Thomson of Arnhem Land - A Study Guide

 
A Study Guide

                                                      Thomson of Arnhem Land
                                                     INTRODUCTION                                                                                      LIBBY TUDBALL

                                                     Thomson of Arnhem Land tells the story of Australian anthropologist, photographer and journalist, Donald Thomson and
                                                     his lifelong struggle for Aboriginal rights. Beginning in the 1930s, the film documents Thomson’s passionate interest in
                                                     Indigenous culture. It follows his journeys through Arnhem Land and explores his relationships with the great clan
                                                     leader, Wonggu, and his friend and guide, Raiwalla. The story reveals his professional battles and traces his fight to
                                                     preserve Indigenous culture under threat from assimilation policies that demanded Aboriginal people must become like
                                                     white Europeans. Thomson of Arnhem Land also gives us an insight into the personality clashes and politics behind the
                                                     assimilationist policies that aimed to deny Indigenous Australians their culture.
Donald Thomson with Wonggu’s family, 1935 (Thomson
Collection Museum Victoria)

                                                     CURRICULUM LINKS                           course in Anthropology at Sydney          Between 1941 and 1943 Thomson
                                                     The film will have interest and            University, and then accepted a           was Squadron Leader in the Royal
                                                     relevance for senior students of Studies   cadetship as a journalist at the          Australian Air Force. In this role
                                                     of Society and Environment, History,       Melbourne Herald.                         he worked again with Wonggu and
                                                     Anthropology, Indigenous Studies,                                                    his sons. He organized Arnhem Land
                                                     English, Drama, Photography and            In 1928 Thomson obtained a grant          Aborigines into a Special
                                                     Media Studies.                             of 6000 pounds to work among the          Reconnaissance Unit to protect
                                                                                                people of Cape York. He made three        Australia’s north coast against invasion
                                                     BEFORE WATCHING THE FILM                   expeditions to this area, in 1928, 1929   from the Japanese.
                                                     • Work through the following               and 1932-‘33. He worked in Arnhem
                                                     background reading, activities and         Land, living with the local people in     Thomson received an OBE in 1945
                                                     questions to develop your understanding    1935 and in 1936-‘37. He delivered a      for his military service in New Guinea.
                                                     of Thomson and key facets of the           report to the Federal Government in       He continued to lobby the then leader
                                                     historical period in which he lived and    1937 recommending that the unique         of the Opposition, Robert Menzies,
                                                     worked.                                    culture of the Arnhem Land peoples        to ensure the survival of the Yolngu
                                                                                                should be preserved. Thomson focused      peoples’ cultures. Thomson was greatly
                                                     THOMSON’S BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS             on their special relationships with       saddened when Menzies sided with the
                                                     Donald Thomson was born in Melbourne       the land and their complex social,        assimilationists. In 1950, he received
                                                     and studied natural science at the         cultural and economic structures. But     a Doctorate in Anthropology from the
                                                     University of Melbourne. While there, he   the assimilationists, led by Professor    University of Cambridge. In 1957,
                                                     developed a proficiency in photography,    A.P. Elkin, had more influence over       1963 and 1965, he led expeditions to
                                                     particularly of scientific and natural     government ministers and policies, so     the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts.
                                                     history subjects. After graduating in      Thomson’s views were ignored.
                                                     1925, he took a one-year diploma

