Benny and the Dreamers: Creation

Benny and the Dreamers: Creation
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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Benny Tjapaltarri and Mick Ngamurarri tell us the significance of the Dreaming, and how the Dreaming ancestors created the landscape. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

Benny Tjapaltarri and Mick Ngamurarri were dissatisfied with Western religion and left the mission and returned to their land and their religion – the Dreaming. In this clip, the elders explain to us the importance of the Dreaming and the Creation.

Benny and the Dreamers synopsis

A documentary about the Pintubi people’s first contact with white people, and the affects of dispossession and institutionalisation when the peoples were forced from their lands into missions.

Benny and the Dreamers curator's notes

In the 1930s, the Pintubi people came into contact with Westerners for the first time. Benny and the Dreamers is a documentary about that first contact. It talks about personal responses to this first contact with whites, such as the attraction of having an easy and accessible food source, which was sustained through trade, and the eventual breakdown of the social group due to dispossession. There are many interesting aspects to this film, one being the gradual realisation by the Pintubi that their country was no longer theirs alone, and many of the main subjects in Benny and the Dreamers talk about the experience of being taken into the mission at Hermannsburg – the confusion of being confronted with strange cultural ways as well as realising that relatives they believed to have perished were all present in Hermannsburg.

The Pintubi peoples’ land is in the centre of Australia west of Alice Springs, and Benny Tjapaltarri is one of the few Pintubi who remembers life before contact with Westerners. Benny tells us about the first time he tasted Western food – in this case jam – and the taste delighted him. Freddy West Tjakamarra tells us how he thought that the tinned food contained human flesh. Ronnie Tjampitjinpa says that when he first saw white people he thought they were devil monsters. Yanatjarri Minyin Tjampitjinpa laughs as he recalls his first impression of trousers with zips on them.

Notes by Romaine Moreton

Education notes

The clip shows Pintupi Elders Benny Tjapaljarri and Mick Ngamurarri explaining the importance of Dreaming. The two men are shown in their country painting and talking. The narrator introduces them as men who left the mission to return to country and traditions. Tjapaljarri and Ngamurarri tell of the Dreaming when the country and its features were created, and talk about its continuing significance for them. The clip includes traditional language, singing and subtitles.

Educational value points

  • Pintupi Elders Tjapaljarri and Ngamurarri talk about the significance of their Dreaming and about the relationship of the Dreaming to Indigenous people today. Tjapaljarri and Ngamurarri say that they would feel lost without their Dreaming and stress that the Dreaming is still the reason for existence within the modern world. One Elder explains his views while the other echoes him, a common feature of an oral tradition.
  • Tjapaljarri and Ngamurarri talk about Dreaming characters, the first people created during ceremonies in the Dreaming. They describe them as appearing out of smoke. Part of Pintupi education are the Tingarri cycles, which include stories, songs and ceremonies linking routes travelled by the Tingarri people in the Dreaming. The Tingarri people crossed the desert, creating the natural features, laws, stories and songs that are the basis of Pintupi life.
  • The clip presents the Dreaming characters as the creators of features in the landscape. Tjapaljarri and Ngamurarri explain that Dreaming sites were created when the Dreaming characters travelled through country. They refer in particular to hills, rocks and soaks (small pools of water under a layer of sand in a creek bed). The emphasis on water reflects its importance in the desert. These ancestral beings set down ways to live that enabled survival in the harsh desert land.
  • The close connection between Dreaming and the law is emphasised in this clip. The 'old people’s law’, the 'sacred law’ is about right ways of living, which originated from the ancestors. The Pitjantjatjara word 'Tjukurpa’ (Anangu law) used repeatedly in this clip combines meanings of non-Indigenous terms such as Dreaming and law, suggesting the difficulty of capturing the full meaning and the richness of the Indigenous concepts in a non-Indigenous language.
  • The clip combines a contemporary interview with black-and-white footage and a sequence incorporating computer-generated art to connect past and present in the depiction of Dreaming. The silhouetted characters move on coloured landscapes to the sound of eerie music suggesting the Dreaming world. The past ceremonial journey to create the land is portrayed in black-and-white film that is linked by narration and interviews to contemporary Indigenous communities.
  • The clip highlights the combined importance of language, art and song in communicating identity and establishing relationships to country. It opens with traditional singing, and the speakers present their views in their own language while one paints red circular designs. The clip is from a documentary produced by Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) and reflects its aim of maintaining Indigenous languages and cultures.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Ivo Burum
Executive Producers :
Ivo Burum, Phillip Batty, Harry Bardwell
Ivo Burum
Fionna Douglas
Michael Liddle

This clip starts approximately 11 minutes into the documentary.

We hear a man singing as the camera pans across the country to Pintupi Elders Benny Tjapaljarri and Mick Ngamurarri sitting while singing and painting.
Narrator For many of the Pintupi, like Benny and Mick, God’s Dreaming was not important. So they left the white man’s mission and went bush.

The two men are interviewed. Subtitles in English read:
Elder 1 Without our Dreaming…we’d feel lost. You see… our Dreaming holds the law…our sacred law. That’s why the Dreaming is important to us. The Dreaming characters arrived at a place then turned into a hill or a rock…a hill or a rock, which became a Dreaming place. After it rained, a large soak would form. The soak then became part of the Dreaming made by the Dreaming characters. Old people’s law….old peoples’ law… that’s ah…hmmm that’s powerful dreaming.

A graphic of a vivid sunset with a man appearing several times sitting and standing across the earth.
Elder 1 The Dreaming is our law…it explains how the land was made. A Dreamtime character would walk through and make a soak…then move on and perhaps create a rockhole. This is how things were created.

We see black-and-white footage of feet traveling through the sand, and then four grown men walking through the landscape.
Elder 1 The first people were created out of the Tingarri Dreaming. They appeared out of smoke. When they arrived they were already grown men with beards. Those who arrived were Dreaming characters.

Establishing shot of a house in an expansive landscape. A group of children play together outside the house as family members watch.
Elder 1 These days people are born from the actions of their fathers, because we are born after the Dreamtime creation. Today midwives care for small kids after birth. That’s the way we are born today. But it’s because of the Dreaming… that we are born and exist.