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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.

1min 46sec

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


Aborigines of the Seacoast is a National Film Board Production. Produced by the Department of the Interior.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: English
Year: 9-10
Theme: Indigenous Work

Key Concepts

Culture; Sustainability; Representations

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Everyday texts – Language: Contextual understanding
NSW:(1997 Syllabus) C5 Mass media
(2003 Syllabus) Stage 5 Outcome 4
NT:R/V 5.1 – 5.3
R/V 5+.1-5+.3
Qld:Cr 6.2
SA:Texts and contexts 5.3
Tas:Communicating – Being literate, Standard 4
Vic:Reading – Texts 6.6
WA:Understanding Language
Attitudes, values and beliefs

Context / 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.

Discussion Pointers

  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. Do you think this society would be able to maintain its integrity in the face of economic, social and cultural pressures?
  5. If this culture was to lose its traditional lifestyle what would the loss be?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. 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.
  2. The image of traditional Indigenous culture and society is often romanticised — that is, only positive aspects are stressed. Does this video clip seem to do this? Critically analyse the language and images in the video clip and the overall image that is presented to justify your conclusion.
  3. This is a family going about daily life. Write a convincing monologue of the day’s events as told from the mother, the father or the child’s voice. Allow some real life drama and challenges to fill your day.

Modules That Use This Clip

English Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10