Beyond Sorry: Back to country

Beyond Sorry: Back to country
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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Zita is sitting on a stool feeding a poddy calf. In voice-over Aggie Abbott says most children who were taken away never returned to their country. Zita on the other hand has sought her family and is committed to learning her culture. Zita sits on the ground with Aggie preparing kangaroo for the fire. Zita talks about the experience being ‘an ongoing learning process’. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

In this incredibly moving heart of the film, a woman journeys back to her land and people, and to her cultural self. Zita Wallace is confronting the different cultural sensibility of Western and Indigenous society. The squeezing of grass from the kangaroo’s intestine, or 'poo’ as Zita later refers to it, represents the contrast between Western and Indigenous cultural practice. In Indigenous cosmology, the relationship between the land and the people, and the kinship system that exists between the human and non-human world, assigns all beings to one family. Zita, in participating in the preparation of kangaroo with her family, is re-connecting with an ancient ritual, religion and cosmological practice.


Beyond Sorry synopsis

When she was eight years old, Zita Wallace was removed from her families by the authorities. This is a documentary about the Stolen Generations, and the journey of one woman to reconnect with the Eastern Arrernte family from whom she was denied for most of her life.

Beyond Sorry is part of the Nganampa Anwernekenhe series produced by Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) Productions. Nganampa Anwernekenhe means 'ours’ in the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte lanuages, and the series aims to contribute to the preservation of Indigenous languages and cultures.


Beyond Sorry curator's notes

This is a haunting documentary about the beauty and pain of a child, now an elderly woman, who was removed from her family by the authorities. The filmmakers tell the parallel stories of Zita Wallace and her Aunty Aggie Abbott to represent two positions; two half-caste children, one child removed, one not. Zita grew up within white culture and, through her own testimony, is again like an 8 year old, picking up her education in Indigenous culture from the moment in her life when she was taken from her family. Seeking the connection with family and place that was denied her, Zita Wallace is fully committed to overcoming broken ties.

There is a complex range of issues covered here, conveyed with filmic fluidity. One of them being that the removal of Aboriginal children from their families left great holes in those communities, and that the children, without a self-knowledge within Indigenous cultural context, became vulnerable to discrimination within white society. Another is the broken spirit of the parents from whom the children were taken. Zita’s mother, having been told her daughter was dead, believed her daughter to be a spirit child when she finally returned. The greatest disruption is to the social fabric of Indigenous societies, where each child would have served a specific role in the continuation of Indigenous cultural practice and religion, being entitled to different parts of the country. The filmmakers get to the heart of the consequence of child removal, yet tell a story that is painfully humane, and never compromising the humanity and beauty of its subjects.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education notes

This clip shows Zita Wallace, an Eastern Arrernte woman, in her grandfather’s country learning and speaking about culture. The first scene of her feeding a poddy calf has subtitled voice-over by Aggie Abbott, Wallace’s aunt, observing that her niece is one of the few 'Stolen Generation’ children to return to country. In the second sequence Abbott describes how Wallace went about finding her family. In the final scenes Abbott is demonstrating how to clean a kangaroo and Wallace is commenting on the difference between the Eastern Arrernte and non-Indigenous cultures.

Educational value points

  • Learning about country and becoming immersed in culture and law are lifelong processes for an Eastern Arrernte person and the clip shows the focus required for someone removed as a child to begin in their 60s. Zita Wallace was taken away by white authorities in 1947 at 7 or 8 years of age, and made her initial attempt to make contact with her mother in the 1990s. In the early 2000s she and her husband left Alice Springs to live on her grandfather’s country 169 km to the east.
  • Wallace was one of the children described in Bringing Them Home: Report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families (1997). This report found that from about 1910 to 1970 between one-in-three and one-in-ten Indigenous children were removed from their families, and sent to institutions or to be raised by white families. Wallace was taken to the Roman Catholic mission on Melville Island where she was kept until she was 19.
  • Finding their families is rarely an easy task for members of the Stolen Generations as they were generally given no information about their background and their names were frequently changed. Wallace began in the 1980s by visiting central Australia. Then in the 1990s she found her uncle Paddy Doolan, who had sought information about her years before only to be told that she had died. Wallace then made contact with her mother, who initially rejected her believing she was dead.
  • Although reasonably close in age, Abbott and Wallace have a relationship of teacher–learner and mother–daughter, and Abbott has been pivotal in helping Wallace bridge two cultures. Abbott calls Wallace 'child’ and Wallace calls Abbott 'Mum Aggie’. Although they live about 160 km apart, Wallace frequently accompanies Abbott and other women out into the bush, learning how to hunt and prepare food (as seen here), taking part in women’s business and practising language.
  • While the acquisition of material goods is prized in Western culture and private property is enshrined in law, in Eastern Arrernte culture extended family and spiritual matters take precedence over possessions. Food and other goods are regarded as resources to be shared. Wallace says that when she returned to her family and country she had to adjust to cultural differences and values such as this practice of sharing possessions, and still finds it difficult at times.
  • Beyond Sorry, part of a documentary television series called Nganampa Anwernekenhe, meaning ‘ours’ in the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte languages, shows Wallace moving beyond mourning for what she was deprived of and focusing on recovery. Wallace’s journey beyond sorry reached one destination when she was present for the Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

This clip starts approximately 37 minutes into the documentary.

Zita is sitting on a stool in a yard feeding a poddy calf. There are other calves in the yard with her. An interview with Aggie Abbott, of Eastern Arrernte people, Zita’s Aunt, plays over the footage. The English subtitles read:
Aggie Abbott Most of the other children who were taken away never returned. Some who did come back didn’t look for their country. They still lived like white people.

Aggie Abbott is interviewed in a studio.
Aggie But this child sought out her uncle, looked in vain for her grandfather and met her mother. She did it like that. She knows her grandfather’s country. But she is still learning about other things.

The sun shines through the trees and several women, including Zita, sit together preparing a kangaroo for the fire. There are children watching.
Aggie At first she couldn’t understand. She didn’t know anything about our law and culture. 
Zita Wallace It’s an ongoing learning process for me, even though I’m 63 years old, it’s a wonderful – like I’m a little 8-year-old child again. I’ve been given a second opportunity that a lot of people haven’t had, to go back to country and actually learn. Living a life as an Aboriginal person, and as a European person, is two totally different worlds. Um, in a white man’s world, where I was living, everything that I had done, I did for my family, was mine. But with the Aboriginal family, you share around so I found that – I find that very difficult at times.