My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978) – Essie Coffey & Martha Ansara
In 1978, the ground-breaking documentary MY SURVIVAL AS AN ABORIGINAL (1978) rocked Australia and the world with its presentation of atrocities and hardships committed against Aboriginal people. Winning prizes around the world, the film was broadcast overseas, shown on the ABC and used widely in Australian education. Today it is featured on the Australian Screen website which describes the film as challenging, and says, “”Though a call to justice, it is also tempered with beauty, and the audience is allowed to glimpse the private world of the Essie Coffey and the people of Brewarrina, N.S.W.” Country and Western songs performed by Coffey are also a rich element of the documentary”.
MY SURVIVAL AS AN ABORIGINAL directed by Essie Coffey, was one of the first Australian films where an Indigenous Australian was able to decide how she and her community would be represented. It was also the first Australian film directed by an Indigenous woman. Through her films, Essie Coffey’s voice reaches across time to continue the ongoing fight for the rights of Indigenous peoples.
49 mins 16mm/video/DVD •- PAL & NTSC – Rated G – 1978
This clip shows Muruwari woman Essie Coffey in the bush near Brewarrina, New South Wales, teaching two young children how to track a ‘porcupine’ (echidna). She shows the children the tracks made by the animal and explains that an echidna walks in a zigzag rather than a straight line. The group follows the tracks to a fallen tree log, where the two young children with the help of another adult break open the log and discover not one but two echidnas.
This clip shows Muruwari woman Essie Coffey at Brewarrina in western New South Wales teaching a group of Indigenous children about surviving in the bush. She tells the children that they can always find something to eat in the bush and shows them how to determine if the fruit of a particular tree is ripe. Coffey then takes the group to a particular type of eucalypt and explains that they can quench their thirst by chewing the leaves or twigs.
This clip shows Indigenous Australian activist Essie Coffey in the bush near Brewarrina in western New South Wales passing on cultural knowledge to Indigenous children. She says that the white education they receive at school often leads to them forgetting their Indigenous heritage, and stresses how important it is that they ‘stand tall’ and ‘remember what you are’. The clip then shows the children at school where a white teacher tells the class of mainly Indigenous students about Captain Cook’s ‘discovery’ of Australia.
Essie talking to a group of Aboriginal children in the bush: “Now, just remember what I taught you because today is the only chance that you got ever coming out of this bush and learning how to survive. When you start school again tomorrow, you’re gonna do white man education. You’re not gonna learn about Aboriginal culture, and Aboriginal culture it should be taught in all schools to Aboriginal kids because our Aboriginal kids are getting too much white education in their brains that they are completely forgetting about their own tribe, their culture and their tradition and their heritage and that is most important that you kids just remember what you are, that you stand tall and you stand proud on your own land where you’re standing now and it’s black land, Aboriginal land.” Essie Coffey
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