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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, documentary genre, Indigenous Australia, indigenous cultures, language, media, 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

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 7

Reading, viewing and interpreting texts
Students read, view and interpret information texts
texts in books, films, and on television programs, CD-ROMs and websites.
Students understand that:

  • texts can entertain and evoke emotion
  • subject matter is selected to appeal to different audiences
  • readers’ and viewers’ interpretations of texts are influenced by the knowledge and values of the groups to which they belong, and by their own experiences.
  • texts can be constructed for more than one purpose (eg to report, to present a point of view, to create a market for more readers and viewers)
  • creators of texts use their assumptions about readers and viewers to engage their interest and attention
  • aspects of subject matter are selected to appeal to, and to influence, different groups of readers and viewers.

Students write texts to entertain, inform and persuade in print and electronic mediums for unknown or specified audiences.
Students understand that writers:

  • select subject matter within a chosen topic according to purpose and audience
  • can draw on their own knowledge, experiences, thoughts and feelings
  • can draw on the subject matter and forms of texts they have heard, read and viewed.

Speaking and listening
Students speak and listen through discussions, conversations and oral presentations including prepared and spontaneous discussions, meetings, debates and group discussions. Students examine ideas and information and present arguments that are drawn from topics of interest to them and that may need to be researched.

This resource is also relevant to Media Studies: Audiences, the Documentary form, Media in society, Representation of Aboriginal people and Codes and Conventions of documentary film.

This is an extract only. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.
Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English

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.
    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


Drama Features
Philip Noyce (director), Rabbit-Proof Fence, Becker Entertainment, Sydney, 2002

For a fictional depiction of traditional Aboriginal life view Walkabout Nicholas Roeg (director), 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 Lift Off DVD‘s containing sequences focussing on traditional Aboriginal life produced early 1990’s. Clips of these will be available on “The Learning Federation” website from June 2007.