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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 Australia, 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.

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. The video clip:
    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?
  2. Discuss the possible impact on this society of greater contact with a more modern Australia.
    1. Do you think this society would be able to maintain its integrity in the face of economic, social and cultural pressures?
    2. Ethnographic films often present a picture of people whose lives and culture appear dramatically different from our own. Does this video clip give you an understanding of another culture and society? Explain your answer.
    3. How are the people and activities presented in this video clip? This video clip is from a film made in 1948. Do you think this affected the way people and activities are presented?
  3. Traditional hunting in this area may soon become a dying culture. Many aspects of modern life are having an impact on these people. What do you think these might be? Why do you think this would threaten the community and their hunting activities? What is your response in view of the video clip you have seen? How can this community help their young people? Do you think is it important to maintain their culture? Prepare your responses and share with the class.


To caulk: to waterproof

Further Resources


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