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Aboriginal People in the Gibson Desert

From the website Australians At Work.
Video clip synopsisAboriginal People in the Gibson Desert is an excerpt from the film Desert People (51 mins), produced in 1966. In 1966 a few Aboriginal families were living nomadic lives in the heart of Australia's Gibson Desert.
Year of production - 1966
Duration - 2min 2sec
Tags - Australian History, culture, documentary genre, family life, Indigenous Australia, indigenous cultures, language, media, media and society, representations, 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 in the Gibson Desert

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About the Video Clip


Aboriginal People in the Gibson Desert is an excerpt from the film Desert People (51 mins), produced in 1966.

Desert People: When this film was made, there was still a handful of family groups living a nomadic life somewhere in the heart of the Gibson Desert. Desert People tells of a day in the life of two such families. Djagamara and his family were filmed where they had camped, beside an unusually plentiful supply of water in an otherwise dry creek bed at Badjar in the Clutterbuck Hills. Minma and his family were taken back to Minma’s country from Warburton Mission to record how they had lived until just a few months before. This extraordinary film offers a rich experience of Aboriginal culture as the families share their traditional knowledge.

People Of The Australian Western Desert: In 1965 and 1967, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies sponsored film trips by the then Australian Commonwealth Film Unit (now Film Australia) to the Western Desert region of Australia. The object of these trips was to film the daily life of nomadic Aboriginal people living in the Gibson Desert of central Australia. Although this land is one of the most arid regions of Australia, the people who lived there regarded it as rich in resources.

People Of The Australian Western Desert is an Australian National Film Board Production. Produced by the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies

Curriculum Focus


Students will learn:

  • to analyse the representations of Aboriginals in the clip
  • to write a factual summary and creative writing techniques
  • the production codes and conventions of documentary film
  • to storyboard a documentary clip

Ways of Working

Year 9
Students will be provided with the opportunity to:

  • identify events, issues, concepts and contexts in texts, and analyse how individuals and groups of people are represented
  • predict the consequences of textual representations
  • appreciate, analyse and make judgments about texts based on an evaluation of their own and others’ use of language, opinions and perspectives
  • respond sensitively to different cultures by respecting and valuing cultural knowledges and sources of information for a range of interactions
  • when interpreting and creating texts, reflect on the language choices made to invite readers to adopt particular opinions of people, characters, places, events, ideas and information

Knowing and understanding

Year 9
Students will have the opportunity to show that they know and understand that:

  • functional texts (e.g. documentaries) are used to analyse and evaluate, advance opinions, justify positions and make judgments in order to persuade, draw conclusions or consider possible consequences of interpretations
  • knowledge, values, practices and assumptions about groups influence and are influenced by audience positioning and representations in texts
  • authority, interpersonal distance and feelings/attitudes influence language choices when interpreting and constructing texts
  • visual, nonverbal, spoken and auditory language are combined to position audiences
  • evaluative words express attitudes, appreciation and judgment about people, characters, places, events and things, and influence opinions
  • multimodal communication enables modes and media to be combined in new and innovative ways.

This is an extract only. Teachers and students should consult Queensland Curriculum: Learning, Teaching and Assessment for updated curriculum information

Background Information


In the 1960s a film crew made an *ethnographic record of the dwindling *Indigenous population of the Gibson desert area. Indigenous people had lived in the area for thousands of years in a traditional way, before the destruction of that way of life in the late twentieth century.

  • Indigenous – born or produced naturally in a land, native
  • ethnographic – documentary style filmmaking that records information about a society or culture

Classroom Activities

  1. Getting started
    1. List five points of ‘information’ about Indigenous culture given in the video clip. How certain can you be that what you are hearing is factual? In the narration, is there any indication given that there is uncertainty about the facts?
    2. Discuss the aspects of Indigenous cultural life shown in the video clip And how they differ from your life.
    3. What are your reactions to the video clip — do you admire the traditional lifestyle shown? Is it sustainable (able to be continued)? Give reasons for your answer.
  2. This video clip is taken from a film made in 1966. What other documentary films or TV programs have you seen depicting traditional Aboriginal life?
  3. Analyse the production style in this video clip. What camera shots and angles dominate? How would a documentary about Aboriginal traditional life styles be produced today? For example would a voice over still be used? What sound might be added to the modern version of the clip?
  4. Imagine that you are part of the film crew. List any special ethical (respect and rules of conduct concerning societies and cultures) considerations that you think would need to be observed? For example, what might happen if you left behind examples of non-traditional technology, such as metal knives? Or if you arranged for plane food drops?
  5. Imagine that you have been asked to develop a museum display on the Gibson Desert people, and that this video clip is the only evidence that you have of that culture.
    1. List five artefacts or objects you would display
    2. Write 50-word captions for each artefact or object.
    3. In 25 words or less, write the overall messages you want your display to convey to viewers.
  6. Imagine that an alien film crew from a civilisation more advanced than ours was producing a film about your family. What activities would they choose to film and how might they present them? Create a short storyboard for this video clip.

Further Resources


Recommended reading
The winner of Children’s Book of the Year for Older Readers, Beyond the Labyrinth by Gillian Rubinstein, tells the story of Cal, an alien anthropologist who comes to Earth to study indigenous Australians only to be mistaken for an aboriginal child by the residents of a remote seaside township. The novel explores issues of race, culture and identity in unexpected ways.

Drama Features
Philip Noyce (director), Rabbit-Proof Fence, Becker Entertainment, Sydney, 2002
Nicholas Roeg (director), Walkabout (1971). For details go to World Film

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

Go to The Australian Children’s Television Foundation online Learning Centre for details about the Lift Off DVD containing sequences focussing on traditional Aboriginal life produced early 1990’s. Selected clips are available on The Learning Federation website.