Vicki Couzens Yanmeeyarr
Yanmeeyar, Vicki Couzens

The Story of the Moving Image -- First Peoples' Perspectives

For thousands of generations in Australia, First Peoples have told stories using light, shadow and movement: the special glow of sunset to catch the movement of dancing feet, the flickering campfire as tales are told in the night, the story of stars and constellations told in the Dreaming.

First Peoples' storytelling plays a central role in the past, present and future of the moving image in Australia and First Peoples' voices are at the heart of ACMI's The Story of the Moving Image.

we made sure that First Peoples content was woven throughout the five sections of the exhibition, and self-representation was a guiding principle of the curatorial approach – focusing on stories and works made by us, rather than our stories told by other people. First Peoples have claimed a space for ourselves within Australian screen culture, we have agency over how we’re represented and how we tell our stories.

Louana Sainsbury ACMI Curator

About this resource

In this resource for secondary students, you will discover significant works and installations relating to First Peoples' storytelling in The Story of the Moving Image.

Students can engage with Discover and explore prompts before coming to ACMI -- these prompts are also relevant as a follow-up to the visit. The Respond and reflect questions relate to the exhibition experience and the power of First Peoples' stories and artwork within the context of the exhibition. The Respond and reflect questions and prompts can be referred to during and after the visit.

Be selective as this resource encourages deep thinking, rather than glib responses. For instance, a good approach is to allocate different focus areas to small groups and ask students to share their learning with others in the class back at school.

Yanmeeyarr, 2020

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Yanmeeyarr, Vicki Couzens, 2020. Image credit Gareth Sobey

Giving people an opportunity to see the world through our lens.

Vicki Couzens, artist

Vicki Couzens is a Keerray Woorroong Gunditjmara artist and her artwork welcomes visitors as they enter The Story of the Moving Image and then farewells them as they leave the gallery at the end of their visit.

Yanmeeyarr, which means flickering in the firelight, celebrates First People’s storytelling and the way stories can be brought to life through movement, light and shadow. We think this is the perfect way to frame an exhibition about the moving image.

The welcome

Look up to see the first part of Yanmeeyarr as you enter the gallery. You look through a huge, textured acrylic lens to see a painting representing storytelling through dance, and how ochre markings on the body capture and reflect light during corroboree, or ceremony. If you move or sway as you look up through the gigantic textured lens, the dancing figures appear to ripple and move.

The farewell

As you leave The Story of the Moving Image, you see that the dancers have come down from the ceiling to connect with visitors walking past on their way out. Cut out of metal with a mirror finish, the figures are etched to give the impression of movement and of 'flickering in the firelight'.

Vicki Couzens describes her work in terms of inclusion and connection -- "The viewer in movement and reflection becomes part of the dance, as the figures become animated."

Discover and explore
1. Watch the video (above) and listen to what Vicki Couzens has to say about her work. Explain her intention in your own words.
2. How does Yanmeeyarr connect the long tradition of First Nations storytelling in Australia with the story of the moving image?
3.Find out more about Vicki Couzens, her work as an artist and her role as a cultural leader.
Respond and reflect
4. Vicki Couzens says Yanmeeyarr gives "people an opportunity to see the world through our lens". What does she mean? What did Yanmeeyarr help you see that you hadn't seen before?
5. Describe Yanmeeyarr. What different mediums has Couzens chosen? What is the impact of these different elements? How do these elements help communicate her message?
6. How did Yanmeeyarr make you feel? Explain how these feelings are drawn out by the work and the experience it offers at the entrance and exit of the gallery.

The colonial imagination/down among the wild men, 2014

down among the wild men / colonial imagination
The colonial imagination/down among the wild men, Ali Gumillya Baker, 2014

Say your grandchildren go to a colonial archive where they have all this really revolting stuff on record about our families, and there's real hate there, but you can reinsert yourself into that archive. When other people go looking for it, they will find your voice. They will find that hate, but they will also find our voices, our collective voices.

