How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits…

… and enriched my life.

I do not jest. They really have, and I can only commend you follow suit, if you are here in Oz. On NITV I have posted several times lately.

  1. Twenty years after Redfern
  2. Bran Nue Day (2009)
  3. Jimmy Little — 1 March 1937 – 2 April 2012
  4. On NITV again and related issues
  5. Women of the Sun on NITV on Tuesday nights
  6. NITV best option for Christmas Night–in my opinion

Even last night instead of watching Edwin Drood on ABC – I am sure it was excellent – I could not bypass seeing the third episode of Women of the Sun (1982) and am so glad I did. Heaven knows what I made of it way back in the 80s. Did I believe it? Did I think it was exaggerated? I really don’t recall. But it certainly didn’t occur to me then that the key incident in the plot – the 1939 mass walkout by Aborigines from a government mission – was pretty much just as it happened. And the screenwriter, the late Hyllus Maris, would sure have known.

Hyllus Noel Maris (1933-1986), Aboriginal rights campaigner, community worker, educator, poet and scriptwriter, was born on 25 December 1933 at Echuca, Victoria, third of nine children of New South Wales-born parents Selwyn Roderick Briggs, labourer, and his wife Geraldine Rose, née Clements. Hyllus was of Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri (Woiworung) descent and spent her early childhood at Cummeragunja Aboriginal station, New South Wales. Her grandmother educated her in Aboriginal culture, genealogy and history, and both parents were activists; her father was also a prominent sportsman.

In 1939 more than 150 Aboriginal people ‘walked off’ Cummeragunja in protest at substandard conditions. Their actions provided a catalyst for the greater politicisation of Aboriginal people throughout Victoria. The Briggses were among a group who then settled on the ‘Flat’ in the Mooroopna-Shepparton area of Victoria. The Flat’s close-knit, family-based community championed social reform campaigns into the post-World War II era.

Growing up in a river-bank tent, Hyllus was acutely aware of the impoverished conditions under which many Aboriginal people lived. Her father was the first Aboriginal man to be employed by the Shepparton council, providing a regular income and stability for his family. She attended school and trained as a hospital dietician. Committed to securing basic human rights for Indigenous people, however, she decided not to follow that career path. In 1956 she married Andrew Marimuthu at Shepparton and adopted the surname Maris; they had no children and were later divorced. Moving to Melbourne, in 1970 she joined her mother, a sister—Gladys Nicholls, the wife of Pastor (Sir) Doug Nicholls—and others in founding the National Council of Aboriginal and Island Women, for which she worked as liaison officer. In 1973 she assisted in establishing the Victorian Aboriginal Health and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal services at Fitzroy…

See also Cummeragunja. Jimmy Little the singer also knew, as became apparent in the documentary about his life recently screened on NITV, though what follows is from ABC’s Message Stick, linked to the start of this sentence.

FRANCES PETERS-LITTLE: We go back now to Eddie Little, my dad’s grandfather. Now, his story is that he was born and found somewhere near a massacre site in Queensland. And he was found as a baby. And he was raised by a white family and they gave him the name Little. And then he came down to New South Wales and settled in the Southern Highlands area. And he met with Eliza Penrith and they married in 1902. And they had three sons and two daughters. And one of their sons was named James Edward Little, who we know now as Kunkas. And then he married Frances McGee at Cumeragunja. And their first child was James Oswald Little, which is Jimmy Little.
JIMMY LITTLE: I remember, fondly, Mum and Dad performing on stage. with other artists from the Cumeragunja Music Group, playing instruments, like mandolin, banjo, guitars of course, harmonicas. I thought – "Gee, that’s nice." Music had an attraction for me. As much as playing sport and just running loose around the bush… and hunting and all of that… One, two, three, four…

