My Survival as an Aboriginal

Australia, 1978

From the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia – NFSA Restores Collection
Courtesy Ballad Films

Film First Nations

“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.

This work contains First peoples content

The scene mentioned above in My Survival as an Aboriginal via National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) YouTube channel

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Not in ACMI's collection

Previously on display

19 February 2023

ACMI: Gallery 4



Essie Coffey

Production places
Production dates

Collection metadata

ACMI Identifier


Curatorial section

How I See It: Blak Art and Film → Zone 7


49 mins

Object Types

Moving image file/Digital


Single-channel projection, ProRes file


5185 times

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If you would like to cite this item, please use the following template: {{cite web |url= |title=My Survival as an Aboriginal |author=Australian Centre for the Moving Image |access-date=8 December 2023 |publisher=Australian Centre for the Moving Image}}