Ali Gumillya Baker, artist and academic

Ali Gumillya Baker is a Mirning woman from the Nullarbor on the West Coast of South Australia. Her art resists the history that has been written since the British colonised her people's land. Her work The colonial imagination/down among the wild men is a looped mixed media video installation that uses shadow play, projection and performance to question the history of colonisation.

In this work, Gumillya Baker is enacting the fear the British invaders/colonisers had of her ancestors and what this fear led the colonisers to imagine about the the Mirning people.

She writes, "Dressed in a tall ship hat pretending to be a colonialist, the Mirning artist writes with her feather quill back to the colonial-mother-monarch of her times ‘down among the wild men’. From the shade of the gum tree. At the same time as her chronicling, she is attacked by a wild man, (fellow sovereign Yanyuwa artist), who with a super large fork pretend stabs her in the back and the pretend explorer/tall ship coloniser collapses. Even the trees are scared of us blackfellas the hand holding the tree is shaking in fear. The background soundtrack that the viewer cannot hear is us all laughing maniacally at the re-enactment of the anthropological and colonial gaze.”

Discover and explore
1. After watching Gumillya Baker's short video work, list everything you saw. What do all of these separate elements mean to you?
2. Describe your response to the work, and explain the features and elements that build this response. Use terms relating to visual language (shape, colour, texture, framing, composition, props, lighting etc), performance (movement, gesture etc) and soundtrack (in this case, silence).
3. Gumillya Baker talks about "the anthropological and colonial gaze". Research these terms and, as a class, discuss what they mean. How do these terms add to your understanding of Gumillya Baker's work?
4. As a class, discuss the title of the work and share your sense of what it means.
5. Gumillya Baker talks about a "background soundtrack" of her and the Mirning people laughing at the "the anthropological and colonial gaze". This soundtrack cannot be heard by the audience but there are clues that tell us about this silent laughter. What are some of these clues?
Respond and reflect
The colonial imagination/down among the wild men is presented in the Light and Shadow section of The Story of the Moving Image exhibition and connects with other works that use silhouette imagery. Why do you think Baker chose to communicate through the silhouette? How does this contribute to the story being told and its impact on the viewer?
Think about the difference between watching Baker's work on YouTube and encountering it in the gallery with its ornate frame. How does this change the viewer's response to the work?
Alongside Baker's video artwork, you can see the ship hat as well as the fork and spoon used to tell the story. How do these props add to your understanding of the work?

Canopy, 2020

Canopy, John Harvey, 2020

Through the imagery in my work, I’m exploring layers of being, from the individual to family, clan, culture, country and finally, to consciousness.

John Harvey, producer, director and writer

Canopy is a moving image artwork projected onto four floor-to-ceiling screens surrounding the Moving Australia section of The Story of the Moving Image. Created by artist, filmmaker and storyteller John Harvey, the work blends personal home movies with excerpts from Harvey's short films Water (2017) and Out of Range (2019.

Harvey has conceived the work to be an intimate meditation on interconnected lives and experience, which he represents through non-linear fragments and impressions. He points out that “We feel and experience things at different times, and engage with things at different levels. It’s not so neat and packaged as a three-act story. For me it was the opportunity to really step away from that.” The film gives visitors the chance to feel and experience without having to understand or explain their response: "It’s okay to just feel something and take that with you."

The choices Harvey has made around the shape and content of Canopy connect with a tradition of First People's self-representation through the moving image. This tradition began in the 1970s when First Peoples stepped behind the camera to control how they are represented and to capture and tell their own stories. In the present-day, self-representation is at the heart of First Peoples' diverse and vibrant moving image creation and contribution to Australian screen culture.

Discover and explore
1. Find out more about the ideas behind Canopy in this Broadsheet article:
2. Like Ali Gumillya Baker, John Harvey rejects the anthropological gaze of the coloniser in creating his work. The earliest filmed representation of Australia's First Peoples was shot as part of an anthropological expedition on the Torres Strait Island of Mer in 1898. Harvey has commented that this film influenced his alternative process of self-representation. You can find out more about the 1898 film here:
3. Learn more about First Peoples' filmmaking in Australia in this history from the National Film and Sound Archive:
Respond and reflect
4. What was your impression of Canopy when you saw it in place in the gallery?
5. How does the presentation of the video artwork in the physical space, including the semi-transparent design of the screens, affect your response to the work?
6. While Canopy is very personal, we can recognise and identify with many of the ordinary moments Harvey shares. Which elements of the work did you recognise and feel a connection with?

