Directors statement

This is an intimate film, accessible to a wide audience, about a community and culture that is very different to that of mainstream Australia but where ultimately people are very much the same. We all care equally about our kids, their education, happiness, and future security.

In the film we are witness to a world as seen by a seven year old Yolngu Aboriginal boy: AFL Football on TV, clouds swelling in the sky, fishing, hunting for yabbies, going to school … and finally his initiation ceremony.

It is also a world as seen by the Homeland leaders: politics, leading ceremonies, fax machines and other technology, negotiating inter and intra-clan issues, the responsibility of enforcing Government rules and payments, and last (but not least) the growing-up of the next generation within the community.

Djon Mundine has described Aboriginal people as the ‘most persistent proselytizers in the world’. Certainly, since first meeting some of the elders of this community six years ago I have seen them to be near-tireless educators, determined that the world will eventually begin to understand some of their vast body of knowledge.

This will be my fourth feature project with the community of Dhuruputjpi (along with 2 one hour radio documentaries for the ABC Social History Unit and the documentary film Dhakiyarr vs the King). We have a strong and collaborative working relationship - we are friends, mutual advisors in life, and strong believers in the power of story-telling to change the way people think.

Tom Murray


Director Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration behind this documentary? And/or how did it come about?

A: This is the fourth feature documentary that I have made with the Dhuruputjpi community. The last documentary film we made together – Dhakiyarr vs the King – was a big, powerful, historical murder-mystery story that involved the tragic disappearance of a community elder in the 1930s. With this new film we wanted to tell a more intimate story about life in the community as it is lived today. This was the inspiration for this film.

Q: What do you like/find challenging about making documentaries? Did you encounter any particular challenges in making this documentary and, if so, how did you overcome them? Any lucky breaks, and if so, how did they come about and how did you embrace them?

A: The trust that people give you as you seek to represent their lives is incredibly humbling, and the great challenge of documentary film-making is to be true to them, while also telling a story likely to compel a TV audience. There were many challenges in this film, as there always are when working in remote regions. The film took two years to make, we rolled a Toyota Landcruiser on a remote highway and needed to re-shoot material lost in the subsequent car-fire. Our lucky breaks were working with incredible people like cinematographer Leonard Retel Helmrich and editor James Bradley. For all of us, stamina was a key requirement for this film!

Q: How does the documentary relate to your past work, if at all? Was this film a natural next step or a radical departure from your previous work in film, TV etc?

A: Following from ‘Dhakiyarr vs the King’, this film is in some ways a natural progression. The film draws upon the vast cultural power of Yolngu ceremony, as was the case in Dhakiyarr. But in this case our task as documentary film-makers was to depict the intimate day-to-day lives of our Yolngu collaborators as respectfully and truthfully as possible.

Yolngu have a very strong sense of the importance of social documents such as films to preserve their culture and inform future generations to come. In fact, they are desperate to preserve their culture. This meant that in making this film we also had a responsibility to these future generations to show the difficulties faced by people living in 2007 in their Ancestral Homelands, as well as the everyday joys of this life. Beyond this we also had the great task of representing the true power of Yolngu ceremony as articulately and emotionally as the means of a broadcast documentary film would allow.

Q: Any other production anecdotes/stories?

A: In a film with sharks, snakes, kids, buffalo, planes and a shooting schedule over nearly two years it is amazing we only needed our Yolngu bush doctors half-a-dozen times.

Q: Apart from “it’s a masterpiece” what would your ideal viewer response to the doco be!?

A: I stayed through the ads and watched your film right until the very end!

I hope that viewers will gain an insight into the way this group of Aboriginal people in NE Arnhem Land live their lives. As part of this insight I hope that viewers begin to understand the complex set of conditions that face a person growing up with a strong sense of their own traditional culture who also must navigate a very different non-Aboriginal world. I also hope that viewers can feel a sense of pride about the culture they see depicted in this film. This is a culture that is Indigenous to this country and has literally grown from the land and sea of this nation. As Australians I think this should be a source of pride to us all. Lastly, I would like to think that many viewers can empathise at a simple human level with what is happening in the film, which is about people teaching their kids to live with dignity, insight and self-respect.

Q: What is your next project or what are you working on now?

A: I am currently working on a film set in Sydney on the theme of ‘love’, a documentary about the life of Sean Flynn, the photojournalist son of Errol, and a project in Indonesia.