Michael Brogan, PhD Creative Practice, Arts, UNE, will present in the 2018 Arts Research Seminar series on Thursday, 12 April 2018, between 12.00 pm  and 1.00 pm in Room 205, Education Building (E07).

Title: Copy That: Shaping Australian Government Policy in the 1950s and 1960s through Anthropological and Ethnographic Film

Image: © National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Documentary filmmaking in Australia is as old as our national history, along with Aboriginal and Torres Strait people being subject to a white colonial gaze. Over time anthropological and ethnographic filmmaking contributed to Australia’s grand colonial narrative, portraying Aboriginal culture as timeless, unbroken and uninhibited by the presence of alien forces. 

Australian governments contributed to this grand narrative by generating an institutional corpus of anthropological and ethnographic films portraying Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture having remained in the stone age, savage and primitive as living evidence of a universal human past. This narrative helped define government policy and welfare programs during the 1950s and 1960s in health, education and employment as the measure for preparing Aboriginal people for life in the general Australian community. State and territory governments deployed an anthropological and ethnographic gaze to authenticate their policy of Assimilation. 

This institutional corpus of film archives produced and financed by Australian governments is of considerable cultural importance to Aboriginal people, their families and communities. Issues now arise as to how to manage this material and to whom the material can be made available. A large portion of the images captured in these films occurred at a time in our history where Aboriginal people were not allowed to exercise for themselves prior and informed consent.

As a result, Aboriginal people are seeking to intervene – to assert their right to reclaim their cultures. The concerns Aboriginal people have are about what is contained within these films as artefacts of their cultural and intellectual property. Access to these films is one way of ensuring Aboriginal cultures’ perpetuity and involves identifying film footage about people and their cultures as a step towards repatriating these images back to a cultural context consistent with Aboriginal worldviews.

To see upcoming seminars in 2018, please visit the Seminars & Public Lectures page.