                                                                                                                   72
Caledon Bay, 1935 (Thomson Collection, Museum Victoria)

Thomson retired from the University of              area was held or ‘owned’ by a ‘clan’ (a         we Europeans … They are unaware
Melbourne in 1968 as the Professor of               cluster of families with special kinship        of the Conveniences that are so much
Anthropology. He was involved in setting            traditions). While some customs were            sought after in Europe. They live in a
up the Australian Institute of Aboriginal           shared across Australia, there were             tranquillity which is not disturbed by
Studies, and served on its council. He              many individual differences depending           the inequality [between the rich and
wrote numerous books and articles.                  on the region and the local environment.        the poor] … The earth and the sea
                                                    Over thousands of years, the people             of their own accord furnish them with
Throughout his life, Thomson fought                 had adapted their way of life to be in          all the necessary things in life … They
for Aboriginal rights. The thousands of             harmony with the land and resources             do not desire Magnificent houses and
artifacts he collected, the detailed field          around them. A key element of life              live in a warm and fine climate, so
notes he wrote, and the more than                   was sharing. Food, skills in hunting            that they have little need for clothing
10,000 exquisite photographs he took,               and gathering, social relationships,            … [M]any to whom we gave cloth,
provide a cultural record of traditional            spiritual links with the land and special       etc., left it carelessly upon the sea
Aboriginal life beyond value. The                   knowledge of laws and sacred places             beach and in the woods as a thing
Thomson collection in Museum Victoria               were shared and passed on by each               they had no manner of use for; in
is considered one of the most significant           generation.                                     short they seemed to set no value
ethnographic collections in the world.                                                              upon anything we gave them …
Thomson continued his fight for                     FIND OUT MORE ABOUT                             This, in my opinion, argues that they
Aboriginal rights until his death in                • scientists’ beliefs about the origins of      think themselves provided with all the
1970. His ashes were scattered over the             Aboriginal Australians;                         necessaries of life …1
waters of Arnhem Land by Wonggu’s
sons.                                               • archaeological evidence of early            Cook claimed ownership of the land
                                                    Aboriginal life;                              for the British and observed that the
• Using these facts and further
                                                                                                                                              Family Collection)
                                                                                                                                              Donald Thomson (Photograph by Dr Julian Smith – Thomson
information you gather when you                     • the elaborate kinship systems of
watch the film, prepare a timeline of               Aboriginal Australians; and
Thomson’s life. You could do this as
individual or group work. Present the               • the spiritual traditions of the Dreaming.
timeline as a poster or wall chart.
                                                    Captain James Cook first sighted the
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND                               east coast of Australia in 1770.
Historians now believe Indigenous                   He sailed into Botany Bay and
Australians have lived here for more                selected it as a suitable place for
than 60,000 years. Estimates of the                 British settlement. His impressions of
Aboriginal population in 1788 vary                  Aboriginal society were recorded in his
from around 300,000 to one million.                 journal:
The people lived in hundreds of groups,
each having their own language. All                       [T]hey appear to be some of the
land within a recognized traditional                      most wretched People on earth; but
                                                          in reality they are far happier than

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Wonggu, a Yolngu elder, 1935 (Photograph by Donald Thomson –

                                                                                                          the Indigenous population realized that    Until the 1960s Australian governments
                                                                                                          the Europeans were invaders. They tried    had little respect for and knowledge of
Thomson Collection Museum Victoria)

