Did you catch First Footprints on television on Sunday night? If not, hie thee hence to i-view and catch it there.
I think that many of us of a certain age can recall sitting cross-legged on the floor of the school hall, watching black and white film reels of traditional Aboriginal people in the desert (possibly the Desert People film, produced in 1966?) It may well have been shown by the Religious Education teachers who were often retired missionaries, and in my mind the film is linked with the “mission boxes”, little cardboard money boxes that were distributed during Lent “for the missions” among Aboriginal people. Ah-so many questions now, but not at the time. Watching in the half-light of a school hall in the 1960s, smirking and tittering over the bare breasts, what was reinforced was the utter strangeness and primitiveness of a lifestyle so thoroughly ‘other’ than ours.
When I think about it, I haven’t seen such films for several decades. I’d like to think that it was because we have become increasingly aware of sensitivities over images of people who have died, but I can’t imagine that this was the case in the 1970s and 1980s.
Seeing the footage again on Sunday night, though, I was overwhelmed by awe at the sheer age of the aboriginal peoples as survivors and vicariously proud of their deep connection with the land. No primitiveness now: instead resourcefulness, adaptability, grit, spirituality.
I found myself holding my breath at the footage of Narwala Gabarnmang.
I remembered reading about this discovery but I hadn’t realized the depth of colour and the intricacy and density of the artwork. The rock shelter looked like a cathedral, with a similar sense of the spiritual mixed with the very human striving for beauty and expression. I found myself sitting very still, utterly transfixed. I didn’t expect this to have such an effect on me.