Shimmering Screens: Making Media in an Aboriginal Community (Visible Evidence)

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As the audience cheers and the first notes of a techno remix of the famous sirtaki piece blast out of the loud speakers, the ensemble begins the dance routine that would attract them international fame. In addition to the freshness and quirkiness of the original performance in which viewers from various cultural backgrounds can find something to laugh about, the rise to fame of the Yolngu Zorba can also be explained by the role played by digital technology in the global circulation of the video.

Brilliance as Cognitive Complexity in Aboriginal Australia

In turn, the global frenzy caused by their comic video has certainly made the Yolngu well aware of the potential far-reaching implications of online content sharing. User comments of the video certainly indicate that the Yolngu interpretation of their trademark dance has become very popular amongst the large Greek-Australian community; the clip has even been screened in some public squares of the Hellenic Republic.

In addition to this significant corpus of scientific works, comprehensive art exhibition catalogues have contributed to a broader appreciation of Yolngu cosmology, modes of representation and experience of the world. Drawing on recent writings in media theory, I then examine some of the indigenous forms of participation in the media and the new self-authored visibility indigenous groups from remote Australia such as the Yolngu have achieved through their creative use of digital technologies.


I focus in particular on the ways in which the Yolngu have started to use content-sharing platforms to circulate locally produced videos within the World Wide Web. Like in many other remote Indigenous communities, approximately half of the residents are under The dance formation itself emerged as a creative response to a variety of widely shared concerns for the youth of the community, many of whom struggle to face some of the combined effects of colonisation, settlement and poverty and suffer the mental and health consequences associated with the lack of employment perspectives, overcrowding, substance abuse, poor schooling, boredom, stress and depression.

At first glance, the Yolngu Zorba may seem far from commonly held views of what an Aboriginal dance ought to look like. Also called "wakal manikay" or play songs Magowan, , this recreational genre was created at the Yirrkala mission in the s and performed until the s as a localised form of popular entertainment Corn, Inspiration for the performances is drawn from everyday life situations and objects. Imitating the cheeky behaviour of this mischievous pet, one or two dancers will start scratching their armpits, frenetically waving their hands and bits of cloth in a parody of the very serious flag dance which is often performed during the final stages of funeral ceremonies.

The flag dance itself was incorporated into Yolngu ritual as a result of the historical interactions between indigenous coastal groups and trepanger crews from the Celebes Sulawesi from whom they obtained, among other goods, length of bright calico MacKnight, These sequences are characterised by a form of permissiveness rarely seen in other contexts, which relies on gender reversals and switching of codes. Female dancers often wear hats and dark sunglasses, they carry sticks and spears with which they poke the male dancers and taunt the group of seated singers.

My mother was a dancer. I'm a dancer, too, just like her. I was dancing and acting, being funny for the old people, singers and women.

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They took part in several festivals across the country such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival , museum and exhibition openings, and made a guest appearance in an award winning feature film Bran Nue Dae , dir R. Perkins, Jamieson, , an Aboriginal tale of forbidden love. More recently still, they were invited to participate in the Chinese Central Television Spring Festival gala, a spectacular show which boasts a viewership of some million people. As a result of this popular demand, the Chooky dancers set up their own production company called Luthu Luthu Productions, from the name of a tiny sea snail used by women to make necklaces, and a professional website which opens with an animated cartoon-like character dancing the Zorba moves.

Animated character doing the Zorba dance on the Chooky Dancers website. Two-way radio, tape and video recording devices, television and, more recently, new mobile and web-based media, have been adopted with varying degrees of local uptake and input.

Read Shimmering Screens Making Media In An Aboriginal Community Visible Evidence 2006

For Michaels, video production was much more amenable to traditional forms of communication based on orality than were alphabetic writing and literacy. Working in the same community a decade later, Hinkson points to some of the limitations of an approach which failed to account for the significant changes in Warlpiri sociality that were taking place as the effects of settlement and globalisation penetrated local Aboriginal lifeworlds and people developed new technological mechanisms to maintain and reproduce social relationships ibid: Indigenous self-representations in the media thus play an important role in challenging existing images of their cultures made by generations of non-Aboriginal others; they are also used to invest the public space with culturally meaningful content.

Since the early s, the participation of indigenous people in key creative roles in Australian film and television projects has gathered considerable momentum Screen Australia, Indigenous participation in the Internet can be interpreted as an extension of this representational politics. These relatively affordable new generation phones, equipped with cameras, web browsers and blue toothing devices, have enabled unprecedented levels of media recordings and content sharing among young people and groups of kin.

Many Indigenous Australians from remote communities are now using their phones to record various aspects of their lives. People also share photographs, videos and music on social networking services such as Facebook or AirG Diva chat. In Arnhem Land, pre-paid phones can now be purchased in the community stores and phone credits are bought, sold and exchanged among families and clan-groups.

Indeed this mobile phone culture, particularly but not exclusively popular among the youth, can be said to produce new creative forms of social connectivity see Musharbash, ; Kral, As a result of these technological developments, the media landscape has changed dramatically in Australia, as it is the case elsewhere in the world.

Rather than the emission of a message from one to many which defined earlier regimes, mass self-communication is characterised by interactive, horizontal and largely uncontrolled networks that can convey messages from many to many , in real or in chosen time Castells, Indeed, as media theorist John Thompson wrote in the mids:. The struggle to make oneself heard or seen … is not a peripheral aspect of the social and political upheavals of the modern world; on the contrary, it is central to them.