                                                                                                          to defend their rights and beliefs         the rich cultural traditions of Aboriginal
                                                                                                          but had no hope of defeating the           and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They
                                                                                                          well-armed Europeans. Many thousands       tried to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal people
                                                                                                          of Indigenous people lost their lives.     into white society and make them adopt
                                                                                                          Colonial governments established           white culture and lifestyles. However,
                                                                                                          reserves where Aborigines would be         they underestimated the powerful links
                                                                                                          ‘protected’ and ‘segregated’ from          of the Aboriginal people with their land
                                                                                                          Europeans. Many of these were              and culture and the strength of the
                                                                                                          missions controlled by churches.           traditions that are still being passed
                                                                                                                                                     through the generations in oral stories,
                                                               Aborigines did not farm the land or        • There are now many written sources       music, dance and art.
                                                               place fences around it. The British        which document the conflict between
                                                               government declared the land terra         Aboriginal groups and Europeans in         • What is assimilation?
                                                               nullius – land owned by no-one – and       the 19th Century and 20th Century. Do
                                                               believed this gave them the right, as      some further research to find out what     • Why might the process of assimilation
                                                               the first Europeans to occupy the land,    happened in various parts of Australia.    be devastating to people of any culture
                                                               to claim ownership. This meant that                                                   whose way of life is being denied?
                                                               all land became Crown land and all         • Why do you think the government
                                                               Aboriginal property rights were ignored.   decided to segregate the Aborigines?       • What evidence can you find today
                                                                                                                                                     of renewed respect and celebration of
                                                               • What impressions does Cook’s journal     The breakdown by Europeans of              Indigenous peoples’ cultures?
                                                               give of Aboriginal Australians’ values?    traditional Aboriginal culture continued
                                                                                                          in the 20th Century. Most Aborigines       In the 1960s Aboriginal people began
                                                               • On what basis did Cook believe it        were separated from their land and         to speak out, demanding land rights,
                                                               was right for him to claim possession of   forced to live on missions or government   respect for sacred sites and greater
                                                               Australia?                                 reserves, under the authority of a         self-determination. In 1967, a national
                                                                                                          ‘protector’. Many thousands of             referendum was held which resulted
                                                               • After you have watched the film,         Indigenous children were taken away        in all Indigenous Australians being
                                                               decide if Thomson would have agreed or     from their parents, made government        counted in the census for the first
                                                               disagreed with Cook’s views.               wards, and trained as domestic servants    time and having the right to vote.
                                                                                                          or farm workers. They were paid poor       Since then, pride in being Aboriginal
                                                               • Why didn’t Aborigines fence or farm      wages and had very few rights.             has been reasserted, and nationwide
                                                               the land?                                                                             organizations are calling for
                                                                                                          • Locate and read stories of children of   reconciliation.
                                                               • Find out what happened to the            the ‘Stolen Generations’.
                                                               concept of terra nullius after the Mabo                                               • What is self-determination?
                                                               judgement.                                 • How did the government justify the
                                                                                                          taking of the children?                    • Why is this such an important concept
                                                               Across Australia, the arrival of the                                                  for Indigenous Australians?
                                                               Europeans in the 19th Century had a        • What impact do we now know this
                                                               disastrous impact on Aboriginal people.    period had on many of those who were       • Create a timeline of key stages
                                                               Traditional food hunting and gathering     taken?                                     in Aboriginal peoples’ land rights
                                                               sites were taken over, European diseases                                              movement. You should include such
                                                               caused thousands of deaths and, in                                                    events as the presentation of the bark
                                                               many areas, violence broke out when                                                   petition by the Yirrkala community to

                                                                                                                             74
Wonggu with seven of his twenty-six wives, 1935 (Photograph by Donald Thomson – Thomson Collection Museum Victoria)

Federal parliament in 1963, the 1965                 with service personnel based in the                  Donald Thomson understood the special
Freedom Ride, the 1966 Wave Hill                     north as a result of the Japanese                    relationship the Yolngu people have
walkout and the establishment of the                 invasion of the region.                              with the land and their kinship
tent embassy in 1971. Also try to include                                                                 beliefs. All Indigenous Australian
an update on recent land rights issues.              • Consult an atlas to locate Arnhem                  groups have hereditary land rights
                                                     Land.                                                based on principles of descent, kinship
• What is reconciliation?                                                                                 and marriage. Each land holding group
                                                     • Looking at a map, describe the land                has the collective responsibility to
CULTURAL BACKGROUND                                  and find out more about the climate in               look after the country by keeping out
Who Are Australia’s Indigenous People?               the area.                                            intruders, maintaining sacred sites and
‘An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander                                                                  performing traditional ceremonies to
person is a person of Aboriginal or                  • Yolngu people today are actively                   ensure the country’s continuing identity
Torres Strait Islander descent who                   working in community groups to                       and fertility. Elder members of the
identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait            develop their schools, health services,              group ensure that knowledge of
Islander, and is recognized as Aboriginal            industries, tourism and many other                   traditions is passed on. Before the
by members of the community with                     needs and services. Visit                            European invasion, men, women and
which he or she is associated’.                      http://www.nt.gov.au/oad/publications/               children shared in the collection of
                                                     rciadic94595/them9.html to find out                  food and hunting. Food was distributed
This Commonwealth Australia                          about these initiatives.                             according to the rules of each society,
definition is social rather than racial,                                                                  but the decline in food resources due
in keeping with changes in attitude                  UNDERSTANDING KINSHIP AND THE                        to the loss of traditional lands led to
towards identity. Today, Indigenous                  RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LAND                           dependence on European food.
Australians identify themselves with the             In Indigenous groups, kinship patterns
clan region where they come from in                  are very complex, since the people                   • After watching the film, who do you
recognition of their close relationships             regard themselves as being related                   think were the key elders amongst the
with their traditional land area.                    (although not biologically) to all the               Yolngu in Thomson’s time?
                                                     people in the cultural or linguistic
WHO ARE THE YOLNGU PEOPLE?                           region. The Yolngu people see the                    • What do you learn about Yolngu
The Yolngu people are the Indigenous                 universe as two parts which                          marriage traditions, social and
clans whose kinship region covers                    complement each other. These parts are               economic structures in the film?
over 90,000 kilometres of north-east                 expressed as moities known as Dhuwa
Arnhem Land. In the film, the time                   and Yirritja. The Yolngu use the idea                AFTER WATCHING THE FILM
Thomson spent with the Yolngu people                 of moity division to allocate the land,              • In a class discussion, reflect on
of north-east Arnhem Land is                         sacred sites, plants and animals. This               and share what you have learned
documented. It is only since the early               also has an impact on relationships                  about Australian history from the film
1930s that the Yolngu people have had                since Yolngu always marry into the                   Thomson of Arnhem Land.
regular contact with Europeans. This                 opposite moity.
was mainly through missionaries and,
during World War 2, through contact

