“I wanted to show that we have and will continue to survive white invasion.”
Essie Coffey’s camera zooms in on the thin lips of a white teacher telling a class of Aboriginal students that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. The students gaze back, their eyes becoming the focus, fed up with the narratives that erase the true history of invasion and Aboriginal sovereignty taught in schools.
My Survival as an Aboriginal shows the reality of life for Essie’s community in Brewarrina, while simultaneously calling into question the fantasies perpetuated by non-Indigenous voyeurs; she staunchly refused to assimilate.
Essie pushed boundaries in her everyday life and in her artmaking. She made this uncompromising documentary film in 1978 at a time when opportunities for women filmmakers were few and far between, let alone for Indigenous women filmmakers.
By recording her own life and amplifying her voice, Essie gave future generations of First Nations truthtellers their own voice, inspiring a movement of films that showed Aboriginal life in a way that challenged racism and injustice, and imagine a better future unbound from white control.
The scene mentioned above in My Survival as an Aboriginal via National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) YouTube channel
Our collection comprises over 40,000 moving image works, acquired and catalogued between the 1940s and early 2000s. As a result, some items may reflect outdated, offensive and possibly harmful views and opinions. ACMI is working to identify and redress such usages.
Not in ACMI's collection
Previously on display
19 February 2023
ACMI: Gallery 4
How I See It: Blak Art and Film → Zone 7
Moving image file/Digital
Single-channel projection, ProRes file