Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Maybe I'll be a First Australians Groupie

I really loved The First Australians on SBS.   I finished watching the seventh and last episode on Sunday.

I liked watching it on my computer because I could frequently pause it and look up things.   I liked getting more information on the situations mentioned, and the people being interviewed.

I didn't dig deep though because I wanted to get back to the video.   But now that I'm done with the watching, I can do more digging. is some information about the people in the video, and also about some people behind the scenes.  

Rachel Perkins: According to Lord Wiki, she's the producer, writer, director, AND....narrator of the series.  

This article from ABC has some outdated but valuable information.    It says Perkins is an Arrente woman from east of Alice Springs.   Her father was an advocate for Indigenous rights.   He was part of the Freedom Ride of 1964-1965.

Rachel started working in television when she was eighteen.

She then moved to Sydney and produced and directed the documentary series Blood Brothers and a children's program called Manyu Wanna.

In 1993, she established her own production company and named it Blackfellas Films.  If you watched The First Australians and paid attention to the credits, you probably recognize this name.  

Besides documentaries, she has made a few feature films including Radiance and One Night the Moon.

She has won awards and I'm impressed with her.  If I was important and had awards to give out, I'd definitely give one to her too.

Her next film will be an adaption of the musical Bran Nue Day.  It stars Geoffrey Rush and will also feature Missy Higgins.   I'm excited about this.    Have any of you seen this musical before?

Darren Dale:  He's the co-producer of The First Australians.   He's openly gay and handsome.  Go here if you want to see a photo--sorry, not a nude one.  

Oh okay.  I was wondering why the article announced his sexuality.   It turns out that I'm looking at a gay magazine online.  Now it makes sense.

He worked for SBS, and then Rachel Perkins contacted him and offered him to take part in the film.

Here's something interesting.   The finished masterpiece owes a bit to American documentary star Ken Burns.    It seems he told them what they had so far was boring.   It was his idea to put the series in chronological order (rather than making each episode center around a theme) and concentrate on stories about individuals.  

Marcia Langton:  She is the historian who seemed to be interviewed the most through out the series.  And not that I usually notice or care about these things, but she had her hair cut between episode one and two.  

Her hair is less important than her history and career.   I was just impressed with myself for noticing.  I'm usually like a man when it comes to noticing haircuts.

Langton is a professor at the University of Melbourne.   Her official job title, according to the University of Melbourne's website, is Foundation Professor of Australian Indigenous Studies.

She has an extremely impressive resume including

1. Anthropologist in Indigenous Affairs (this alone is enough to impress me actually)

2. Member of the Centre for Aboriginal Reconciliation

3. Director of the Centre for Indigenous Natural and Cultural Resource Management.

Lord Wiki says Langston grew up in Queensland.  She's a descendant of the Yiman and Bidjara people.  
She has lived in Papua New Guinea, Japan, and North America.   Maybe she was my neighbor!  I wonder why it says North America, but doesn't give the specific country.  

One of her crusades is reducing alcohol use in Indigenous communities.  

She's on the Australian Public Intellectual Network's list of top forty intellectuals.  Guess who else is on their?   My hero....Peter Singer!    So is Robert Hughes.  I'm still reading his book.   It seems to be taking me forever.    Oh, but crap.   They also have Keith Windschuttle.   Why do they have him their list?   For those who don't know what I'm talking about, he's the one who wrote the book saying the atrocities against the Aboriginal Tasmanians were exaggerated.

Oh well.  I guess you can be smart AND an asshole.   Yeah yeah.  I know also that it's a matter of opinion.   One person's asshole may be another person's hero.  

Langton herself is a bit controversial--something to do with mining.   I don't quite get it.  It goes a bit over my little head.  

The Sydney Morning Herald has their own list of intellectuals.   Langton comes in at number twenty-one   Peter Singer comes in second.   Go Peter!   Robert Manne is first.  I've never heard of him.   I'll have to look the guy up later.

Windschuttle is NOT on that list.   Thank you!