                                                                             75
• In small groups write an obituary           peoples, living in the missions meant       • Why was a knowledge of the
                                                                           for Donald Thomson recording his              loss of their culture and sense of          appropriate rituals so important to
                                                                           significant achievements and then share       identity.                                   Thomson’s success in developing a
                                                                           your views. You might like to include                                                     relationship with Wonggu?
                                                                           this comment from the producer/               • What reports did Thomson give of the
                                                                           director of the film, John Moore:             way people were treated at the Arnhem       For two years Thomson lived with the
                                                                                                                         Land mission?                               Yolngu people, learning their languages
                                                                             I was struck by the quality of the                                                      and way of life. He developed a
                                                                             relationship that Thomson had with          • Why do you think the Presbyterian         close relationship with the great Yolngu
                                                                             the Aboriginal people of Arnhem             hierarchy in Melbourne wouldn’t             leader, Wonggu, the head of the Djapu
                                                                             Land. His efforts to understand             respond to the reports?                     clan. Wonggu gave Thomson a message
                                                                             Aboriginal culture from within,                                                         stick to take to the Commonwealth
                                                                             through immersing himself in their          • Do some further research to find out      government. It said that he would keep
                                                                             lifestyle, had given him a unique           more about both positive and negative       the peace and ensure that there were no
                                                                             insight into their value systems and        aspects of life in missions in the 1930s    more killings. In return he asked for the
                                                                             view of the world.                          in various parts of Australia.              release of his three sons and respect
                                                                                                                                                                     of the Yolngu cultural traditions. In
                                                                           • Why was it so tragic that much              THOMSON’S TIME IN ARNHEM LAND               1936, after Wonggu’s sons had spent
                                                                           of Thomson’s archival film of Arnhem          In 1933 a state of panic erupted in         three years in jail, Thomson sailed with
                                                                           Land was lost in a fire?                      Darwin after five Japanese fishermen        Ngarkaiya, Natjialma and Mau back
                                                                                                                         and three white men were killed             into Caledon Bay.
                                                                           • What messages of hope for the future of     by Aboriginal clansmen in Caledon
                                                                           reconciliation does the film leave us with?   Bay, Northern Territory. Thomson was        • What did Thomson discover were the
                                                                                                                         appalled by calls for a punitive            reasons why the Yolngu people had
                                                                           KEY EVENTS AND THEMES                         expedition and volunteered to go alone      killed the Japanese people?
                                                                           Life in the Missions in the 1930s             into Arnhem Land to try to prevent the
                                                                           Thomson and his first wife Gladys spent       race war that people feared.                • Why was the return of Wonggu’s sons
                                                                           time at an Arnhem Land mission in the                                                     such a triumph for Thomson?
                                                                           1930s. At the time, many missionaries         The sons of clan leader Wonggu were
                                                                           believed that bringing Christianity to        sentenced to twenty years hard labour       • Why were there so many Japanese
                                                                           Aboriginal Australians would provide          in Fanny Bay Jail, Darwin. Thomson          people living in Northern Australia at
                                                                           them with a better future. Sadly, not         wanted to find out why the fishermen        the time?
                                                                           all missionary activities had positive        had been killed. He suspected that the
                                                                           outcomes, and for many Indigenous             Aboriginal men were resisting invasions     • What impressions does the film give of
                                                                                                                         of their land and had acted in self-        Arnhem Land peoples’ views on Thomson?
                                                                                                                         defence. At the same time, he was
Raiwalla, a Mildjingi man. Loyal friend and companion to Donald Thomson,

