You Are Here: “Our culture and heritage is still alive; it has never died and it never will die.”
One of the key motivations behind director Tyson Mowarin’s documentary Connection to Country was to educate people on what the term truly means to Aboriginal people.
“The way that the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the government treats Aboriginal heritage is a bit of a joke. Because they don’t really understand the connection to country, they think that it’s some romantic, nostalgic feeling that we’ve got,” Mowarin (Mabuji, Ngurra Wangaggu) tells IF.
“Connection to country to Aboriginal people is actually a responsibility that we’re born with… It runs deep. Our connection is like a black iceberg; you only see the surface.”
Produced by Robyn Marais, Connection to Country follows a group of Indigenous people from the Pilbara as they battle to preserve their heritage against industry interests and a state government who has tried to weaken the Heritage Act.
The film forms one of four documentaries to screen as part of NITV’s You Are Here series, which kicked off last weekend with Warwick Thornton’s Sydney Film Festival-opener We Don’t Need A Map, which explores the indigenous and colonial history of the Southern Cross.
All four of the docos, which also includes Thornton’s sister Erica Glynn’s In My Own Words and Occupation: Native from Trisha Morton Thomas (to screen August 13), were funded by NITV and Screen Australia via the Moment In History initiative. The initiative was launched last year in the lead up to the proposed referendum on constitutional recognition, and aimed to showcase stories about the place of Indigenous Australians today.
Connection to Country will screen on NITV on August 6. Mowarin says the film was some three or four years in the making, but the concept of educating people about Indigenous remained the same throughout.
“The government and probably mainstream Australia, sometimes they see Aboriginal people and heritage as something that belongs to the Dreamtime; something that happened a long time ago,” he says.
“But Dreamtime for us is now; today is our Dreamtime. Our culture and heritage is still alive; ; it has never died and it never will die.”
Glynn’s In My Own Words, produced by Blackfella Films’ Darren Dale, also premiered at SFF, and will screen on NITV this Sunday.
Adult illiteracy among Indigenous Australians – research shows 45-65 per cent of Aboriginal Australians are functionally illiterate in English – was something Glynn tells IF she wanted to explore for some years, whether in drama or documentary, with the aims of shining a light on the subject.
“Just because we’ve lived with it for so long,” she says. “As a blackfella you just put up with it. You put up with knowing that people around you aren’t so confident with their reading and writing.”
Once she settled on a documentary, Glynn discovered the Literacy for Life Foundation, an Aboriginal-led charity that looks to tackle low adult literacy in Indigenous communities around the country. In My Own Words follows a group of Aboriginal adults in the regional NSW town of Brewarrina through an 13 week course run by the organisation. Glynn says they shot every single day of the class – “it had to be done that way because it was the only way we could see the transformation.”
Glynn says the film is an example of ‘old-fashioned’ observational documentary; a choice of style she says was in part necessary to help gain the trust of her subjects.
“There were students who enlisted for the classes and chose not to take it up because the cameras were there, which is terrible. It was such a dilemma for me as filmmakers, because I don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to read and write because I want to make a documentary.”
One of the key things Glynn took away was how little it can actually take in practical terms to make someone feel empowered.
“Beyond just learning ABCs, a sentence and a paragraph, [the classes are] actually giving people confidence. Because a lot of these mob have had all of that knocked out of them and they’ve been hiding away pretending life is grand.”
She adds: “And that it take so little to support stuff like this. In comparison to filmmaking running one of those classes is nothing and it’s so empowering for people.”
In My Own Words – July 30 8.30pm on NITV and SBS
Connection to Country – August 6 8.30pm on NITV and 9.30pm on SBS