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Aboriginal People Make a Canoe and Hunt a Turtle

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, indigenous cultures, sustainability, 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


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
H.5 A student analyses the effect of technology and medium on meaning.
H.6 A student engages with the details of text in order to respond critically and personally.
H.11 A student draws upon the imagination to transform experience and ideas into text, demonstrating control of language.

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. List five points the video clip shows about Indigenous culture.
    2. How was this population influenced by traders from Indonesia?
    1. In small groups discuss and take notes on the following topics.
    2. Is it possible for this society to maintain their traditional lifestyle given the social, economic and cultural pressures from modern society?
    3. Compare the social, economic and cultural aspects of your lifestyle to the society in the video clip.
    1. 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.
    2. The image of traditional Indigenous culture and society is often romanticised that is, only positive aspects are stressed. Write a 400-word analysis of the cinematic techniques used in the video clip. Include comments on how music, voice-over and images are used to present an image of traditional Indigenous culture and say whether it is a romanticised presentation.

Literacy Activity: Focus = Listening /Responding

  1. Who first supplied the Aborigines with metal tools? (1 mark)
  2. How are boats sealed (corked)? (1 mark)
  3. What is the ‘Return of the Hunters’? (1 mark)
  4. What is easy and/or difficult about life in this environment? (2 marks)

Further Resources


Drama Feature
Philip Noyce (director), Rabbit-Proof Fence, Becker Entertainment, Sydney, 2002
Rolf de Heer (director), Ten Canoes, Palace Films, Sydney, 2006

Oodjeroo Noonuccal (formerly Kath Walker), Ballad of the Totems, Old Poetry, Australia, 1990