Feminist Germain Greer is third on the list.  Langton called her a racist.   Author John Birmingham (who has a fun blog) also made some negative remarks about Greer.   I have to admit that I find all this fighting between famous intellectual Australians extremely interesting. It's almost as good as reading Harry Potter.  

Gordan Briscoe-Briscoe was another historian that was interviewed for the documentary.   If you don't remember him, go to this website and maybe his photo will jog your memory.  

He has done work in the study of half caste children.   He was born in Alice Springs and if I'm reading this correctly; he was one of the stolen children.  

This is getting long so I'm going to fast forward a bit, and well....skip a lot of people.   Sorry.

For the rest of this entry, I'll just talk about the episode that I found the most moving.   It was the fifth one, titled an Unhealthy Government Experiment.   I get goosebumps just thinking about it.    The title alone is fantastic.   Such a chilling understatement.    What it refers to is a statement made by the sexiest star of the documentary--Steve Kinnane.   Uh no, I don't have a crush on him or anything.  

Kinnane summarizes the atrocities experienced by these stolen children and their families.  Then he says calmly In that way I think it can only be seen as an unhealthy government experiment.    That scene, to me, is about as haunting as the red coat scene in Schindler's List.

I think it's close to impossible to watch that episode without crying.   It's probably worse if you have children of your own.  

Okay, let's look at Kinnane.

Steve Kinanne-Oh wow.  This website gives out his email address and his phone number!   If I wasn't married and I wasn't shy, I'd totally be emailing him.  

Okay, I'll stop treating the guy like a piece of meat.   Let's get to the important stuff.  He's a writer and researcher.   He wrote a book called Shadow Lines.  It won awards.   He was born in Perth and is a descendent of the Miriwooong people.   His grandmother was a stolen child.   He has a very sexy accent.

Ursula Yovich-Yovich has a fairly small part in The First Australians, but in my opinion she was very significant.   She did the voice acting for the role of Gladys Gilligan.   Gilligan's story of being a stolen child was at the center of the fifth episode.   It's Yovich who reads aloud Gilligan's pleading letters to the child-snatcher A O Neville.  Neville, by the way, is the character that Kenneth Branagh portrayed in Rabbit Proof Fence.

Yovich can be seen in the upcoming movie Australia, although I have no idea how big of a role she will have.   She was also in a movie my mom saw recently--Jindabyne.

She's also a singer and theater actress.   She starred in the musical The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Little Ragged Blossom.   It's based on a children's book....looks cute.  

Yovich is a graduate of the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts.   I like her.   Well, at least I like her voice.   I hope she finds great success and we hear more from her.  

Let me conclude by saying that The First Australians is amazing.   I think it should win an Oscar.   I'm wondering if it would qualify.   Would they submit the whole series for consideration or just individual episodes?

I hope they submit something because I never see anything that's nominated and the Academy Awards end up being so boring to me.   At least, if they're in the race, I'll have someone to cheer for.

P.S-I think watching The First Australians made the Obama win even more meaningful to me.   I know it's not all about  the color of our skin.    But I think the fact that he won shows that most Americans are no longer pathologically racist.    And Obama didn't just win in America.  According to Internet polls, he pretty much won in every country.    The feelings I had last night as I watched television reminded me of the feelings I had on Sorry Day.   It's a mixture of tears, smiles, and a huge sigh of relief.   There's this idea that maybe we're actually  going to be okay--or at least better than before.  


Gina said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed watching First Austraians. It was brilliantly done, wasn't it? (Even if I did need a box of tissues handy at all times - which was odd, because I wasn't learning anything I didn't know, I guess the stories were just more personal than ever before) The book has just been released....perhaps something for your shopping list while you're here?

Wonderful, wonderful election result. I watched the TV coverage most of the day (yay for a very casual office!) and was so moved during Obama's speech. A remarkable day.

I had spent much of Tuesday (our Tuesday, when everyone else was watching the Melbourne Cup...)reading about how the American electoral system works, and I think I almost get it now.

So last night I was inspired to start reading a book which has been on my shelves for ages that has intimidated me...Paul Johnson's "History of the American People". It's about the size of two house bricks. If you don't hear from me for a while, it's fallen on me and I am crushed under the weight of the thing!!

