Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Few Aboriginal digital citizens 40 years after referendum

Few Aboriginal digital citizens 40 years after ReferendumThe AFI award-winning film Ten Canoes was shown in Sydney to mark the significant anniversary of the referendum that legally recognised the original inhabitants of Australia. It is the first feature film to be shot almost entirely in an Aboriginal language (predominantly Ganalbingu).

Ten Canoes uses the medium of film to tell some of the collective stories of the Yolngu people from a remote area of the Northern Territory. The film was developed using an approach based on the common experience of the group.

Firstly, the narrative and approach of the movie were developed by the community with the director, Rolf de Heer. The community controlled its content down to deciding on the cast. They used the film to bring to life some of the 4000 black and white glass plate photographs taken by Dr Donald Thomson, an anthropologist who lived among the people of Arnhem Land in the 1930s.

These photographs held in Museum Victoria captured many aspects of Yolngu culture including the traditional annual bark canoeing expedition to hunt magpie geese and collect their eggs as depicted in the film. The modern Yolngu had not maintained the traditional skills including making the bark canoes and tools used for housing and hunting.

The film makes use of both black and white and colour. The tale of the Yolgnu ancestors from 1,000 years ago is presented in black and white. The main dramatic story — a cautionary tale about the magpie goose hunting expedition — is presented in colour.

This unusual movie became the nucleus for a number of additional canoe projects. Eleven Canoes introduced a video media course into the town of Ramingining to teach documentary making to the young people of the community. This contributed content to the interactive Twelve Canoes website where the people of Ramingining display the aspects of their environment, culture and people they wish to communicate to the outside world .

The digital media project 12 Canoes is a broadband website that presents, in an artistic, cultural and educational context, the stories, art and environment of the Yolngu people who live around the Arafura swamp in north-eastern Arnhem Land. The Yolngu people of the Arufura swamp are few in number, but their wealth of stories and artwork highlights who they are, and the importance of acknowledging and preserving their culture. In this context the website is an important reference and educational resource.

In 12 Canoes, Ganalbingu-Yolgnu heritage will be presented through the works and stories of key community members. By way of kinship they are the owners and managers of stories and history and are bestowed with the responsibility for telling them. While they are the keepers for the collective, their individuality will present aspects of their present and everyday lives in their hometown of Ramingining.

In this way, the Yolgnu community’s use of new media is very traditional in terms of the level of control they retain as a collective group over the representation of their life. Individuals are not the focus of this approach, nor are individuals encouraged to have their own voices and views.

However, many of the collaborators and key actors in Ten Canoes are artists in their own right and have their own online presence away from the movie. Crusoe Kurddal is renowned for his large mimih sculptures and his works were permanently installed in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Yiribana Gallery when it opened in 1994.

The Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation is an Aboriginal owned and controlled community arts centre located in Ramingining which features the work of, among others, actor Richard Birrinbirrin.

Lead actor Peter Minygululu paints the story of his father's country — the land around Mirrngatja on the eastern side of the Arafura Swamp and one of the sites visited by the Wagilag Sisters.

The story of the Wagalak (or Wagilag) Sisters, a creation story told across Arnhem Land, is brought to life in the Dust Echoes project.

Few Aboriginal digital citizens 40 years after ReferendumOther people of the Ganalbingu include Daphne Banyawarra, didgeridoo maker and academic at Charles Darwin university who has contributed the views, thoughts and memories of the life of the Yolngu in her profile on the website of the iDIDJ Australia.

However, Daphne Banyawarra does not even begin to approach the level of continually updated and expanded thought found in most blogs.

Blogs about Australian indigenous issues tend to be authored by the politically active non-indigenous supporters of Aboriginal rights such as the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) in order to communicate with their online supporters.

White eyes looking in on a community is the focus of the non-political blog of Dianne Isgar who is an Art Centre Manager for the Papulankutja Artists. Dianne’s blog captures some aspects of life for for the Western Desert Mob in the remote area of Ngaanyatjarra Lands in Western Australia Australia.

Dianne’s blog has also been discovered by US-based Aboriginal art collector Will Owen who is producing an ongoing series of personal reflections and readings on the art of the indigenous people of Australia, their culture, anthropological studies and the art market.



submit a comment

Similar Articles

Time to plan for migration forced by climate change

  • David Corlett
  • 13 June 2007

Even the skeptics are accepting that climate change is with us. Yet the impact of climate change on the movement of people around the world – usually the poorest – is almost entirely absent from public debate.


A nuclear reactor in my back yard

  • Colin Brown
  • 13 June 2007

In 1996, Lucas Heights was renamed Barden Ridge, in order to preserve property values. Few people enjoy living near a nuclear reactor. Many also doubt that building more nuclear reactors will provide an answer to our run away greenhouse gas emissions.