DEBORAH CHEETHAM: Well, it was three years ago I first discovered the story of the walk-off from Cumeragunja Mission. And I decided I wanted to create an opera around that story. And so writing an opera and writing a libretto around that story of the Cumeragunja walk-off, and then discovering that my own grandparents were part of that walk-off and that they took Jimmy as a young baby and walked across that river into Victoria in protest of how they were being treated To be writing an opera about that… (LAUGHS) ..to be in the process of writing it and then to discover that my own grandparents were part of it, I mean, it’s been a huge journey for me.
JAMES HENRY LITTLE: Right across the board, there are so many musical people in the family. Aunty Monica’s daughter, Deborah Cheetham, is a fantastic opera singer, who I never really got a chance to know growing up. I think she was taken away at an early age.
JIMMY LITTLE: I know about Deborah being part of the family… but I didn’t know the story behind her adoption.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I am a member of the Stolen Generation. I was taken from my mother when I was three weeks old. I was given to a family in Sydney. I’d be told, when I was very young, that I’d been abandoned by my mother, that she’d put me in a cardboard box and left me in a field. So as far as I knew, I’d been abandoned. Of course, this wasn’t the case but I didn’t learn that until much later in life.
JIMMY LITTLE: I was looking forward to eventually meeting her with her mum, my sister. And when that happened, there was a… there was a sadness and a gladness… to at least relate, family-wise, both ways.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I knew about the existence of Uncle Jimmy. In fact, I think when I was seven years old, I met him. My adoptive parents took me… I can remember quite distinctly, they took me to a shopping centre where he was making an appearance and I actually got to meet him…

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, eventually Governor of South Australia, was also A Boy From Cummeragunja.

Then just the other day I was delighted to be able to see again my good friend Kristina being beautiful and brilliant in the 1986-7 AFI winner The Fringe Dwellers.

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Kristina – just as she was when I first met her in Roy Garner’s Forest Lodge Coffee Shop in 1987.

There is a very strange Indian article on Aborigines in Australian cinema I have just found. It does tell you a lot about The Fringe Dwellers, but the folk at Dear Cinema seem to have let their prejudices and apparent ignorance of Australian film since around 1990 allow their thesis on Absence of Aborigines in Australian Cinema to run rampant.

Year – 1987. Even as ‘white’ Australia was preparing to celebrate 200 years of white settlement, the oppression of aborigines – the original inhabitants of the continent – continued apace. The oppression is naked and heartless in outback settlements, but exists in subtler forms in Australian towns and cities. I have in one of my scrapbooks an agency report dating back to that year which speaks of a high court judge who wept as he listened to harrowing accounts of racism and denial of justice to aborigines in a remote New South Wales community. The judge wept and said : “I have been to Soweto in South Africa, to German concentration camps, but this is my own country…”

Despite an occasional admission such as this, not many white Australians are willing to face the truth that colonization has done little to improve the lot of the indigenous people. Australians are yet to acknowledge in large numbers that prejudice against the remaining 150,000 aborigines is rife. Unlike recent arrivals from Asia and Europe, many of whom are more than comfortable in the role of the comprador, the aborigines have never been integrated into the mainstream. In a society predominantly by, for and of white Australians, it is hardly surprising that the aboriginal question should be calculatedly glossed over…

Seeing that I marched with the Indigenous in the 1988 Bicentennial and had the enormous privilege in Kristina’s loungeroom in Forest Lodge of being told a dreaming story by a genuine songman, meeting at least one of the Page boys now so famous in Australian dance, and so on and so on, I rather resent the absences in Mr Chaterjee’s account of Aborigines in Australian cinema. And that is not to deny things in Indigenous Australia could be a whole lot better. However, the presence of Indigenous Australians in music, cinema, theatre, dance, the arts is actually quite remarkable given their numbers… Not to mention sport!  So save your snootiness, Mr Chaterjee, and concentrate on the many and varied injustices of your own country, of which lately we have had a glaring example. And now that we have a dedicated mainstream free to air channel for Indigenous programming – which has thus far no problem finding things to show – Indigenous stories are there for all Australians to share.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Recently too there was a brilliant documentary by Ivan Sen on the death of the sister of actor/presenter Rhoda Roberts: A Sister’s Love (2007). Then there is a quite delightful and informative children’s program, also seen on ABC3 – Bushwhacked.

