Unique in­sight into last of the no­mads

Inside Aus­tralia: Foot­prints in the Sand 8pm, SBS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Mark But­ler

IN com­pany with 19 mil­lion other liv­ing ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the dis­pos­ses­sion, epi­demics, slaugh­ter, rape and cul­tural ex­tinc­tion suf­fered by in­dige­nous Aus­tralians as a con­se­quence of the ar­rival of the First Fleet, I have no idea how to solve the prob­lems of en­demic poverty, dis­ease, vi­o­lence, sex­ual abuse and ad­dic­tion that plague many sur­viv­ing in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

I do know that pre­vi­ous so­lu­tions, all of them whipped up by non­indi­genes, have failed, as re­port af­ter re­port has been telling us for decades. And I doubt that the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s latest so­lu­tion, cob­bled to­gether in an un­seemly, elec­tion­mode rush, and which ap­pears to be a re­turn to those pre­vi­ous duds, pa­ter­nal­ism and forced in­te­gra­tion, will work ei­ther.

Af­ter 11 years’ stew­ard­ship of in­dige­nous af­fairs, this is the best John Howard and his crack team can come up with? Ban­ning al­co­hol, drugs and pornog­ra­phy and black­mail­ing par­ents and their chil­dren by with­hold­ing so­cial se­cu­rity pay­ments? Pun­ish­ment and pro­hi­bi­tion: is that all we are ca­pa­ble of imag­in­ing? Per­haps it is.

The only real hope, of course, lies in wider and deeper knowl­edge that non- in­dige­nous Aus­tralians will learn more about the de­scen­dants of those whose land was stolen from them so that we could pros­per. Per­haps then we will be­gin to un­der­stand their predica­ment and this may lead to so­lu­tions that work.

This is where doc­u­men­taries such as Foot­prints in the Sand play an im­por­tant role, fos­sick­ing about in new and sur­pris­ing ar­eas, sub­vert­ing stereo­types with in­di­vid­ual sto­ries. In this case, in­dige­nous film­maker Glen Sta­siuk pro­vides a unique per­spec­tive on the last of the no­mads, an age­ing cou­ple, Warri and Yatungka, res­cued in 1977 from drought and their 40- year ex­ile in the Gib­son Desert by an ex­pe­di­tion guided by their child­hood friend Mud­jon.

The per­spec­tive is pro­vided by 60- year- old Ge­of­frey Yu­lalla Boss Ste­wart, eldest of two sons born to Warri and Yatungka af­ter they had eloped from the Martu set­tle­ment in Wiluna and headed 600km north­west into the desert, where they found their coun­try and turned their backs on the rest of the world, fear­ful of the ret­ri­bu­tion they faced for break­ing tribal law.

The film fol­lows Ste­wart and mem­bers of his ex­tended fam­ily on his re­turn to the place he was born. I was im­pressed with his pro­pri­eto­rial wave, en­com­pass­ing a vast tract of salt­bush­strewn desert, and his brief com­ment: ‘‘ This was my play­ground.’’

For me the most telling mo­ment is the archival footage show­ing Mud­jon meet­ing the now very aged and se­ri­ously de­bil­i­tated cou­ple and con­vinc­ing them to re­turn to Wiluna with him. The dom­i­nant im­age is of the proud, ema­ci­ated Warri lean­ing on his spear, and stand­ing on one leg, an im­age of bro­ken pride. He died a few months later and was soon fol­lowed by his life­long com­pan­ion.

Sub­vert­ing a stereo­type: Ge­of­frey Yu­lalla Boss Ste­wart and a young rel­a­tive

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