Stephen Moore said...

When I saw the original promos on SBS for First Australians, and then the first episode, I immediately thought of Ken Burns. The style of this series has a noticeable similarity to his work. Interesting to find out he was consulted.

Watching Marcia Langton in the series was difficult. She came across as a very angry person, with a specific agenda and ideology. She said a lot of interesting and informative things, but my skeptical radar was at full power whenever she spoke.

Dina said...


The stuff was probably more new to me than you. I knew some of the Bennelong stuff and the stolen children stuff. Oh and Tasmania. But the Victoria one was completely new to me--and shocking. I also think there's a big difference reading about it and seeing it in a movie.

I agree about the election. I had so much fun watching the race. I got so into it. It was so funny because I emailed Tim when Obama was at 207 and said "We're winning!" Then I wrote that whole thing to Tracey on here trying to explain the Electoral college. He was at 207 then I think and by the time I stopped explaining it, I looked at the map...and I think this is when he already won. I couldn't believe it.

I think when I was explaining it, they were still waiting for California, Oregon, and Washington. And then those came in within those few minutes.

Tim thought it was going to go on all night. He was stunned when he came home and I told him Obama had already won. It's over!

History of the American People. I probably need to read that!!! I hope it's good. One of the first books I read about Australia was called Australia: Biography of a Nation by Philip Knightley. Have you heard of it?

Anyway, it was really good and easy to read. I don't think it was THAT long though.

I think though that history of nation books can go either way--really interesting or really boring.

Well, tell me if you end up enjoying the book or not. At some point, I'll take a break from Australia so I can understand my own damn country ; )

OR you can just tell me what it says......

Dina said...


I agree that Marcia Langton came across as very angry. I think at times it was uncomfortable to watch her. But then I'd think that she does have a lot to be angry about. I think her anger was justified.

I think I'd have a less positive feeling towards the documentary if everyone on the film acted that angry. But since the other people being interviewed seemed more gentle/less angry, I thought it was well balanced.

The other impression I got is that maybe she comes across as being a bit rough, but it's just her way of speaking. I have a specific term in my head, but I can't think of it!!!

Maybe abrasive? That could be it.

I thought maybe she was a bit abrasive...or came across that way. But maybe her bark was worse than her bite.

It's kind of like my grandfather. He was a super loving and caring man. He was warm and generous. But he had this very tough exterior. It's hard to explain. We knew he loved us and we found him funny when he talked that way. But people, meeting him for the first time, might find him intimidating.

Gina said...

hi Dina.

It must have been amazing to be in America yesterday - I fervently hope that Mr Obama does some really positive things - I think he will, he seems to be a truly remarkable man.

I have heard of the Phillip Knightley book, but never read it. I'll let you know how I go with the very big Paul Johnson could take me forever!

I agree with your other commenter about Marcia Langton. She has an abrasive manner about her at times,yet she is so compassionate. I think that she feels the injustices which have been done to her people - all of her people, not just herself - and that would be a huge burden to bear. The good thing about her though, is that she uses that anger for good - in her writing and speaking, lobbying for change, etc - rather than just seething and simmering with negative anger. Does that make sense?

Have you ever read "My Place" by Sally Morgan? It was one of the first autobiographies by an indigenous Australian that I read, and set me on the path to my interest in the history of Aboriginal Australia. If you haven't read it and are able to find it, I recommend it highly.

Dina said...


The Sally Morgan book sounds familiar. For a second, I thought maybe it was one of the books I bought in Portland. But I don't think so. Maybe I saw it though.....

I'll look out for it.

I agree about Marcia Langton. It seems like she channels her anger in a positive way.

There was a good article in SMH about anger over atrocities and how it can make us uncomfortable.

Retarius said...

Keith Windschuttle...Australia's counterpart of David Irving. He's made a name for himself nitpicking sloppy research by other authors. Once you get past all that, he ultimately pushes the line that there wasn't a genocide in Tasmania because the indigenous ones were moribund and dying out when the British Conquest occurred. I.e. "We didn't kill them off because they were on the way out anyway." And what plausible evidence does this stringent, scrupulous historiographer offer for the existence of this extraordinary coincidence? Nothing. Not a damn thing. The proposition that they lived on that island for thousands of years and then just died out by chance at the same moment that their turf was being invaded is an insult to the intelligence of an ant.

