First Footprints

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.

8 responses to “First Footprints

  1. It was a fantastic program RJ, I agree. We’ve seen quite a bit of rock art in the Northern Territory (over 4 trips to the north and centre) but this rock shelter was something else. I’ve also done some research on Mungo Man for a documentary (not yet made), and have done contract work on a database for capturing Martu history in the Pilbara, so I loved the way this program tied together a lot of my rather disparate knowledge. The thing I had never seen at all was the facial art. That was beautiful. I can’t wait for next week’s episode.

    • residentjudge

      Lake Mungo is incredible, isn’t it. I had a similar breath-holding response to it, as well. I think that it might be more controlled now than when we visited because we climbed the sand-dunes (are they the lunettes?) and I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t going to be crashing surf on the other side of them. What’s the documentary going to be on?

  2. PS Most of the B&W footage we saw on Sunday night was from People of the Australian Western Desert. Your link is to an excerpt of Desert People (around 50 mins) which was made from the People of…. footage (over 300 mins). If you looked closely it was identified in the bottom right corner of the screen. (Not all the footage was identified, but much of it was). This link will tell you more:

    • residentjudge

      Yes- at one stage I went right up to the television to peer at the writing on the right hand side of the screen.

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  4. Thankyou so much for writing about this program. I’m a terrible tv watcher so miss things unless someone tells me about them. I saw the last half of episode 2 last night and all I can say is wow! I’ll have a look at both episodes on iview.

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