First Peoples: Our stories, our way

CAAMA mobile TV unit
CAAMA mobile TV unit

that is most important that you kids just remember what you are, that you stand tall and you stand proud on your own land where you’re standing now and it’s black land, Aboriginal land.

Essie Coffey, filmmaker and activist

Once First Peoples found opportunities to get behind the camera and work together to tell their own stories, they could present experience and culture from their own perspective and in their own way. In The Story of the Moving Image, First Peoples: Our stories, our way recognises trailblazers who led the way in using the moving image to connect First Peoples with culture, language, history and each other.

Bill Onus

A Yorta Yorta man, Bill Onus was a filmmaker, activist, artist, theatre producer and entrepreneur. Among his many achievements, Onus was a trailblazer in his recognition of the possibilities that film and media held for First People's self-representation.

After performing in several minor roles in Australian films during the 1930s, Onus began filming his own super 8 videos and is very likely the first Aboriginal filmmaker, credited as the maker of a previously unseen silent film believed to be shot in Heidelberg in 1946.

Through the documentary film Forgotten People (1967) and the TV series Alcheringa (1962), Onus demonstrated his ongoing commitment to self-representation through screen culture.

Essie Coffey
Essie Coffey was the first female Aboriginal documentary filmmaker. She was a Murawarri woman who taught culture and the importance of cultural knowledge to her children and other young Aboriginal people in her community.

Her 1978 film My Survival as an Aboriginal highlights both the oppression and strength of Aboriginal people in her community of Brewarrina NSW. My Survival as an Aboriginal is “…one of the first Australian films where an Indigenous Australian was directly involved in deciding how she and her community would be represented...” The film had extensive reach, screening at several prestigious Australian and international film festivals, and won major awards at the Sydney Film Festival.

Basically Black

Basically Black was a groundbreaking television show, commissioned and aired by the ABC in 1973. The show featured Bob Maza, Gary Foley, Aileen Corpus, Zac Martin and Bindi Williams in a series of politically-charged sketches.

The first TV program performed by an all-Indigenous cast and led by Blak writers, this groundbreaking program tackled serious issues, like racism and white paternalism, through humour.

Despite being well-received, it did not go on past its premiere, and it emerged later that parts of the original script had been censored by the ABC. Despite this, the show is a cult classic and is regularly shown on the ABC today.

Birth of Indigenous broadcasting

Aboriginal people in Central Australia were concerned about the negative influence of mainstream media and the dominant culture on their young people.

From 1982 to 1984, several Aboriginal media organisations became involved in creating and broadcasting local content, with Ernabella Video Television (EVTV, now PY Media) and the Warlpiri Media Association (WMA, now PAW Media) filming and distributing programs out of Ernabella and Yuendumu via videotape and pirate (unlicensed) television. Filmed in Indigenous languages, these videos included local content such as football matches, community events, ceremonies, lore and culture.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) also played a key role during this time, moving into video and television in 1984 and launching Imparja Television in 1988.

Discover and explore
1. Indigenous broadcasters emphasise the importance of language to culture. The children's show Manyu Wana (above) celebrates the connection between culture and language. Why do you think language is such an important part of culture and identity?
2. In each case study presented in Our stories, our way, First Peoples trailblazers recognised the importance of self-representation. Why is it so important for First Peoples to be able to tell and hear their own stories?
3. Read about 10 trailblazing Indigenous TV series and films:
Respond and reflect
4. Take some time to look at the Bush Mechanics car in The Story of the Moving Image. It is inspired by a short series made by Warlpiri Media. Find out more on the ACMI website.
5. What is your response to the way the Bush Mechanics car shares the space with the Mad Max car? For one writer, they belong together as outstanding representations of Australian car culture.
7. Focus on one of the trailblazers featured in Our stories, our way and find out more about their pioneering work. What was the issue that this person or organisation engaged with ? How did they bring about change?