Stephen Moore said...

As an Aboriginal Australian, Prof. Langton certainly has a lot to be angry about. And though she was hard to listen to at times, her opinions were a welcome challenge to me as a whitefella. At least she got me thinking, which is probably the least she is wanting from me, And there were points that raised that I was in total agreement with.

One thing that did disappoint me about the series was the failure in the episode on Victorian Aboriginals (Freedom For Our Lifetime) to mention that when Melbourne was established, the Europeans actually made a treaty with the local inhabitants. It was, of course, a totally unfair treaty, as was usual between native peoples and European settlers: the treaty was to acquire the land for the Settlement in exchange for European goods. The important thing about it though was that it was the only time it occurred in Australia. Sadly though, the Governor of NSW (the area was still under his jurisdiction at the time, the Colony of Victory not yet having been established) annulled the treaty on the basis that, because of the doctrine of Terra Nullius, the land actually belonged to the Crown, not the Wurundjeri.

Dina said...


I think the whole denial and revisionism thing is pathetic, yet fascinating on a psychological level. I remember in college one of my friends brought up the fact that the Holocaust was a hoax. He had been given a piece of paper with all this "evidence" writteon on it. I can't remember where he got it. I guess someone was passing them out. But it's so odd that these people obsess about trying to prove the past didn't happen.

I like what you said about the ant.

Dina said...


Tim and I were just talking about that--the difference between the Australian settlement and United States. I don't know much about Native Americans, but from the little I do know....I think we had treaties vs. Terra Nullius. I think they were unfair like the Melbourne one.

I wonder why they didn't put the Melbourne thing in the movie....Maybe it just didn't fit.

There's probably a lot of stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor.

I think of the movie as a kind of starting point. I mean it's great if people watch it period. But hopefully it will spark interest in people and they'll seek out more information.

Louise said...

The Jewish Museum is worth a visit, my daughter went with her school and they were given a talk by a holocaust survivor who told them his-story.I think it made more impact than all the history lessons and text books in the world.

The way the Aboriginal people were treated in the country was shameful, yet a lot of Australians still deny what happened or minimize the devastating effects it has on individuals and on a culture. I have met quite a few people who were members of the Stolen generation and their stories are so sad. May were physically and sexually abused in the 'homes' that they were placed in. If you want to read more about the removal of children I have a link in a post (click on my name) to the report.

Sorry day was a day that I felt proud to be an Australian. We still have a long way to go, but it was a start. Brendan Nelsons speech on that day was absolutely disgraceful, and just showed that many people are still denying history.

I watched the election of Obama and it was a brilliant result! what an exciting time this is!

oh and I agree with someone who mentioned 'my place' it's on most kids reading lists at school now which is good.

Dina said...

Louise, I think there's always going to be racism and horrible things like that. My feeling is hopefully it will belong to a fringe minority of losers and be rejected by the majority.

I thought Sorry Day was so important because it said most Australians accept rather than deny that bad things happened.

I think Obama IS huge. It's a giant step for America and a giant step for the world. But it doesn't erase racism from America. We still have the stain in our past and there will still be racists after Obama steps into the Oval office.

Today in the library, I saw this little black preschooler. I had this urge to go up to him and say "Hey, you really CAN be president when you grow up! There are so many possibities opening up to you now." Before, that was all just a pipe dream.

I didn't bother the kid though. His mother might think I'm nuts.

I'm going to go find your link now. Thanks!

Misrule said...

Hi Dina,

Re" "Snugglepot and Cuddlepie". You need to put on your agenda for your next trip a visit to Nutcote, the home of May Gibbs, the creator of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (it's in Neutral Bay). Gibbs was an illustrator and writer and her children's books were really the first to include Australian flora and fauna. You can look her up easily enough, but I do recommend a visit to the house, which is now a museum.



Dina said...


I'm going to have to get my hands on some of her books! They sound really adorable!