Before European colonisation Aboriginal people managed the place we now know as Victoria for millennia. Waterways were a big part of that management. Rivers and waterholes were part of the spiritual landscape, they were valuable sources of food and resources, and rivers were a useful way to travel. Skills such as swimming, fishing, canoe building and navigation were an important aspect of Aboriginal Victorian life.
Interview with Director Jary Nemo and Producer Lucinda Horrocks
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
The film was inspired by the research of Associate Professor Fred Cahir who is featured in the film. One day in, it must have been some time in 2014, Fred called us and asked us to meet him. ‘I have a project that I think might interest you’ he said. ‘I've become fascinated by the number of times bark canoes are mentioned in historical records of Victoria’, he said. ‘In these written records, Aboriginal boat craft is highly valued. To me it’s part of a larger, forgotten story about the Aboriginal contribution to the building of our nation.’
‘Do you think there’s a film in it?’ He asked.
Yes, we did think there was a film in it, so we pitched the story to Culture Victoria who loved the idea also and they commissioned us to make a film and a digital gallery.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
On the rivers of remote colonial Victoria, 19th century European settlers depended on Aboriginal navigators and canoe builders to transport goods, mail, stock and people. This simple, fascinating fact of history was buried in the whitewash of Federation in the early 20th century and has been pretty much forgotten.
Explorers and drovers, gold miners and settlers used Aboriginal ferrying services and boat building services to conduct trade and transport. Stories abound of trade, canoeing, and heroic rescues on rivers such as the Murray, Goulburn, Campaspe, Ovens and Loddon, shedding light on the generosity, resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Indigenous inhabitants of Victoria and of the trading relationships formed between Aboriginal people and European colonists. Indeed it could be argued that the waterways skills of Aboriginal Australians were integral to the early economic viability of postcolonial Victoria.
If you watch this film you will learn something very special about our shared history that you probably never knew.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The film weaves historical perspectives with the perspectives of modern-day Traditional Owners from central Victoria. The film is all about personal connections to landscape, to history, and between people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
Story development took a long time. It always does, but each time it’s different. We had a huge head start with Fred’s research. But we knew this couldn’t just be a story told by white film-makers, drawing on a white historian’s view of what the white colonists wrote. We sought out perspectives from Traditional Owners, asked them what they wanted to see told, and invited them to participate in the story, which is of course their story.
Initially, naively, I had thought we would find stories within Indigenous families that had been handed down about canoe trade in the 1800s. But we soon realised this was such a great period of change and crisis for Aboriginal people that those memories have long been lost. We had to reframe our story to include the impact of this loss.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
It’s been great. People think they’re going to be bored because it’s a history piece but they’re not. They really get into it. Indigenous viewers find it rewarding because it’s so unusual to see Victorian Traditional Owner stories on screen. We still have this perception in Victoria, based on what was taught in schools up to even the 1990s, that Aboriginal history has all been forgotten and there are no links to that past. Which is not true.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Audience feedback hasn’t challenged me but the process of development where we went out and sought opinions from Victorian Aboriginal communities certainly did. That was an awakening for me from my perspective as a privileged white woman.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I would like to have more people watch it and also to look at the associated digital gallery which is free to watch and share at http://www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/seeing-the-land-from-an-aboriginal-canoe/
I think there is a longer documentary story in this which I would love to raise the funds to tell.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
If there are producers wanting to collaborate with us to tell a larger story I would love to hear from them. If there are distributors out there who would like to help us get a larger story told I would love to hear from them. I just want the story out there, really.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I want audiences to come away thinking ‘I want to find out more about this history.’
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
‘What was the Aboriginal contribution to the foundation of the Australian nation?’
Would you like to add anything else?
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the country on which I live and work, the Wadawurrung people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I would also like to pay my respects to other Elders, past and present.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
We have just finished a great project about the Melbourne Gay Liberation movement of the 1970s which was amazing to work on. We are now working on some interesting documentary projects, one a history project about the Chinese on the goldfields of Victoria, and one a contemporary project about Data Democracy.
Interview: April 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Seeing the Land from an Aboriginal Canoe
Director: Jary Nemo
Producers: Lucinda Horrocks and Jary Nemo
Writers: Lucinda Horrocks and Fred Cahir
Featuring: Associate Professor Fred Cahir, Uncle Bryon Powell, Jamie Lowe and Uncle Rick Nelson