                                                                                                                         aware that the official policy of           Early in 1937 Thomson was invited to go
                                                                                                                         ‘protection’ of Aborigines had failed. He   with Yolngu people to Gatji on the north
                                                                                                                         proposed making a scientific study of       coast where clans gathered for secret
                                                                                                                         Yolngu culture as the basis for new         ceremonies and trade. He was keen to
                                                                                                                         policies that would finally bring justice   find out more about the economic life
                                                                                                                         to Aboriginal people.                       of the peoples, their systems of land
                                                                                                                                                                     ownership and what induced them to
1936 (Thomson Collection, Museum Victoria)

                                                                                                                         • What was the significance of the          work so hard. While he was there, he
                                                                                                                         message stick that Thomson took from        extended his already large collection of
                                                                                                                         Wonggu’s sons to their father?              photographs of Yolngu culture.

                                                                                                                         • How would you describe the journey        • What did Thomson find out about
                                                                                                                         that Thomson took with Raiwalla to          social and economic organization?
                                                                                                                         Caledon Bay?
                                                                                                                                                                     • Why did Raiwalla owe equipment and
                                                                                                                                                                     commodities?

                                                                                                                                             76
Donald Thomson with Wonggu’s family, 1935 (Thomson Collection, Museum Victoria)

• What does Thomson’s visit to Gatji               in 1942, Thomson sailed to Arnhem            • Why was Thomson so appalled by the
tell you about the attitude of Yolngu              Land where he once again lived               rocket testing at Maralinga in South
people towards him?                                amongst the Yolngu people. Wonggu            Australia in 1957?
                                                   greeted him like a son. It was ironic that
• Why was Thomson so reluctant to                  the government now wanted his people         • What was Elkin’s view on the testing?
return to Melbourne in 1937?                       to kill Japanese people.
                                                                                                • Why was Thomson denied access to
Thomson delivered his report to the                • What does reconnaissance mean?             Queensland missions in the 1950s?
government in 1937, opposing the                   What special qualities and skills would
policy of assimilation and arguing                 the local Indigenous population and          In 1957 Thomson continued his efforts
for specific policies to recognize and             Thomson have had for a force like this?      to document and increase his deep
protect Aboriginal land rights. But his                                                         knowledge of the rich cultures of
strongly voiced opinions won him few               • Why do you think Thomson was sent          Central Australian Aboriginal clans.
supporters. In many ways he was a man              on to New Guinea?
ahead of his time. He recommended                                                               • What was he trying to find out in the
that:                                              • Why would this period have been            desert regions?
                                                   personally troubling for Thomson?
  those Northern Territory Blacks not                                                           LEARNING FROM THOMSON’S
  yet ‘de-tribalised’ shall have the               THE 1950S                                    PHOTOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Arnhem Land reserve set aside for                In the 1950s Thomson continued               The film includes many of Thomson’s
  them and maintained strictly for their           to campaign for Aboriginal Land              photographs taken on his journeys
  use ... It may or may not be ‘practical          Rights, mainly through writing feature       in the 1930s. Russell White helped
  politics’ to maintain the whole area as          newspaper articles. He attacked both         catalogue his collection in 1970 and
  a reserve.2                                      pastoralists and missionaries for their      commented:
                                                   poor treatment of Aboriginal
• In a brief role play, act out a possible         Australians. He called for recognition         Donald Thomson was a man of
speech a supporter of Thomson’s views              of Aborigines’ hereditary ownership of         considerable accomplishment …
may have made to support Thomson’s                 land.                                          [T]he further I delved, the more
recommendations.                                                                                  my respect grew for a man in
                                                   • Suggest reasons why Thomson had              many ways ahead of his time. The
THE SECOND WORLD WAR                               little success in gaining support for his      collection includes a vast number
Australian forces became involved in               views in the 1950s.                            of photographic negatives, a great
WW2 as soon as war was declared in                                                                many … are glass plates. It was
1939. Thomson was a squadron leader                • What was the significance of the fact        difficult enough to process these in a
between 1941 and 1943 in the Royal                 that Thomson’s second wife delivered an        photographic laboratory, but Thomson
Australian Air Force. In this role, he             amulet to Menzies in 1949?                     would build a bark shelter in the bush
organized Arnhem Land Aborigines into                                                             and process them at night. Working
a special Reconnaissance Unit. After               • What was Menzies’ attitude to                under extremely primitive conditions,
the Japanese bombing raids on Darwin               Thomson’s views?                               he produced outstanding images of
                                                                                                  very high quality. Not only did he

