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Rosalie Kunoth Monks - Speaking Out


Rosalie Kunoth Monks - Speaking Out

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About the Video Clip


Rosalie Kunoth Monks – Social Work is an excerpt from the program Rosalie Kunoth Monks (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 4 (7×26 mins), produced in 1995.

Rosalie Kunoth Monks Until the age of nine, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks lived on remote Utopia Station in the Northern Territory where she learnt the Aboriginal laws of her tribe, the Amatjere people. In 1953 she was discovered by filmmakers Charles and Elsa Chauvel and won the lead role in Jedda, a film that became an Australian classic. Later, Rosalie spent ten fulfilling years as a nun in a Melbourne convent before leaving to set up the first Aboriginal hostel in Victoria. She has continued to be active in social work and politics and as a campaigner for her people.

Australian Biography Series 4: The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories – of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled.

Australian Biography Series 4 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Background Information


Rosalie Kunoth-Monks was the lead female actor in the first Australian full-length colour feature film, Jedda (dir. Chauvel, 1955), which for her was not a good experience (see her comments on-line in the Australian Biography Kunoth-Monks video clip titled, Jedda).

From the beginning of her working life, Rosalie knew her future would involve helping people. Rosalie expected to find opportunities to help people within the Anglican convent, the Community of the Holy Name where she became an ordained nun. However, after 10 years she left because of a sense of alienation.

She married Bill Monks in 1970. Together they set up the first exclusively Aboriginal family group home, in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon. After this, they moved back to Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, where she continued her involvement in social work, and later, political activism. For some time she was a special adviser to the Northern Territory Chief Minister in relation to the portfolio of Aboriginal Affairs.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks has never been afraid to speak out and to live her life for the benefit of her people. She believes ‘I have to do my little bit to be in there’ and that in tandem with all others responsible for ‘[her] young ones’, they will make a more loving and accepting future.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the video about Rosalie Kunoth-Monks – Speaking Out, discuss in class then write answers to the following:
    1. Explain why Rosalie began to speak out about what she considered was happening to Aboriginal people.
    2. Define and comment on the two main factors Rosalie considered were destroying Aboriginals. How do you think it is possible to counteract these two factors if they are deeply entrenched into the ways people live?
  2. Research and prepare an informative magazine-style article (or collection of interrelated items that would form the basis for a magazine profile) about Rosalie’s public campaigns and her work in general as a fighter for Indigenous rights. This should include references to her role in fighting the construction of a dam in an area of traditional sacred sites, and the outcome of this battle. Your work should be presented in desktop publishing format, and may be illustrated with photographs.
  3. Taking the previous activity as a starting point, what would be your reaction if a similar event to the building of a dam were planned for your local region, where a sacred site is placed under threat, or a natural habitat may be cleared for exclusive housing and tourist hotels etc? In groups plan a campaign of legal and non-violent protest, publicity, fund-raising, action and political debate to save your valuable resource. This may involve the preparation of speeches and debates, media interviews and advertisements, information posters, letterbox flyers, lobbying of local, state and national politicians through letters and petitions, collecting scientific and other specialist evidence to support your case etc.
  4. Following from the previous activity, each student in the group is to write their own concluding report of the campaign and their role in it, assessing its relative effectiveness, strengths and weaknesses.

Further Resources


Helen Chryssides, Local Heroes, Collins Dove, Blackburn, 1993
Keith Gow (dir), Women of Utopia, Film Australia, 1983
Go to Australian Biography Online Rosalie Kunoth-Monks
Go to Rosalie Kunoth-Monks 1
Go to Rosalie Kunoth-Monks 2
Go to Reconciliation Australia