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From the website Australians At Work.
Video clip synopsis – Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory is the home of coastal Aboriginal People. On the beach it's time to play out one of the dramas of daily life - the return of the hunters.
Year of production - 1948
Duration - 1min 46sec
Tags - Australian History, see all tags

play Warning - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when watching this program as it may contain images of deceased persons.

Aboriginal People Make a Canoe and Hunt a Turtle

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About the Video Clip


Aboriginal People Make a Canoe and Hunt a Turtle is an excerpt from the film Aborigines of the Seacoast (20 mins), produced in 1948.

Aborigines of the Seacoast: The coast of Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory has for centuries been the home of Aboriginal people, some of whom still live in ancient ways. This film is a record of a 1948 expedition to Arnhem Land sponsored by National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institute of America and the Commonwealth of Australia. It preserves very valuable ethnographic material portraying the Aboriginal people of the region.

Curriculum Focus


4.2 describes significant features of Aboriginal and indigenous culture prior to colonisation
4.3 explains the ways indigenous an dnon-indigenous peoples of the world have responded to contact with each other
4.7 identifies different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


In 1948 a film crew made an ethnographic record of the Indigenous population of the Arnhem Land coast. Indigenous people had lived in the area for thousands of years in a traditional way, influenced only by the periodical visit of Macassan trepang (sea slug) traders from Indonesia after the seventeenth century. These traders from Indonesia introduced metal tools which the Aborigines used for hunting and in particular for building their canoes.

Men from far northern Arnhem Land and its sea-coast hunt for their daily food. If the hunt is unsuccessful they go without food. Hunting is a highly skilled activity intricately orchestrated according to the season. For example, when the wild asparagus shoots appear it is time to go and hunt the stingray because it is the time when the liver on the stingray is fat. Fat is highly desirable in their diet. Children are taught about hunting by drawing images in the sand or on bark paintings.

Classroom Activities

  1. Write a brief synopsis of the film clip.
  2. At the beginning of the clip the narrator explains that; “Malay Traders began visiting these coast several centuries ago. They brought many ideas and were the first to supply Aborigines with metal tools.”
    What kind of knowledge may these traders have taken away with them (along with the trepang) if they had time to really interact with the Aborigines they traded with?
    Is this contact and trade widely known about or do most Australians today think of first contact being between Europeans and Indigenous Australians? Explain your response.
  3. What aspects of material and cultural life does the video clip show?
  4. Does the video clip show a successful society? Discuss the reasons for your answer.
  5. Ethnographic films often present a picture of ‘the other’ — a way of life that is so different from modern experience that the people can seem to be curiosities. Do you think that is the impact of this video clip? Discuss reasons why or why not.

Further Resources


Go to:AAIA
– includes useful discussion on pre 1788 contact with Melanesians and Indonesians and the notion of ‘dynamic culture’