                                                                           77
photograph every aspect of Aboriginal          am not sure that Thomson was aware           • What special insights did Arnhem
  life … but he also collected specimens         just how extensively Elkin undermined        Land people provide?
  of the flora and fauna, each of which          his credibility.
  was carefully annotated. Pickled                                                            The co-producer of the film, Michael
  snakes, stuffed birds, dried flowers,        • In what ways were Elkin’s views              McMahon, and Film Australia’s
  nuts, seeds, snail shells, every type of     opposed to Thomson’s?                          Executive Producer, Franco Di Chiera,
  creeping, crawling, hopping, swimming                                                       were drawn to Thomson’s story because
  or flying creature, every form of plant      • In what other ways did the two men differ?   of his courage and commitment. Di
  life is included in this collection, along                                                  Chiera asks the question, ‘What if
  with their botanical and Aboriginal          • How does the biographer Tigger Wise          Thomson had been listened to? Perhaps
  names, what they were used for and           describe Elkin?                                the story of Australia and reconciliation
  who collected them, where and when.                                                         may have been much different’.
                                               • Why might the film producer have a
• How did Thomson travel around the            clearer view of Elkin’s influence than         • In a class discussion, talk about what
shores and rivers of Arnhem Land?              Thomson himself?                               you think Di Chiera means.

• What equipment would he have                 THE MAKING OF THE FILM, THOMSON                The crew spent time in Darwin filming
required to process the photographs?           OF ARNHEM LAND                                 at Fanny Bay Jail, where Wonggu’s
                                               The making of Thomson of Arnhem                three sons were imprisoned in 1933.
• Why was the support and friendship of        Land involved a great deal of careful          The film crew was confronted with
local Aborigines so important to his work?     archival research, interviewing and            contemporary issues about the over
                                               filming so that Thomson’s story would          representation of Aboriginal people in
• Why does White think that Thomson’s          be faithfully and accurately reproduced        jail, deaths in custody and the justice
records are such an achievement?               and represented.                               system today.
Suggest other reasons why Thomson’s
work is so significant.                        • Make a list of all the different sources     • Do some library research to find out
                                               used in scenes from the film.                  why Aboriginals die in custody at a
In the film, Thomson of Arnhem                                                                greater rate than other members of the
Land, you see many images derived              • Who is interviewed in the film and           Australian community.
from Thomson’s extensive photographic          how do their various insights help to
collection. As you watch the film, jot         build the story of Thomson?                    RECONCILIATION TODAY
down images which help you to learn                                                           In April 1999 the message stick
about Indigenous culture. Compare your         An Indigenous camera assistant,                the Thomson family had kept for
list with other members of the class and       Djangirrawuy Garawirrtja (Djangi), was         sixty-four years was returned to
discuss what you have learnt.                  employed. He had a key role as location        Wonggu’s descendants. It was an
                                               manager, forward scout, translator and         important ceremony involving the
A.P. ELKIN: ANTHROPOLOGIST                     community liaison person. Djangi felt          Governor General, Sir William Deane,
Throughout the film we gain the                his job was made easier because                Dorita Thomson and then chair of
impression that Thomson had very               everyone in Arnhem Land knows about            ATSIC, Gatjil Djerkura, who is one of
different views about Indigenous               Thomson and wants to talk about him.           Wonggu’s grandsons.
Australians compared with the noted            ‘Some of the older people remember
anthropologist A.P. Elkin. The producer/       him personally and they always speak           • Look again at the scene in the film
director John Moore says:                      very fondly of him. Us younger ones            recording this important event.
                                               have had the story passed down to
  The reason for Thomson’s … loss of           us many times over, til we know it             • Who is involved in the presentation?
  political influence can be traced to         backwards’, explained Djangi.
  his conflict with his great rival and                                                       • Why do you think the return of the
  the architect of assimilation, A.P.          • How important do you think it was            message stick attracted such interest
  Elkin. This battle for influence over        for the film production team to build          and respect?
  Australia’s ‘native affairs’ was to          contact and trust with Arnhem Land
  have far-reaching and quite damaging         people?                                        • Reconciliation is an issue receiving a
  consequences for Aboriginal people                                                          great deal of attention today. As a class,
  and for the country as a whole. … I                                                         discuss what the term means. Find out

