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The Dreamers of Arnhem Land
A Film by Christopher Walker
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THE DREAMERS OF ARNHEM LAND is the remarkable story of two Aboriginal elders, Stuart and Valerie Ankin, who set out to save their community from cultural extinction. Combining traditional knowledge and contemporary scientific expertise, Stuart and Valerie created an economic impetus for younger Aborigines to return to their ancestor's lands.

Australia's North Coast, an area of 95,000 square miles, is home to some 20,000 indigenous Aborigines. As part of the government's assimilation policy in the 1950s, the Aborigines were moved into towns where a more sedentary life led to overcrowding, unemployment, chronic illness and alcohol abuse.

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In 1977 the Aborigines of Arnhem Land were granted legal ownership of their traditional estates. Like many older Aborigines, Stuart and Valerie moved back to the lands of their childhood, and returned to a hunter/gatherer way of life. They invited scientists and marketing experts to help them to exploit resources commercially while ensuring any products were developed sustainably.

The documentary shows how they marketed natural medicines, plants and seeds, fruit juices and other organic products, as well as crocodile eggs and baby turtles, which led to an economic revitalization of the North Coast that encouraged many Aborigines to return to ancestral lands.

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THE DREAMERS OF ARNHEM LAND reveals how this modern synergy -- as Stuart explains, "blackfella's knowledge and whiteman's knowledge" -- promises economic independence for the North Coast, while ensuring conservation of ancestral land and its natural resources. Equally important, as the film shows, this development has encouraged a revival of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual traditions, thereby saving their community from cultural extinction.

"An extraordinary story...documents a unique moment of cultural recovery in our contemporary world, and inspires an important conversation about modernity and traditional cultures, stability and sustainability."—American Society for Environmental History Newsletter

"Presents the vision of a community caring for its country and, by extension, its culture. Told largely through the voices of the traditional owners, the story reveals the complex meanings of sustainable development as it plays out on the ground, providing a provocative springboard for discussion of theoretical issues and the practical aspects of social and environmental change."—Ellen Percy Kraly, Professor of Geography, Colgate University

"Fascinating... Highly recommended."—Educational Media Reviews Online

2007 FIFO (International Festival of Pacific Films), Tahiti
2007 Trento Mountain Film Festival (Italy)
2005 Rio de Janeiro Ethnographic Film Festival
2005 Amazonas Film Festival (Brazil)

50 minutes / color
Release: 2005
Copyright: 2005
Sale: $348

Subject areas:
Agriculture, Anthropology, Australia, Biology, Business and Economics, Community Development, Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Ecology, Environmental Film Festivals, Family Relations, Food, Geography, Health Issues, Indigenous Peoples, Natural & Manmade Materials, Science and Technology, Sustainability

Related Links:
The Films of Christopher Walker

Related Titles:
The Tombstone Opening: The Torres Strait Islanders are Australia’s ‘other’ Indigenous minority, Melanesians living on islands north of Cape York and now scattered all across Australia.

Earth Keepers: A global quest to meet key visionaries working on innovative approaches to building an environmentally sustainable future.

Post-Carbon Futures: The world will have to survive without fossil fuels - sooner, rather than later. What are the alternatives?

Recipes for Disaster: Concerned about the world's addiction to oil, and its disastrous environmental consequences for the planet, the filmmaker convinces his family to live "oil-free" for one year.

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Last Updated August 17, 2015
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