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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: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 9-10
Theme: Indigenous Work

Key Concepts

Culture; Sustainability

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Studies of society and environment, Culture
NSW:7-10 History Stage 4 Topic 3
NT:Social systems and structures, Band 5: Soc5.2, 5+.2
Qld:1-10 Studies of society and environment, Culture and identity CI5.1
SA:Societies and culture 5.8, 5.9
Tas:Social responsibility — Understanding the past and creating preferred futures
Vic:7-10 History Level 4: SOHI 0401
WA:Society and Environment, Culture

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. 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.
  5. Do you think this society would be able to maintain its integrity in the face of economic, social and cultural pressures?

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. 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.

Modules That Use This Clip

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