                                                                    78
Collection Museum Victoria)
                                                                                                                                            Nellie and Bambi, Stewart River, Cape York 1928 (Photograph by Donald Thomson – Thomson
more about the many reconciliation         D.F. Thomson, Children of the
activities occurring today. Why is there   Dreamtime: Traditional Family Life in
still a need for further reconciliation    Aboriginal Australia, 1989.
between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
Australians?                               D.F. Thomson, Anthropologist, Explorer
                                           and Photographer at
• Form small groups and choose one
of the following aspects of Aboriginal     http://www.dropbears.com/
culture to investigate: ceremonies, art,   brough/Thomson.htm
literature, music. Groups could choose
to focus on historical or contemporary     INDIGENOUS CULTURE AND
aspects of culture. Gather resources       ABORIGINAL ISSUES, PAST AND
to construct a classroom display and       PRESENT
then invite another class group in         Australian Institute for Aboriginal and
for a presentation on the many ways        Torres Strait Islander Studies, Bill
Aboriginal culture is celebrated.          Jonas, Marcia Langton and AITSIS
                                           staff, The Little Red, Yellow and Black
POSTSCRIPT                                 (and Green and Blue and White) Book,
In the final scene of the film, we see     Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation,
a shot from a plane flying over the        1994. NB: Contact the Council for
waters of Caledon Bay, Arnhem Land.        further references on reconciliation.
In June 1970, Donald Thomson’s ashes
were scattered over Caledon Bay, a         J.C. Beaglehole (ed.), The Journals
ceremony witnessed by two of Wonggu’s      of Captain Cook on his Voyages of
sons.                                      Discovery, vol.1, Cambridge University
                                           Press, 1955.                                       Thomson of Arnhem Land 55 minutes
• How different might aspects of                                                              documentary © 1999. A Film Australia
Australia’s Indigenous history be if       R. Craven (ed.), Teaching Aboriginal               National Interest Program in association
Thomson’s views had been listened to?      Studies, Allen and Unwin, 1999.                    with John Moore Productions Pty Ltd.
                                                                                              Produced with the assistance of Cinemedia’s
                                                                                              Film Victoria and the Australian
• In the last twenty or thirty years of    Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates,                 Broadcasting Corporation. Producer’s
Thomson’s life he was a forgotten man.     Australians: A Historical Library, 1987.           attachment supported by Film Victoria.
Why do you think the film was made?                                                           Developed with the assistance of Film
                                           Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the              Victoria and Museum Victoria.
• How do you think Thomson would           Frontier, Allen and Unwin, 1981.
have defined reconciliation? What
hopes do you think he may have had for     Henry Reynolds, Fate of A Free People,
Indigenous Australians in the future?      Allen and Unwin, 1997.

REFERENCES – THOMSON                       Libby Tudball (ed.), Australians: Our
D.F. Thomson, ‘The Story of Arnhem         Lives Through Time, vols.1 & 2, Rigby
Land’, Walkabout, vol.12, no.10, 1946,     Heinemann, 1998.
pp.4-22.
                                           ENDNOTES
D.F. Thomson, Bindibu Country, Thomas      1. J.C. Beaglehole (ed.), The Journals of
Nelson, West Melbourne, 1975.              Captain Cook on his Voyages of Discovery, vol.1,   This guide was produced by ATOM
                                           Cambridge University Press, 1955, p.399.           (Australian Teachers of Media) © 2000.
                                                                                              Tel. (03) 9525 5302
D.F. Thomson, Donald Thomson in            2. Argus, Melbourne, 13th June, 1938.
Arnhem Land, compiled and introduced
by Nicholas Peterson, Currey O’Neill,
South Yarra, Victoria, 1983.

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