Aborigines of the Sea Coast: Making a canoe and hunting a turtle

Aborigines of the Sea Coast: Making a canoe and hunting a turtle
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. On the beach it’s time to play out one of the dramas of daily life – the return of the hunters.

Summary by ASO Digital Learning Curators

The coast of Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory has been the home of Aboriginal people for thousands of years. 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 filmed ethnographic material portraying the Indigenous inhabitants of the region.

Aborigines of the Sea Coast Synopsis

In 1948 a film crew made an ethnographic record of the Indigenous population of the coast of Arnhem Land, sponsored by National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institute of America and the Commonwealth of Australia.

Aborigines of the Sea Coast Curators Notes

Indigenous people had lived in the area for thousands of years, influenced only by the periodical visit of Macassan trepang (sea slug) traders from Indonesia after the 17th 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.

Notes by ASO Digital Learning Curators

Education Notes

Classroom Activities

  1. What aspects of material and cultural life does the video clip show?
  2. Does the video clip show a sustainable society? Discuss the reasons for your answer.
  3. Do you think this society would be able to maintain its integrity in the face of contemporary economic, social and cultural pressures?
  4. How was this population influenced by traders from Indonesia?
  5. Compare the social, economic and cultural aspects of your lifestyle to the society in the video clip.
  6. Ethnographic films often present a picture of ‘the other’ – a way of life that is so different from modern experience that the people seen engaged in it are portrayed as curiosities. Do you think that is the impact of this video clip? Discuss reasons why or why not.
  7. The image of traditional Indigenous culture and society is often romanticised, to emphasise positive aspects. Write a 400-word analysis of the cinematic techniques used in the video clip. Include comments on how music, voice-over and images are used to present an image of Indigenous culture and say whether or not it is a romanticised presentation.
  8. How are the people and activities presented in this video clip? This video clip is from a film made in 1948. How has this affected the way people and activities are presented?
  9. What aspects of contemporary life would have an impact on the activities seen in this clip? 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.

To caulk: to waterproof

Literacy Activity: Focus = Listening /Responding

  1. Who first supplied the metal tools?
  2. How are boats sealed (corked)?
  3. What is the ‘Return of the Hunters’?
  4. What is easy and/or difficult about life in this environment?
Production Company:
Australian National Film Board, Department of the Interior
Stanley Hawes
Charles P Mountford
Mirrie Hill