Bushwhacked!’ is a 13-part series hosted by Brandon Walters and Kayne Tremills as they set off on the adventure of a lifetime to remote corners of Australia, meeting the country’s weird and wonderful wildlife, and learning about Indigenous rites and rituals. The series brings the bush to the ‘burbs, as Brandon sets Kayne a new challenge each episode, to track down one of Australia’s unique animals. But it is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. It’s a fun-fuelled, adrenalin-pumping, fast-paced adventure following these two colourful characters — one an ice cool bushman; the other a skateboarding city-slicker who’s never been into the heart of Aboriginal Australia. Whether it be chasing down dangerous spiders, killer sharks and venomous snakes, or friendly penguins and loveable turtles; adventure is never far away, as the boys challenge each other with rock climbing, skydiving and zip-lining. Along the way, Brandon introduces Kayne to friends from local Indigenous communities who get the boys involved in everything from traditional smoking ceremonies to investigating local bush tucker and bush medicine. Humour and high spirits are a trademark throughout the series, as Brandon and Kayne often find themselves out of their comfort zones as they take the journey of a lifetime together.

As if all these examples are not enough to persuade you to sample NITV – but you may get hooked! – then there are odd movies that you may not see elsewhere. For example, Christopher Reeve being very good as NOT Superman in The Aviator (1985), which I saw during the past week.

And The Motorcyle Diaries is coming up next Sunday at 9.30!

The remit of NITV extends to world Indigenous TV, so I saw a brilliant documentary about the Mohawk construction workers of New York.  Did you know about this? I didn’t.

Meanwhile I have grown fond too of ABC News 24. Check out just one of their regular offerings: One Plus One. The episode of 28 December had passionate educator and composer Richard Gill saying just what needs to be said about education these days.

Jimmy Little — 1 March 1937 – 2 April 2012

In  NITV best option for Christmas Night–in my opinion I commended the Jimmy Little Celebration Concert, originally broadcast in May 2012. That link takes you to a video still on the Opera House site: “Highlights from the Celebration Concert which followed the State Memorial Service in honour of the late Jimmy Little. The story also includes interviews with Paul Kelly, Christine Anu, Dan Sultan, Col Hardy, Don Walker and many others.”  Fortunately NITV broadcast the entire concert commercial-free. Smile

Members of the public can attend the Jimmy Little Celebration Concert on Thursday 3 May commencing at 8pm in the Concert Hall. The concert will celebrate the life of the wonderful Jimmy Little. Family and friends will come together to honour in story and song the extraordinary contribution this Yorta Yorta elder has made to the cultural life of Australia. Artists including Col Joye, Judy Stone, Archie Roach, Lou Bennett, James Henry and Paul Kelly to name a few, will pay tribute to Jimmy’s amazing sixty year legacy as an artist, performer and champion for his people.

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On Boxing Day NITV followed up with a documentary I had not seen before – Jimmy Little’s Gentle Journey. You can see it also today on NITV Ch34 at noon. It was originally on ABC.

From poverty and personal tragedy to Australia’s first Aboriginal pop star – Jimmy Little’s Gentle Journey is an intimate look at the life of a pioneering artist who defied incredible odds.

This timely ABC TV program touchingly traces the trials and triumphs of a remarkable survivor celebrating 50 years in the business. Awarded an Order of Australia Medal and named as a Living National Treasure earlier this year, Jimmy’s life has just recently been reinvigorated when he became the recipient of a kidney transplant.

