Shifting Sands - Promise: Visits from a promise

Shifting Sands - Promise: Visits from a promise
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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Granny telling her story to Ngyamia (Ali Torres) in the kitchen is intercut with the story played out in flashback. We see the young Gilladi (Sabrina Sabaan) led by her Aunty (Annie Watson) to meet her promise husband Waamba (Robert Watson). Granny tells that she was shame (embarrassed), and ran away. We see the young Gilladi visited by her promise husband and watching him working with cattle in the stockyard.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

Promise, a short drama from Mitch Torres, is presented as a yarn in the kitchen between a grandmother and her granddaughter. The nanna tells her granddaughter the story of her marriage, a promise marriage that saw her go to live with her aunty to be prepared for marriage. Essentially, a love story that is told in the absence of the love interest – grandfather – but resonates as one of those moments that are a cherished memory.

Promise Synopsis

A short drama about a grandmother’s tale of her promise marriage.

Notes by Romaine Moreton

Education notes

This clip relates a grandmother’s story of her betrothal, known as her 'promise’ marriage. It opens with a shot of the grandmother, in flashback as a young woman meeting the man who has been chosen to be her husband and trying to get to know him after their first meeting. In the present time Granny is shown seated in her modern kitchen explaining the 'promise way’ to her granddaughter Ngyamia, who is preparing damper. The two women talk about love and Granny advises on the cooking of the damper.

Educational value points

  • The 'promise way’ of traditional Indigenous Australian marriage is explored in this clip. Ngyamia’s question about love suggests the modern viewpoint, that love should be the basis for marriage. Granny is dismissive of love. Yet, in recollecting her meeting with Waamba – her promise husband – Granny is clearly telling a love story.
  • The clip employs flashback as a storytelling device. Granny tells her story to Ngyamia in the present, intercut by her memories presented in flashback. The audience constructs the story by combining images and scenes from past and present.
  • The narrative is told with rich visuals and a spare script. Shots of two women moving easily among drying clothes on a line in a desert setting establish Granny’s childhood home. The affection between Granny and Ngyamia is economically conveyed through the shared activity of damper making and the ease between them. Mutual attraction between the young Gilladi and her promise husband is suggested by looks, but no words are exchanged.
  • The clip provides a glimpse of the complexity in the system of Indigenous Australian family relationships. Indigenous kinship systems are central to the way culture is passed on and society is organised. Granny was given to her aunty in young adulthood and her aunty was charged with preparing her for her promise marriage. Her promised marriage was arranged by her family.
  • A 1986 Royal Commission was conducted into the subject of Aboriginal customary laws that included an investigation of arranged marriages. The Commission arose because of conflict between Indigenous traditional ways and Western law, including older men claiming much younger women as their 'promise’ wives. The Commission reported on how arranged marriages in traditional societies were seen as contracts to balance kinship obligations.
  • The clip shows the work of filmmaker Mitch Torres. Torres was both writer and director on this, her first film. Born in Broome, Western Australia, she was an actor before moving into TV and radio journalism. Torres first wrote children’s stories before becoming a filmmaker. She has written and directed a number of films, winning a Tudawali Award for Best Documentary for Whispering in Our Hearts (2002).
  • The clip provides an example of the way filmmaking gives voice to Indigenous Australians and provides a window into Indigenous culture. Mitch Torres is committed to telling her community’s stories. Her film The Healing Sounds of the Bungarun Orchestra involved family members. Whispering in Our Hearts tells the story of one of the massacres of Indigenous people and features her grandfather and uncle.
  • The clip comes from Promise (1997), one of six short films in the Shifting Sands series produced by the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission. This series, like the From Sand to Celluloid series that preceded it, was designed to provide Indigenous filmmakers with opportunities to develop their creative talent and to enable a wider audience to hear and see Indigenous views of their world.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Core Films
Pauline Clague
Supervising producers:
Trevor Graham, Pauline Clague
Mitch Torres
Mitch Torres
Commisioning editor, SBSi :
Bridget Ikin
Produced with the assistance of the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission

Her aunty leads young Gilladi to meet her promise husband. They are walking outside by a long line on which white sheets are flapping in the breeze. A young man is sitting in a chair. The young Gilladi runs away when she sees him.
Young Gilladi (in voice-over) This promise way happens between your family long before you are born.

Granny (Gilladi) is seated at the kitchen table telling her story to Ngyamia who is kneading dough.
Granny First time I bin see him I cut from fright. This kind of look I nearly fall along a river bank all from shame. Not real shame but same time I was thinking, ‘How stupid he must think I am? This fella sitting there’s my Waamba. Me, I just want to be a kid.’ Hey, stop beating that damper. It tastes rubbish. Too hard granny.
Ngyamia Then what, Gran? Did you love him?
Granny No, not right away. Maybe a long time after when your mummy was born, walking about. What that word 'love’? It’s a stupid word. I don’t think right word, that one. Maybe good feeling. He was hard fella, that one.

Cut to flashback of young Gilladi watching while the promise husband chats outside with her uncle, not even looking at her.
Young Gilladi (in voice-over) Sometimes he wouldn’t even talk to me when he come visiting Aunty and Uncle. He make me proper wild.

Back in the kitchen. Ngyamia carries the dough over to the oven.
Granny Put the damper long the oven.

In flashback, the young man rides a horse, mustering cattle in the stockyard while Gilladi watches.
Young Gilladi (in voice-over) Sometimes I’d wonder about what he’d think of me. I really didn’t know him at all. We were just thrown together and that was proper hard.

Back in the kitchen.
Ngyamia Hey, Gran! This damper look ready. What do you reckon? Take him out?
Granny Be careful. Give him good pat. Cut him up. Put him one side for your Waamba and he’ll stick by you.

As Ngyamia cuts the damper, we flashback to Gilladi handing a slice of freshly cooked damper to her promise husband.