How we tell our stories

The satisfaction of creating stories is seeing them grow

Dylan River, filmmaker

How we tell our stories showcases the diversity of Indigenous storytelling through the moving image where First Peoples tell their own stories in their own way, using the moving image to resist and assert agency.

Television presenter and educator Shelley Ware is a Yankunyjatjara and Wirangu woman from South Australia. In her film Where the Desert Meets the Sea, she pays her respects to her father by visiting Koonibba Football Club, Australia’s oldest continuing Aboriginal football club in her hometown of Ceduna.

Filmmaker Dylan River is a Kaytetye man from the Northern Territory whose film A Good Eye for Story reflects on his practice as a filmmaker and a storyteller and on his place in a long tradition of storytelling through the moving image.

Visual artist Julie Gough is a Trawlwoolway woman from Tasmania. In her film The Silenced, she reflects on the impact of colonialism on Tasmanian Aboriginal people and the fate of children stolen from their families and forced into labour in white homes and stations.

Discover and explore
1. What is the role of stories and storytelling in building a sense of identity and belonging?
2. Read Shelley Ware's 2016 blog on her connection to the Koonibba Football Club and the role that the Club plays in her family's community:
3. Dylan River is a filmmaker and cinematographer who has engaged in a diverse array of projects, including a project sponsored by Canon Australia that involved him visiting Traditional Owners on country and consulting with them to film culture and ceremony:
4. The film Julie Gough presents in The Story of the Moving Image is part of an ongoing investigation of the impact of colonisation in Tasmania. Watch her work Hunting Ground (Pastoral) Van Diemen’s Land, 2017 (below). You will find this a chilling companion piece to Gough's ACMI work.
Respond and reflect
5. These stories are situated on a large screen at the centre of the Moving Australia section. Why have the curators (the people who organise the exhibition) chosen this central position for screening these stories? What is this placement communicating to visitors about this content?
6. Each of these films is about the power and significance of storytelling. The storytellers in this section have very different approaches but what similarities do they share?
7. Choose one of these stories and explain the importance of place and Country in the story. What have you learned from this story that you didn't know before?

Aboriginal History Archive

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a great deal of material in my archive and a great deal of the material that I’m creating at the moment through either writing or performance or as an interview subject in documentaries is really creating primary source material for future historians to enable them to have a better grasp of what really occurred in the era and time that I was politically active.

Gary Foley, activist, academic, writer and actor

The Moving Minds section of The Story of the Moving Image explores the power of the moving image to shape and communicate ideas. Aboriginal activist Professor Gary Foley has responded to this brief with a range of material drawn from the Aboriginal History Archive.

The archive looks at the intersection of activism and filmmaking and documents the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Activists of the era saw the power of film and television to tell the truth, advocate for justice and resist oppression, as well as galvanise other First Peoples into action. Their involvement in films, documentaries and later, during the 1980s, television gave activists the chance to champion the rights of First Peoples while also increasing representation in Australian screen culture.

In collecting and building a record of this period, the archive resists colonial narratives and celebrates self-determination. It features thousands of photos, videos, campaign materials, media and manuscripts with the aim of reinterpreting and reframing Australia’s Aboriginal political history.

Discover and explore
1. Find out more about Gary Foley and the Aboriginal History Archive in this interview:
2. Learn more about the Black Power movement and activism here:
3. Explore the Koori History Website:
Respond and reflect
4. What is the most significant new knowledge you gained from the Aboriginal History Archive content displayed in Moving Minds?
5. How did film open up new opportunities for Indigenous activists to reach new audiences, and share their voices from their own perspectives?
6. In this section, Professor Gary Foley has included images and objects highlighting Indigenous activism’s moment of prominence in mainstream screen and pop culture of the 1980s. Explain in your own words how Foley's appearances in the cult film Dogs in Space and the top rating serial A Country Practice are examples of activism.
Gary Foley and Di Smith on the set of A Country Practice, Sydney
Gary Foley in A Country Practice, 1989

Memory Garden

No one can erase our history if Koorie collections keep these videos safe, so future generations can access these memories.