With another new album out in June, Australia’s first gentleman of song, whose voice melts ice, continues a trailblazing career that has gently been opening doors and minds throughout his life. At a time when Aborigines were not even recognised as citizens, Jimmy Little broke down white-dominated cultural barriers as he painted images – past, present and future – with his songs. Jimmy was the first Aboriginal person to feature regularly on television, and with his incredible talent and success, subtly swept aside ignorance and negative stereotypes.

Ironically perceived by some as a conformist, Jimmy has determinedly and consistently pursued his own independent, gentle path refusing to conform to a variety of ‘bandwagons’. It is a path that has brought trials and triumphs but he has stuck to his convictions and as an artist rather than activist he has changed attitudes and encouraged reconciliation with a simple and honest love of music and humanity. Over a career as a musician, actor and educator spanning 50 years, Jimmy Little has proven himself to be a survivor whose talent and determination remain solid.

Jimmy Little’s Gentle Journey provides an intimate and comprehensive biographical portrait of his life and times.

NITV best option for Christmas Night–in my opinion

Why?

  1. 7:30pm Jimmy Little Tribute Concert

    To celebrate Jimmy Little’s life Australian musicians from around the country will gather and sing. Family and friends will come together to honour the contribution of this extraordinary Australian. News (TBC)

  2. 9:00pm Women of the Sun

    As the seal-hunters discovered the rich bounty off the southern coasts, they supplemented their isolated lives by kidnapping Aboriginal women. Drama (M)

  3. 10:00pm Bush Bands Bash Bush Bands Bash is the biggest concert on the Alice Springs calendar and one of the most vibrant Indigenous events in Australia.

Last night ABC News 24 repeated an Australian Story from April 2012.

This is a story of rags-to-riches and back again, introduced by actor Heather Graham.

From a working class upbringing in Adelaide, Scott Neeson built a career as a top Hollywood movie executive, promoting blockbusters such as Titanic, Braveheart, Independence Day, and X-Men. It was a glamorous lifestyle, walking red carpets, partying with celebrities and dating models.

But after a holiday in Cambodia, Neeson made a deliberate choice to give it all up. Gone are the slick designer suits, traded instead for the cargo pants and hiking boots required to navigate the rubbish dumps of Phnom Penh.

He now owns ‘nothing’ but says he couldn’t be happier as he works to help some of Cambodia’s poorest children.

The spirit of Jesus of Nazareth – and the compassion of the Buddha – is alive sometimes inside and just as often outside the community of believers.

SEVERSON: Neeson says he doesn’t belong to an organized religion but leans toward Buddhism, in part because it accepts suffering as part of life and has helped the kids endure their own suffering.

Mr. NEESON: And the one thing it’s really taught me, even more than, I think, spirituality, is the resilience of the human spirit. What these kids have been through is remarkable, and they come here, and they have a sense of real happiness.

And on a smaller scale, witness the kindness of the lovely Helen and the staff at the Yum Yum Cafe.  Here is what I scored this morning.

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Bran Nue Day (2009)

This has been on ABC TV several times but each time I missed it – until last night. Loved it.

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Review by David Stratton

And now to end on something uplifting – it is the festive season after all! So that brings us to BRAN NUE DAE…
Willie, ROCKY MACKENZIE, who lives in Broome, loves beautiful Rosie, JESSICA MAUBOY, but can’t bring himself to approach her. Willie’s mother sends him off to a boarding school in Perth run by strict Father Benedictus, GEOFFREY RUSH – but Willie runs away and heads for home accompanied by his uncle, ERNIE DINGO.
Rachel Perkins’ exuberant adaptation of the 1990 stage musical is a lot of fun, despite the fact that it has a rather insipid hero. The energetic staging of the musical numbers is just one of the engaging elements in a film filled with unexpected delights, such as the performances of MISSY HIGGINS and DEBORAH MAILMAN, who are both excellent.
GEOFFREY RUSH is very funny indeed, the pacing is brisk and it all looks terrific.
BRAN NUE DAY represents a really enjoyable visit to the movies this summer…

DAVID: I loved the musical numbers.
MARGARET: It takes a lot to make a musical these days.
DAVID: Yes.
MARGARET: And I think Rachael Perkins has done a fabulous job.
DAVID: I think so too. Yes, I agree.
MARGARET: I’m giving this four stars.
DAVID: Yes, me too, four stars.