The decade spanning from the mids to the mid s saw the advent of social media across the globe, enabling an unprecedented move towards user-generated content. This new visibility is characterised by its open-endedness and the much wider range of people it concerns. Moving outside of the institutions and agencies that formerly provided for the bulk of online content, the social media revolution has become a grass-roots phenomena as the Arab Spring or the Indignados protest movement in Spain have recently demonstrated.

What the Intervention has done is that it has disempowered people, the Yolngu people, it has put a negative image of Yolngu people. What we are asking through this is for both of us to see from another perspective.

Shimmering Screens: Making Media in an Aboriginal Community (Visible Evidence)

A perspective that is full of grace, a perspective that is full of richness, when we come together and unite as one. Unlike in former predominantly one-directional approaches, participatory media enable consumers to become producers of content. Lessig argues that the birth of YouTube, in , marked the beginning of this global movement towards a RW creativity and the formation of RW communities of users.

This particular history can be said to derive its origins from the seasonal transactions that took place since pre-colonial times between northern Australian indigenous groups and seafaring fishing crews from Port Makassar Sulawesi , who, in exchange for their right to use natural resources, traded items such as tobacco, rice and metal tools see MacKnight, ; McIntosh, These exchanges and influences are manifest in domains as diverse as technology, cosmology, language, ritual performance and the arts.

For Australian anthropologist Ronald Berndt , who began fieldwork shortly after the end of the Second World War, as mission settlement was still in progress in the region, this historical relation with the Macassans — which was stopped in — provided the Yolngu with a conceptual framework for dealing with the later changes that impinged onto their lifeworlds.

This book describes and analyses a major religious operation that was conducted in the Elcho Island Methodist station in The impetus for publicly revealing such powerful objects followed the public screening of a film, made a decade earlier by the American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land, featuring similar restricted items Berndt, This spectacular Movement set a blueprint for the ways in which Yolngu leadership would be exercised in subsequent inter-cultural enterprises. It instantiated the ongoing Yolngu struggle to retain the power to authenticate and define meaning associated with their cultural expressions and representations.

The revelatory strategy underpinning the Movement harboured a tradition of cross-cultural practices and gave rise to novel forms of discursivity on the changing status of Yolngu ritual knowledge see De Largy Healy, for an overview of other major cultural operations. Indeed, they can be read as attempts to extend the garma domain of thought and practice to the new global public environment. Dunlop had been asked by the Commonwealth Film Unit now Film Australia to document the impact of the bauxite mine on the Yirrkala community. The relationship between Dunlop and the people of Yirrkala resulted in what has become known as the Yirrkala Film Project , a momentous collection of 22 films produced over a period of 30 years, which offers an invaluable visual record of Yolngu creative responses to these changes.

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At the time, the Yolngu leaders of the mission had seen the presence of the film crew as an opportunity to document their own traditions for the future and to raise public awareness about their relationship to their lands Deveson, The film was released as part of a DVD set, which brings together three Djungguwan performances filmed in dir. Nic Peterson , dir.

Ian Dunlop and While personal computer ownership remains rare in north-east Arnhem Land, individuals have increasingly been able in the past decade to access diverse internet applications — e-banking, online shopping, or content sharing platforms — through various community organisations.

In the past few years, new media organisations such as knowledge centres De Largy Healy, b have emerged in the major communities, further contributing to the development of a Yolngu online presence. In addition to making ethnographic records from distant museum and scientific collections accessible locally, through processes of digital repatriation, the Mulka Project has also developed a media production arm, with a trained Yolngu film crew who has been extremely prolific in creating video content for the Web.

The staff of the Mulka centre is currently working with several important research and archival institutions and museums, to obtain digital copies of audio-visual recordings from the region. These archival records can be assimilated to traces left by the ancestors for the current generation of Yolngu to follow Gumbula, ; De Largy Healy, c. Owning recording projects keeps our voice strong and helps us teach the young people our laws, so later they know how to paint, protect sacred areas and take care of ceremonial business.

With Mulka, we bring together all the stories to make meaning for Yolngu and non Yolngu people. Many of these locally made short films, which range from music clips, to ceremonial performances, fiction works and animations, have been made accessible on the Mulka Project YouTube channel.

The regularly updated channel counts to this day 47 video uploads, subscribers and, as of October , a total of Online video production is providing new and exciting insights into how Yolngu wish to project themselves to global audiences. Several other significant reasons further account for popularising the Yolngu in mainstream Australia, and indeed, in the wider world. In the past five years, following the improvement of telecommunication infrastructures in the region, a vibrant Yolngu screen culture has began to make itself visible in the digital environment.

Content-sharing platforms such as YouTube are providing exciting new sites for the expression of modern Yolngu selves. Historically, the Yolngu preoccupation with the inter-generational transmission of ritual knowledge has been a major motivation for the making of media representations, whether bark paintings or ethnographic photography, sound recording and film.

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While this long-running concern for cultural maintenance is very much apparent in many of the Mulka Project videos, the Yolngu creative engagement in online platforms suggests that there are other reasons at play, including political activism, public education and popular entertainment. Altman, J. Have one to sell? Sell it yourself. Get an immediate offer. Get the item you ordered or get your money back. Learn more - opens in new window or tab.

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