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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 - assimilation, changing communities, communities, continuity, culture, groups, 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


Students learn about the nature of Society and Culture and how it is interdisciplinary drawing upon disciplines such as anthropology, cultural studies, social ecology and sociology.

A student:
P1 describes the interaction between persons, societies, cultures and environments across time
P3 describes cultural diversity and commonality within societies and cultures
P10 communicates information, ideas as and issues using appropriate written, oral and graphic forms

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. What aspects of material and cultural life does the video clip show?
  2. Does the video clip show a successful society? Discuss the reasons for your answer.
  3. Does the video clip show a sustainable society?
  4. Discuss the possible impact on this society of greater contact with a more modern Australia.
  5. What impact may the film makers had on the group they were filming?
  6. What examples of acculturation are mentioned in the film clip?
  7. 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.