It is worth reading the comments on The Movie Show site. One person found the movie racist! I am sure Jimmy Chi, Rachael Perkins et al would be quite surprised. There are people with no sense of humour out there, of course. Not that Bran Nue Dae is all laughs, as my YouTube selection shows. And sometimes the satire cuts several ways:

One of the famous verses from a song in the musical sums up Chi’s dry humour and sharp political approach:

There’s nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit.

See also Bran Nue Dae.

Update

1. Following the success of Bran Nue Dae, Rachel Perkins and Blackfella Films  have gone on to make some really splendid movies and documentaries and, of course, the series Redfern Now. Meanwhile, many of the people in Bran Nue Dae may also be seen in 2012’s very successful The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair. Indigenous stories and voices really are being seen and heard! I notice however that too many TV Guides, including The Australian Review for 22 December, still hide the existence of NITV!

2. Cinematography on Bran Nue Day was by Andrew Lesnie – brilliant.

His work began receiving major attention after the release of the anthropomorphic pig story Babe (1995) and its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City. He was director of photography on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and received an Oscar for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2002. Since then, he has filmed several other Jackson-directed films, including King Kong and The Lovely Bones, and will also film the upcoming The Hobbit films directed by Jackson.

Wikipedia needs to update that last line!

Andrew Lesnie’s son Phillip Lesnie is carving out a career in the arts. I did teach him briefly at SBHS. See Rani P Lukita and Phil Lesnie – Sydney artists / Hand to Hand and his site Monster Friendship Society.

Takes my mind back to the beginning of the century, via this quote from the 2000 SBHS Annual Report. There’s a  name there that is now well known in Indigenous circles too.

Achievements in the Arts

The  school  has  a  very  strong  emphasis  on co-curricular  activities,  particularly  musical  and  choral performance  and debating.
•  The double  in debating  – GPS  Roat Shield  and State Hume Barbour Shield – was achieved. The firsts  (Oscar  McLaren,  Hilbert  Chiu,  Robbie Moore and Mike Martin) were undefeated.
•  Eugene  Schofield-Georgeson,  Jonathan Ailwood,  Morgan  Green  – Art  Express finalists.
•  Jack  Manning-Bancroft  and  Mihai  Sora participated  in  the  English  Teachers Conference.
•  Michael  Nelson,  Jason  Kok  and  Thomas Norrie were chosen to  play in the NSW Public Schools  Symphony Orchestra.
•  Robbie  Moore’s  play  ‘Wolves’  was  accepted for a reading by a theatre group.
•  Phillip  Lesnie  won  the  Sydney  Theatre Company’s ‘Young Playwrights Award’.
•  Peter  Hayward,  Justin  Hill  and  Thomas Beamish sang at the opening ceremonies at the Olympic  Games,  the  Paralympic  Games  and the Pacific Schools Games.

Women of the Sun on NITV on Tuesday nights

It was marvellous to see this amazing miniseries again.

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Naykalan Munung as Alinta in the groundbreaking TV series "Women of the Sun".

Episode 1, ALINTA: THE FLAME

This story brings its audience closest to the customs and culture of tribal Aborigines, and gives a fascinating insight into rituals and legends which has no previous screen counterpart. The lives of the Nyari people are completely disrupted when they discover two convicts washed up on the beach of their tribal lands. Subsequently, the Nyari people meet other whites, settlers searching for grazing land. The abuse of the Nyari’s sacred tribal ways follows and eventually leads to the annihilation of the tribe. Only Alinta, ‘The Flame’, remains with her child to carry the torch for her culture and the future.

