned and is thought by the pool manager to be non-Indigenous. Her dream of success at the carnival causes her to ignore her Aboriginal brothers and friends outside the fence at the swimming pool. In the face of the blatantly racist remarks made by her friends about Indigenous people she chooses to remain silent; however, she looks troubled.
  • The clip depicts the segregation of Aboriginal children at a swimming pool in the 1950s. At the time many local rural councils enforced a policy of segregation that banned Aboriginal people from some hotels, restaurants and public swimming pools. In most New South Wales country towns, and in other towns in Australia, Aboriginal people had to sit in separate sections of the theatre when attending the cinema.
  • Koorine’s mother responds dismissively to Koorine’s enthusiasm for swimming, reflecting the complexity of their situation. Being fair skinned, Koorine is able to ‘pass’ for white and so her dreams of swimming fame may seem more attainable to her, although she finds the deception troubling. Koorine’s mother, who has greater understanding of the challenges faced by her daughter and of the entrenched racist views in the town, sees Koorine’s ambitions as unrealistic.
  • Koorine refers to her heroes Dawn Fraser (1937–) and Esther Williams (1921–) in the clip. Fraser won eight Olympic Games medals and six Commonwealth Games gold medals during her career as a swimmer for Australia. Williams, a US swimmer and actress, appeared in 26 movies during the 1940s and 50s. The film’s title, Two Bob Mermaid, is an ironic reference to Williams’s movie Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).
  • Two Bob Mermaid (1996) is a short film that was written and directed by Darlene Johnson, a Dunghutti woman from the east coast of northern NSW. The film is included in an anthology of six short films from Indigenous filmmakers called From Sand to Celluloid. Two Bob Mermaid won the Film Critics Circle of Australia Award for Best Australian Short Film in 1996. Johnson’s other writing and directing credits include Stolen Generations (2000) and Gulpilil: One Red Blood (2002).

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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:

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  • 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.

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