Alyawarre Country: The grinding stone

Alyawarre Country: The grinding stone
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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Reggie Camphoo Pwerl and Donald Thompson Kemarre tell us about what Indigenous people used to carry with them when they travelled everywhere on foot – the main tool being the grinding stone. Images show the grinding stone being used to crush seeds. Two men survived – Lame Tommy and George Wickham. Their bush names were Alupathik and Arralta (whiskers). Still photographs of Indigenous people fade in and out of frame. We hear about how the white men took the Aboriginal women as wives, and the Aboriginal men would watch from the hills and not come down for fear of being shot. The two elders tell us about how the Indigenous people used to eat the introduced animals – horses, donkeys, and bullock – and how they developed a taste for cattle because it has more fat. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

We hear about the history of the Frew River area and the conflict between Indigenous people and the Europeans who settled in the area. The conflict described in the stories is often over women and resources.


Alyawarre Country synopsis

A documentary about how, in January 1889, cattle arrived in the Frew River area, and changed the lives of the local Indigenous peoples forever.


Alyawarre Country curator's notes

Alyawarre Country begins the tale by talking about the arrival of pastoralists. The Indigenous people developed a taste for imported animals such as cattle, due mostly to its high fat content, and this ultimately led to armed conflict between the two groups. It was incidents such as these that saw the arrival of the first police presence. Mounted Constable Jones arrived in Frew River on December 19 in 1918 and built a police station. The general history of the area is one of conflict between whites and Indigenous peoples.

The area was a rich in tungsten, and two elders talk to us about their experience of working in the mines, and being paid fifty cents a week. Reggie Camphoo Pwerl and Donald Thompson Kemarre pay homage to the old people who told them the stories of the Frew River area – two Indigenous men, the only survivors in the area, George Wickham and Lame Tommy. As we follow them through their yarn, we journey from the area’s pastoral beginnings to its mining era.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education notes

This subtitled clip shows Reggie Camphoo Pwerl and Donald Thompson Kemarre speaking in the Alyawarre language about grinding stones and about colonisation, including Aboriginal men being shot by European pastoralists for spearing cattle in the Frew River area of the Northern Territory. The clip includes sepia-toned re-creations of the past and disturbing archival photographs of Indigenous men in chains. A narrator describes the arrival of a police presence in the area.

Educational value points

  • The clip reveals that the grinding stone, a stone slab, was an important tool for Indigenous Australians. It was used to crush, pound or grind foodstuffs, such as seeds, bulbs, berries, small mammals and reptiles, for use in cooking. Some of these foods are poisonous unless they are first crushed and washed. Grinding stones were used to crush leaves and bark to make medicine, or soft rocks and clays to make pigment for rock art and other decorations.
  • The clip indicates that there was conflict between Aboriginal people and European pastoralists and that some pastoralists shot Indigenous people or placed them in chains when they speared cattle for food. Pastoralists felt they had a right to defend their property against what they saw as attack, and their sometimes brutal treatment of Indigenous people often went unpunished. The inhumane practice of placing Indigenous people in chains, shown here, did not cease until the 1930s.
  • Pwerl and Kemarre describe conflict between European pastoralists and Indigenous people that arose in the Frew River area from the 1880s. Conflict occurred in many parts of Australia because pastoralists established sheep and cattle stations in the most fertile areas, often denied Indigenous people access to their traditional lands and sacred sites, and prevented them from hunting and from access to often scarce water sources.
  • A police officer was stationed in the Frew River area in 1918 to protect European pastoralists’ property and prevent Indigenous people from spearing cattle. The Central Land Council says that by the 1920s Indigenous people ‘had been hunted away from their waterholes “with whips and guns” by pastoralists wanting the water for stock. Police Station waterhole on … Kurundi station was the launching point for police raids and reprisal parties against local Aboriginal people’ (
  • Alyawarre Country is from a documentary television series called Nganampa Anwernekenhe, produced by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association since 1987. Nganampa anwernekenhe means ‘ours’ in the Pitjanjatjara and Arrernte languages, and the series aims to preserve Indigenous languages and cultures. It gives a voice to Indigenous people by enabling people such as Pwerl and Kemarre to tell their stories in their own language.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Executive Producer:
Priscilla Collins (AKA Cilla Collins)
Series producer:
Jacqueline Bethel (AKA Jacqui Bethel)
Michael Liddle