Made in 1981, the four part Women of the Sun truly was groundbreaking.

In 2007 Sydney University’s Macleay Museum had a showing of episodes 1 and 2.

The first two episodes of the… television series Women of the Sun will be presented by the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney this Thursday – the day before the anniversary of colonisation.

Written by Hyllus Maris and Sonia Borg, Women of the Sun was first screened by SBS TV in 1981, and tells the stories of Aboriginal women over two centuries of colonisation, challenging the conventional notions of Australia’s past.

The series highlighted issues which would dominate Aboriginal affairs over the following decades and also attracted international and national acclaim, winning the United Nations Media Peace Prize and two Australian Writers’ Guild Awards.

The first two episodes, which will be presented by the Macleay Museum at the University’s Old Geology Lecture Theatre, are set in the 1820s and the 1890s and reveal the Indigenous experience of colonisation through the eyes, experience and language of two women.

Hyllus Maris was a member of the Yorta Yorta nation, passing away in 1986. She was also a poet.

Spiritual Song of the Aborigine by Hyllus Maris

I am a child of the Dreamtime People
Part of this Land, like the gnarled gumtree
I am the river, softly singing
Chanting our songs on my way to the sea
My spirit is the dust-devils
Mirages, that dance on the plain
I’m the snow, the wind and the falling rain
I’m part of the rocks and the red desert earth
Red as the blood that flows in my veins
I am the eagle, crow and snake that glides
Through the rain-forest that clings to the mountainside
I awakened here when the earth was new
There was emu, wombat, kangaroos
No other man of a different hue
I am this land
And this land is me
I am Australia

See also Return to women of the sun.  There is a study guide (PDF) from Metro/ATOM.

Do tune in to next week’s episode at 9pm Tuesday on Channel 34. BTW, a blogger sometimes mentioned here and on my Facebook was in Women of the Sun. So was Indigenous author Boori Monty Pryor.

Good things on TV last night

I long ago downloaded Louis Theroux’s excellent 2007 doco on the barking mad Phelps clan miscalled a church and much loved by atheists all around the world, so I was hot to see the sequel on ABC2 last night, Here is was called Louis Theroux: Return to The Most Hated Family. There is nothing worth admiring about the Phelpses, though one’s heart does go out to those brave and bright enough to escape Lady Macbeth and the execrable bigot Gramps.

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Louis Theroux showed himself more truly Christian, even if he is an atheist/agnostic, than his hosts. And if ever you doubted that individualistic Bible Study can be very dangerous, an odd position to hold given the history of the Christian church and its offshoots, then surely this clan would convince you. One thing was for sure – Jesus, should he have turned up, would have been totally alienated by the Phelpses and all they stand for. They really are quite revolting.

In 2007, Louis Theroux spent a summer living with the community of the Westboro Baptist Church in the USA, famed for their offensive ministry. Now Louis returns to find the family more hateful than ever.

When Louis first met the Phelps family, he accompanied the family as they travelled the country holding signs such as ‘God Hates Fags’ and ‘Soldiers Die God Laughs’. America hated them and they revelled in their notoriety.

Now Louis returns to find a very different community. More like a cult than ever before, they are convinced the world is about to end and are making even more outrageous gestures such as burning the Koran.

Louis is accepted back into the family, but he finds them more combative than before. They see him as part of the prophecy; the ‘mocker and scoffer’ sent by God to chide his elect.

As the family’s behaviour becomes even more extreme, some of the younger members of the Church have fallen away. Louis catches up with those who made the decision to leave the family, knowing that in doing so, they will never see their parents again.

Although Louis finds the Phelps family more vengeful, more hateful and more controversial than ever, he also finds a family heading towards uncertain times, losing its members as it binds its youngest ever more tightly.

