The Old Man and the Inland Sea: 'Had a car'

The Old Man and the Inland Sea: 'Had a car'
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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Behind the wheel driving through the mining fields, Norman tells us that they used to get into his old Landrover to hunt kangaroo for meat, sometimes hitting the animal with the car. They would take about five or six 'roo back for the old people. Norman would go with a pick and crowbar to dig around where a white man in a bulldozer had dug a trench to search for opals. But, says Norman, that was before grog. When the pub opened in Coober Pedy in 1966, the old people started drinking then, and his friends 'humbugged him to chuck in for booze’. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

An interesting glimpse into the shift in lifestyle that occurred as the result of the introduction of alcohol. Norman Hayes Jagamarra presents as a responsible individual who resisted alcohol abuse and did not compromise his responsibility in providing for the old people. Norman is an elder who refuses to not work and receive ‘sit down money’, and whose personal beliefs challenge the mainstream stereotype of Aboriginal people.


The Old Man and The Inland Sea synopsis

A documentary about Mr Norman Hayes Jagamarra who was a 'noodler’ on the mining fields of Coober Pedy.


The Old Man and The Inland Sea curator's notes

Norman Hayes Jagamarra takes us back to the mining fields of Coober Pedy where he was a noodler after droving and brick making work dried up in his young years. An interesting tale of one man’s experience of noodling, and the sense of community he shared with other Indigenous people whilst doing this work. Most importantly, he refers to the old people who were already there, and gives recognition to the Indigenous people of the area. It allows us to ponder the effects of the dispossession that opal mining caused for the peoples who were the original custodians of the Coober Pedy area.

This program has also screened on NITV, National Indigenous Television.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education notes

This clip shows Norman Hayes Jagamarra driving through the country around Coober Pedy, recalling when he and the old people hunted kangaroo and searched for opal, a time he describes as being ‘before grog’. A long tracking shot of the township of Coober Pedy filmed from a moving car has a voice-over of Jagamarra talking about the introduction of alcohol when the pub opened in 1966. Jagamarra’s narration is in Aboriginal English and accompanied by English subtitles and nostalgic music.

Educational value points

  • Norman Hayes Jagamarra describes the social responsibilities in his community as he recalls hunting and bringing food for the ‘old people’ and the changes that took place when alcohol was introduced into Coober Pedy. Now when his friends in town ask him for money he reluctantly gives it to ‘make them happy’. The sharing of food, cash and shelter are complex social interactions generally considered the norm among Indigenous kinship groups.
  • In this clip director and writer Warwick Thornton presents a point of view that associates the effects of alcohol with the sense of loss of purpose among some Aboriginal people. Jagamarra’s narration describes the negative influence of alcohol on the local community when he says that Aboriginal people used to work at finding opal ‘before grog’.
  • The editing of this sequence starkly illustrates the contrast between the past and more recent times as described by Jagamarra. The opening scene of the abandoned vehicle, the hand sifting the earth, along with the nostalgic music and Jagamarra’s narration convey a sense of the past. The abrupt edit to Jagamarra in a vast landscape, saying ‘That’s all before grog’, and the cut to the main street of Coober Pedy reflect the shift in his narration to recent times.
  • The emblematic images of the car in this clip reflect an important characteristic of Indigenous communities in which the car is often used for communal purposes. The montage of shots of the rusted abandoned Holden utility set the tone and scene for Jagamarra’s stories about ‘old car, old people’. He talks of the times they hunted kangaroo when, occasionally, they would use the car they were driving to kill the kangaroo they were chasing.
  • In the film The Old Man and the Inland Sea, from which this clip is taken, Jagamarra speaks in Aboriginal English. As well as being integral to identity, Aboriginal English is an important form of communication for many Aboriginal people. Aboriginal English is a recognised dialect of English. Its form and structure incorporate words and language structures from English and from traditional Aboriginal languages.
  • Coober Pedy in the far north of South Australia was established in 1915 when opal was discovered on the traditional lands of the Muntunjarra and the Antakirinja peoples. As illustrated in this clip, opal mining has resulted in damage to the landscape, which is littered with thousands of holes and mullock heaps.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Executive Producer:
Jacqui North
Series producer:
Rachel Clements
Warwick Thornton
Warwick Thornton