The Desert People

Ian Dunlop
56 minutes

This film belongs to a series of ten about two families of nomads in the desert of Western Australia in 1965.

Several of the films are about gathering food and preparing to cook it, others about the manufacture of speers, chiseling rocks, the making of the fire etc. The present film takes a more general view, showing how to make a camp and spend time there.

The film concentrates on two activities: the making of bread and the hunt for sand lizards. Through these simple chores the participants gradually emerge as different personalities, and the spectator develops a sense of familiarity with these people. This does not only happen as a result of the film makers' talent for drama, but also because of the qualities, which these aboriginals carry within themselves.

Many films on the Australian aboriginals have been about rituals. This film tells us about their daily toil without exotic digressions, and shows clearly the need to record without delay these disappearing ways of life. The film team could only with difficulty find any families at all who were hunters and gatherers. One of the families, whose members agreed to participate in the film, suddenly left the desert to embrace a modern way of life. The other family stays on for a while, so that the film can be finished and document the tough existence of hunters and gatherers. After the film is finished they decide to turn their backs to the desert and begin a new life in a reservation. If the film team had arrived two years later this film could not have been made.

Robert Tonkinson
Suggested readings: 
The Mardu aborigines : living the dream in Australia's desert / Robert Tonkinson. - 2nd ed. Fort Worth : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, c1991. xii, 204 s. : ill. (Case studies in cultural anthropology)