The doco is also called Louis Theroux – America’s Most Hated Family IN CRISIS.

Over on ABC News 24 at 9.30 there was an excellent documentary Who Makes The News? exploring the relationship between television and politics.

Narrated by ABC broadcaster Geraldine Doogue, the program retraces some of the biggest political stories of the past 50 years, with archival vision and interviews with ABC reporters and political operatives that shed light on the mindsets and decisions that shaped Australia and its broadcast news.

Who Makes The News? revisits ABC political coverage: the impact of the Vietnam War; the rise and fall of Gough Whitlam; the day Bob Hawke became Labor leader; Paul Keating’s Redfern speech; John Howard’s gun buyback program and the security scares of 2001; and the Rudd/Gillard contest of 2010.

This documentary also explores current views on the impact of the continuous news cycle on political outcomes. Interviews include: Kerry O’Brien, Gerald Stone, Tim Bowden, Barrie Cassidy, Greg Turnbull, Jim Middleton, Grahame Morris, Lachlan Harris, Chris Uhlmann, Mark Simkin, Arthur Sinodinos, Russell Mahoney, Ken Begg and Fran Kelly.

This TV special has been produced in conjunction with the celebration of 50 years of local ABC TV broadcasting in Canberra. Executive Producer: Eric Napper.

If it is shown again don’t miss it. It was also, in my view, very fair-minded.

Our River Days and the Croker Island kids

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I mentioned this book a few days back: see Croker Island Exodus. As you can see I secured a copy from Wollongong Library and have now read it. I also saw Croker Island Exodus last night.

Alice Briston and Jessie Lyons, in their 80s, still recall their group canoeing across a crocodile-infested river, tussling over who would eat a dead goanna, discovering leeches in a waterhole they were drinking from and walking barefoot for days across rugged terrain…

The two women had been forcibly removed from their parents and wound up with other youngsters from the stolen generations in a Methodist mission on Croker Island. Its supplies were running out after the Darwin bombing and the group had to evacuate, starting with a boat to the mainland but having to then bypass Darwin.

At one stage, the children walked single file almost 100 kilometres across Kakadu after the government trucks sent to pick them up became stuck. ”It seemed a long way … no shoes, nothin’,” Briston said softly. But ”I didn’t even take notice of my feet”, she added with typical understatement. ”I just enjoyed myself walking around with other children.”

At that age – many were under 12 – it seemed more a big excursion than frightening experience. ”I don’t think we were scared,” Lyons said. Returning to Kakadu as an adult, ”I got more scared just going back there and seeing what we went through.” A boy died along the way.

One of the missionary carers, Sister Margaret Somerville, 99, was recently reunited with some from the journey. The emotional scenes are captured in Croker Island Exodus, which weaves historical footage with interviews and re-enactments.

Somerville told their story in a book, They Crossed a Continent.

The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, said: ”This is one of the greatest of all Australian stories of love and compassion.”…

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The documentary lived up to its promise. While it did not go into all that much detail about the children’s time at Otford there certainly were pictures worth the proverbial thousand words, especially colour footage of the children at Otford.

Betty Bezant’s book is even more an account of her childhood – and her family – in Otford than it is about the Croker Island children. It is a little repetitive, but nonetheless a good read and as memoirs go very accurate, I would say. One detail I found fascinating is that Clarence Greentree, originally the one teacher at Otford’s one room school – before the arrival of 76 Croker Island kids – went back to Croker Island after the war with the children and remained there as teacher. See also another memoir, Lorna "Nanna Nungala" Fejo.

Lorna was born in the late 1920’s to an aboriginal mother and a white father.

Lorna’s bush name is Minpirmngully.

She is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon).

Lorna was taken as a 4 year old, 1932, from her mother and became a part of the “Stolen Generation”. She was sent to Alice Springs to the bungalows. From here she was sent to Goulburn Island then to Croker Island in the early 1940’s.

