This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use

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, communities, culture, heritage, identity, Indigenous Australia, indigenous cultures, sustainability, traditions, 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

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 seacoast_pr.mp4 (13.0MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 seacoast_bb.mp4 (6.1MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

buy iconYou can buy this clip on a compilation DVD.

buy iconYou can buy the program this clip comes from.

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. After viewing the video clip, discuss and write notes on the following:
    1. What aspects of daily and cultural life does the video clip show?
    2. Consider whether the video clip depicts a “successful” society.
    3. Does the video clip depict a sustainable society – a society that can live and thrive under its present conditions?
  2. Discuss and write notes on the possible economic, social and cultural impact on this community of greater contact with the rest of Australian society. Consider whether such an impact would be entirely destructive and negative, or whether there may be any valuable and positive aspects.
  3. The video clip is from a film made in 1948. Discuss in class then write notes on the following:
    1. Who do you think is the film’s assumed audience – Indigenous Australians?
    2. View the images and listen to what the narrator says, then explain whether the clip presents a viewpoint towards its subject that is acceptable to us today. For example, does it merely place an “unknown” culture on display for the audience to look at, or does it set out to educate and alter audience perceptions in any way?
    3. If the film were made today for contemporary Australian audiences, comment on whether you would expect it to be different in presentation.


To caulk: to waterproof
Ethnographic films: documentary films depicting traditional ways of life of ethnic cultures

Further Resources


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