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Ten Canoes:"Timeless storytelling"


Celebrate NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week is an Australian observance lasting from the first Sunday in July until the following Sunday. NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. It has its origins in the 1938 Day of Mourning, becoming a week-long event in 1975.

Acknowledgement of Country

Screen Speak acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains images of a deceased person.

Vale David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu (1953? - 29 November 2021)


Ten Canoes (2006)

Ten Canoes is a distinctive and unique cinema experience. The essence of Ten Canoes is storytelling.

The initial story, set in the distant past, is about a young Aboriginal man, Dayindi, who covets his brother’s young wife.

To teach the young man the proper manner to deal with his feelings, a second story, going further back in time to the mythical past, is told.

Apart from the English narration by David Gulpilil, the film is delivered in Aboriginal languages with English subtitles.

The story includes love, lust, conflict, spirits, magic, kidnapping, death, and humour.

These situations and emotions occur in many cultures within Australia and around the world, but the Aboriginal perspective in Ten Canoes is unique.

Actor David Gulpilil states, “This is my story”.

Bout time to tell you a story, eh? Then I'll tell you one of ours... It is longtime ago. It is our time, before you other mob came from cross the ocean...longtime before then. The rains been good and ten of the men go on the swamp, to hunt the eggs of gumang, the magpie goose. One of the men, the young fella, has a wrong love, so the old man tell him a story... a story of the ancient ones, them wild and crazy ancestors who come after the spirit time, after the flood that covered the whole land... It's a good story, this story I'm gonna be tellin' you 'bout the ancient ones.

David Gulpilil, narrator, Ten Canoes

If we consider the film we are watching, then we can add a third level story to the viewing experience—tales within stories within narratives.

Rolf De Heer’s skills as a filmmaker and storyteller are focused. The collaboration with the people of Ramingining is central to the making of these lived stories.

It is May, 2005 in Central Arnhem Land: 'We are making a movie. The story is their story, those that live on this land, in their language, and set a long time before the coming of the Balanda, as we white people are known. For the people of the Arafura Swamp, this film is an opportunity, maybe a last chance to hold on to the old ways. For all of us, the challenges are unexpected, the task beyond anything imagined. For me, it is the most difficult film I have made, in the most foreign land I've been to...and it is Australia.'

Director Rolf de Heer

Ten Canoes credits collaborators rather than a sole director; it is billed as “a film by Rolf de Heer and the People of Ramingining”. The film was made by professional non-Indigenous filmmakers working with a “tradition-oriented” Aboriginal community in a remote area of the Northern Territory of Australia. [1] The project’s inception lay in an invitation from a member of the community to the director to visit their country and discuss a film project intended to address multiple audiences. The film is a product of a complex web of “creators” participating in a collaborative community that distributed control of decision-making. The way that the collaborative community ordered the production of Ten Canoes aimed to “decolonise” [2] relationships among Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaborators.
from Models of Collaboration in the Making of Ten Canoes (2006), Professor Nancy Wright, Screening the Past

Photographs by D. F. Thomson, including Goose hunter in bark canoe, Arafura Swamp, central Arnhem Land, Australia, April 1937 Source: Courtesy of the Thomson family and Museum Victoria, ResearchGate

Anne Rutherford, Western Sydney University, Cultural Studies Review, ResearchGate, 2012

The film has a rich, deep voice. De Heer steers the film in a comfortable and relaxed manner so the viewer knows exactly where they are in the story. Subtle colours and lighting changes announce the time in which the story is set.

The Ramingining people are warm, friendly and funny with a sense of life; the vibrant landscape is equally alive. Ten Canoes mirrors images from D.F. Thomson's ethnographic photographs from 1937 to create the images within the movie.

The stories exist beyond time and the themes and concerns of forbidden love, temptation, conflict, jealousy, and how to reconcile feelings and emotions exist across time. As the line for the film's poster advises, "One hundred and fifty spears, ten canoes, three wives...trouble."

WATCH Ten Canoes

Experience De Heer’s individual filmmaking style in collaboration with the people of Ramingining's storytelling.

Available for viewing to Stream on SBS On Demand & Google Play, and Rent/Buy on Apple TV+, Ritz at home, Oz Flix

Link to watch on available services:

Ten Canoes Full Movie

Available on YouTube


Winner Australian Film Institute 2006

Best Film Julie Ryan Rolf de Heer;

Best Direction Rolf de Heer Peter Djigirr;

Best Screenplay - Original Rolf de Heer;

Best Cinematography Ian Jones;

Best Editing Tania Nehme;

Best Sound James Currie, Tom Heuzenroeder, Mike Bakaloff, Rory McGregor



Charlie's Country

Charlie, an Aboriginal man who lives in Arnhem Land, paints tree barks and fishes barramundi, all the while feeling out of place in an Australia which is no longer his. He laments the loss of his culture in modern Australia. After his spear is confiscated by the police, who think it is a weapon, he decides to leave his urban Aboriginal community and go back to the bush, his "Mother Country." After releasing himself from hospital, then getting arrested and finally being released from prison, he agrees to pass on traditional dances from his generation to young Aboriginal boys, fearing the loss of their cultural identity.

WATCH Charlie's Country

Available on Apple TV+, Google Play & Binge. Check availability in your region.


Mabo (2012)

In 1973 Koiki 'Eddie' Mabo was shocked to discover that the ownership of the land his ancestors had passed down on Murray Island in the Torres Strait for over 16 generations, was not legally recognised as theirs. Rather than accept this injustice, he began an epic fight for Australian law to recognise traditional land rights.

Synopsis from Blackfella Films

WATCH Mabo (2012 TV movie)


Mabo - Life of an Island Man is the story of a small island and an extraordinary man. Eddie Koiki Mabo was born on Murray Island in the Torres Strait, but lived most of his life in exile. Only after his death did the island wholeheartedly welcome him home. By then the island and Eddie, between them, had changed the legal and political landscape of Australia.

from National Film and Sound Archive (Australia)


Acknowledgement of Country

Screen Speak acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present.


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