She remained there until being evacuated to Sydney via Oenpelli and Pine Creek, after the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese. (They Crossed a Continent by Margaret Somerville) Photos contained in this book.

While in Sydney, Lorna attended primary school at Haberfield Primary School then moved to join the other children from Croker Island at Otford. She attended the Wollongong High School until the end of the war.

All of the younger children returned to Darwin on board the “Reynella”

After the war, Lorna returned to Croker Island, where more houses had been built to house the children. Schooling was provided by Mr Greentree. She was studying her 3rd year high school while also helping to teach children in grades 1-3. Her time at Croker was enjoyable…

See also Paint Me Black: Memories Of Croker Island And Other Journeys by Claire Henty-Gebert and Man with a mission: Alec Ross – House Parent at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel tells of his early years.

I was born at Barrow Creek in 1936, but I grew up in Sydney. I’m of Scottish descent, my father’s three quarters Scots. I work at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel as a house parent.

I was living at Neutral Junction with my mother when I was a baby and in those days they had a ruling that if you fathered a half-caste child, you weren’t allowed to be a father to it or stay with the child. My father was classed as a white man, he looked white but he wasn’t a white man. Then they took me away because my mother had me in the camp. The reason they gave my father for taking me away was that it was the law and that my father couldn’t do anything about it.

Because my father was classed as a white man, he couldn’t have an Aboriginal partner and so the child would therefore be taken away. They wanted us to grow up like a ‘normal’ white person I suppose and give us a better education and a better living.

While he was there my father actually took care of me but he had to go to Adelaide with R.M. Williams, the clothes manufacturer. They were good mates so he went to business in Adelaide with R.M. Williams and he said he couldn’t look after me, he left me with my mother and so the authorities came about a week later and took me away.

We all went to the Bungalow, the old Telegraph Station in Alice Springs, actually I think it was the Cullen Compound first and then moved to Alice. They kept us there for about two or three weeks, I’m not to sure and I was probably three or three and a half or something.

They then split us up into religious groups, Methodist, Catholic, Church of England and so on and they moved us south. They said, "You go with them and you go with them," and I ended up in a place called Croker Island in 1941.

The Japs started bombing there in ’42 so they had to move us in a hurry – they couldn’t find a place in Sydney, but they did eventually find somewhere at a place called Otford, about an hour outside of Sydney. We stayed there until the War was over. I remember all the Jap’s subs coming in and getting knocked out in the Harbour and that sort of thing. I remember the Japs flying over us at Croker and before we had to leave and then when they bombed Darwin.

We had to walk practically all the way from a place called Barklay Bay on the Arnhem Land coast right over to Pine Creek through the bush. It would have been two or three hundred miles and there were about eighty kids and three or four missionaries. We had two old trucks, an old Chevrolet truck and a couple of horses and that’s how we travelled through crocodile infested waters.

We went right through the Arnhem Gully across to Pine Creek and when we got there we met up with the Army. We put on an impromptu concert for them, I was one of the ten green bottles. I fell over and cut my lip on the stage!…

On the Island [Croker] they had taught us everything – gardening, fencing, anything that was there you had to try and learn to do. I think in my case it was very good thing because I look back at my family now and see them, the way they’re living and my half brothers and sisters. All the black fella side, my mother’s side, I mean they’re not the same, they’ve got no work, they’re just living out in the bush and coming in when they want to. They’re on the dole and they can’t get a job. But I’ve been working ever since I was ready to work and it was very seldom that I got on the dole queue…

Maybe some people are inclined to be angry and maybe they’re looking for money or some compensation from the government and that’s the big problem. Some of them did suffer more than I did because a lot of the older kids probably knew their parents better than me, I didn’t. Being so young, I was taken away and I hadn’t known my parents, so therefore it didn’t matter to me. All these kids who were running with me in the same age group would be like brothers and sisters…

Passing through the Otford Valley, Christmas 2010