Unique insight into last of the nomads
Inside Australia: Footprints in the Sand 8pm, SBS
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