Thursday, 4 March 2010

Unique contact doco - tonight ABC1

There's an extraordinary doco on ABC this evening, telling a story for the first time in 50 years.

In 1964 a team clearing a remote area of Australia's Western desert for rocket testing, came across the last nomadic Aboriginal tribe living in complete isolation from modern society.

No one knew they were there, and they had never seen white man before. Remarkably, this moment " when a group of Martu women and children walked out from the nomadic existence of millennia into the modern world – was captured on film.

ABC says in their promo....
  • Contact tells the story of Yuwali, the beautiful 17 year old girl we see making that giant leap on the 24th of September 1964.

    Now 62, delightfully vibrant and with a gorgeous infectious laugh, Yuwali still remembers life before contact, when her group flourished in one of the most hostile environments on the planet.

    The contact occurred because in 1964 the British and Australian Governments were testing a space rocket " the Blue Streak rocket – by firing it from Woomera to crash land at the Percival Lakes, Yuwali’s home, in the Great Sandy Desert, WA. ‘Native patrol Officers’ were sent in to make sure the debris didn’t land on anyone.

    The days counting down to blast off drive the narrative arc of Contact. Day by day Yuwali, back at the Lakes, gives a riveting account as she and her group are chased hundreds of kilometres around the desert trying to escape the ‘devilmen’ in the ‘rocks that move’ (four wheel drives). At the first patrol in May 1964 the officers failed to make contact. Although they could see the fires and found recently abandoned camps the Martu were too scared of them to allow themselves to be captured.

    With the second Blue Streak scheduled for October the second patrol was better organised and took two Martu speaking guides as well as film cameras. Within days the Martu guides had made contact and it was all captured on film, along with hundreds of photographs.

    The central characters of Contact are Yuwali, and Terry Long, the Native Welfare Officer for the WA Government who made the decision to take the group from their home in the desert, Both tell their first"hand accounts of perhaps the last ‘pure’ first contact in that none of the group had seen or even heard anything of modern Australia. Yuwali in particular reveals a world view and approach to life so different from our range of experience that we get a stunning glimpse of a culture that was able to survive for millennia in a desert that would kill most Europeans in a few days. (Over 50 degrees in summer and freezing in winter)

    Yuwali has lived through contact, missions, remote settlements, Native Title and desperate efforts to hold on to language and culture. In effect, her story represents a microcosm of the Aboriginal experience since settlement in 1788. And in many ways, Contact is THE Australian story. It encapsulates the strange and tragic tale of contact between black and white. Contact is not only a story about the past, it holds up a mirror to contemporary Australian society.

ABC1 - 9:25pm tonight


Andrew Neaves said...

Len Beadells - The Sheparton Talk - a great listen, Mike. He was the guy employed by the SA Gov to clear such areas, and he talks about the day he came across the Aborigines.

Alison Alloway said...

W.J. Peasley's "The Last of the Nomads" chronicles the search for and discovery of an elderly aboriginal couple wandering the heart of W.A.'s Gibson Desert. They were the very last nomads of the Mandildjara tribe. The couple survived into their 70s.