Maya Hodge, Koorie Heritage Trust Assistant Curator

Memory Garden invites visitors to pause and reflect as they literally hold someone’s recorded memories in the palms of their outstretched hands. The home movies shared in this installation include films from the Bill Onus family archive and the Koorie Oral History Program.

Home movies emerged in the 1930s and became increasingly popular through the 1950s and 60s. The majority of home movies from this period were made by wealthy white families, but Yorta Yorta leader and activist Bill Onus was quick to take up this technology, pioneering the Indigenous use of 8mm home movies to document his life and the Aboriginal communities of Victoria and beyond.

Other First Peoples films projected in Memory Garden are sourced from the Koorie Oral History Program created by Dr Wayne Atkinson senior Yorta Yorta Elder. The program was designed to document Koorie life with audio recordings and on camera, as a way of preserving culture, maintaining oral traditions and ensuring the next generations had access to their stories. This work is continued today by the Koorie Heritage Trust.

Maya Hodge, a Lardil & Yangkaal woman who is an assistant curator at the Koorie Heritage Trust, highlights the importance of these captured moments of self-representation: "The snippets of film in Memory Garden of people like Aunty Winnie Quagliotti feeding rosellas, kids playing tug of war, eating, playing music and marching together during NAIDOC week highlights the love, joy and pride of Aboriginal South-East Victoria."

Discover and explore
Find out more about Bill Onus, his life and his work. A documentary film made by Onus's grandson is in post-production, as he and his team work to finance its completion.
You can find out more about the Koorie Oral History Program and Collection here:
Respond and reflect
What was your response to Memory Garden?
Why is it important for ACMI to include First People's filmed memories in this section?
Digital Stories are also an important form of self-representation. Visit the ACMI Collection YouTube channel to view First Nations stories:

Keep learning; keep watching

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Cleverman, 2016

Thanks to the growing Australian film and television industry, and the rise of Aboriginal storytelling within it, we are now in a position to step up to the global stage and show what the oldest culture in the world has to offer.

Ryan Griffen, writer, director, producer

The Story of the Moving Image exhibition emphasises and acknowledges the powerful contribution made to Australian screen culture by First Peoples seizing the opportunity to tell their stories through the mediums of film and television. As Rachel Perkins has commented in respect of her landmark television series First Australians, her determination to look at the nation and its history "from an Indigenous point of view" is about telling a "fuller Australian story".

In twenty-first century Australia, First Peoples are at the centre of screen production and culture, thanks to storytellers such as Rachel Perkins, Warwick Thornton, Ivan Sen, Wayne Blair, Miranda Tapsell, Leah Purcell, Stephen Page, Nakkiah Lui, Dylan River and so many more. With their film, TV and web-based projects driven by having something to say and important stories to tell, these artists are connecting with audiences both within and outside of Australia.

As well as celebrating Rachel Perkins, Warwick Thornton and David Gulpilil in Spotlights in Moving Australia, installations in Moving Worlds focus on set design concept art created for the gorgeous animated children's TV series Little J and Big Cuz, set design, costume design and props from Sweet Country and the character design process for the action-based fantasy TV series Cleverman.

Discover and explore
1. Watch the Spotlight interviews with Rachel Perkins, Warwick Thornton and David Gulpilil What are the key messages they share about Australian screen culture and creativity from a First Peoples' perspective?
2. Watch an episode of the innovative children's TV series Little J and Big Cuz What makes this series special? What is the message that it is sharing with its young audience?
3. Why is it important for First Peoples to 'recognise' themselves in screen characters and stories? Why does screen representation play such a significant role in people's sense of belonging and identity?
Respond and reflect
4. Share three new things you learned during your visit to The Story of the Moving Image about the screen stories created and told by First Peoples in Australia. Why do you consider this new knowledge important?
5. What would you like to learn more about?
6. Keep learning by exploring our online story: Blak Women on Screen:
7. Find more resources around Australian Indigenous Film and TV here:
8. Now you are inspired to keep watching and discovering First Peoples' stories after your visit to ACMI, why not get started with one of our favourites: The Sapphires.