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Films making culture

Michelle Moo

Terry Atkinson Terry Atkinson
On the way in to the First Hand Launch, I noticed that the steps of ACMI at Federation Square had become a meeting place: crowded with large groups of people, most notable was the age range: from children to elders and everyone in between. It was a taste of things to come.

Involving Koorie Heritage Trust, Aboriginal Affairs, ACMI, and Koorie communities in Melbourne, Heywood and Ballarat, First Hand has 2 major aims: “to give young Koories the skills and confidence to express themselves and to empower the Indigenous community to explore questions of culture and identity.”

The project began in late 2004, when young Koories, between the ages of 11 and 27 underwent training in media production and cultural studies. They were joined by community elders including Uncle Wally Cooper, Aunty Joy Wandin-Murphy and Uncle Sandy Atkinson, who brought wih them their knowledge and facilitated discussions about culture. By 2005, 5 short films had been produced.

In Old Man, Amy Gordon asks Uncle Kenny (Elder Kenny Saunders) to speak about growing up on Lake Condah Aboriginal mission. It’s the kind of story that’s best on film, because Kenny Saunders shows us everything: the ruins of the mish, the site of the old church, the whole place. He shows us where his family slept, how he used to count the stars through the chimney in the summer months. And he also shows us where, not so long ago, as a child, the “police drove up over this hill, with a very, very well dressed lady” and took away the children, Gloria, Eunice and Ronnie Foster, leaving him and his community devastated. This is real history, stark with the detail of experience, in the presence of place, told by someone who still carries it in his body. Amy says she “never knew [Lake Condah’s] amazing history”; neither did we. As Uncle Kenny tells us of the social relations that existed in the old communities, for instance the midwifery and the doctoring, it’s just the beginning, he suggests, of exploring the history of Koorie culture denied by the colonisers for reasons he still can’t understand.

In the film In This Place Again, Tim Kanoa’s journey begins when he hears Shane Lovett’s inspiring songs. At the Bendigo Correctional Facility, accompanied by the songs, Tim and Shane talk about culture, about music, about prison, about family—Lovett shows pictures of his daughter who wants to be a vet. It’s great to be sharing this, because in every interaction there’s a transmission of culture, of discussion around what it all means. It’s particularly sad when they have to split. It takes us back to the beginning of the film when Tim is standing alone after his visit, looking like he’s trying to absorb the whole experience outside the looming Bendigo Prison where his friend is incarcerated: “I just wanted to get a shot of the place.”

In Memories we walk with Jacy Alberts-Pevitt’s grandmother as she teaches her grand-daughters about the country she’s grown up in, their country: “Heywood, The Old Place, Lake Condah, just home.” She knows everything about the place: what’s happened, what’s there, what can be made. She shows the girls what reeds to use to weave baskets, tells them stories, shows them where they’re not allowed go, places she’s never been. An outsider could never know this world. But the girls are learning, and they’re learning as their grandmother learnt, directly from generation to generation.

In Possum’s Tale, Josie Atkinson recounts an attempted trip up river, as a child, trying to find her way back to her father’s land. This film is about Josie’s connection to land, her yearning for it, and her separation from it. She has to get back. When we see Josie and her daughter together, embracing in their country, we see how land and culture and family are inseparable: “My country is my family and my community ... I’ve got to get back ... Return to my country.”

No Dedication (No education), by the Ballarat Aboriginal Co-Op Youth Group, ages 11-18, documents a great performance by MC Johnny Mac for kids and their parents at the Ballarat Aboriginal Cooperative. The theme was education, and the kids took footage of the day and interviewed their parents about it. It’s all here, it’s cross-generational, contemporary and music-video style: a vision for a culture-strengthening future.

Inside the music, stories, history, social relations and traditional knowledge, there are cousins, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties, parents, children, elders. These are films about connection, about memory and the past, about the future. The network of complex relations. They are films about culture.

First Hand, project manager Chris Patterson; Australian Centre for the Moving Image, June 30; Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, July 4-Sept 4

RealTime issue #68 Aug-Sept 2005 pg. 33

© Michelle Moo; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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