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11 Sep

Yuwali in front of Yimiri.jpg

Last night I saw a fascinating documentary about a group of Mardu people’s first contact with Europeans. As Australia entered the space race the group of about twenty women and children found themselves literally in the firing line. In 1964 a rocket, the Blue Streak, was about to be launched from Woomera in South Australia. The “dump zone” for the rocket was the area of the Percival Lakes in the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia. A pair of patrol officers was dispatched to the area to make sure that the region was uninhabited. Of course it wasn’t. Pretty soon they found recent fires and human tracks.

Initial attempts to bring the group out of the desert were thwarted by rain – rain that had been cleverly organised by one of the young boys! Several months later a second attempt was concocted. With assistance of two Martu men from the mission of Jigalong, the group were located and subsequently brought to Jigalong where many still reside. Two of the young girls were Yuwali and Thelma.

The film comprises amazing archival footage of both the first encounter in the desert, archival footage from Woomera and from Jigalong, as well as interviews with Yuwali and Thelma; as well as with Terry Long, one of the surviving patrol officers. It was fascinating to see hear the same events recounted from two rather different perspectives. Most of the story of the encounter was recounted in Martu Wangka, and was filmed in the very place from where the group was taken. The cinematography is very beautiful, especially the timelapse photography of the starts over the desert – truly stunning. However, the real star of the film is Yuwali – both as an old woman, and as a 17 year old girl.

Yuwali at moment of contact2.jpg

Yuwali was taken out of the desert with a hairstyle that fashion gurus would copy for generations to come, only to have her bangs chopped off by a bunch of squares with short backs and sides. It might have been the sixties elsewhere but it was obviously still the fifties in the Pilbara. On a less light-hearted note, one of the women with Hansen’s Disease was carted off in a plane and promptly died.

The film however is far from a tragedy. These are proud people with a great story to tell. And it’s an important piece of Australian history. The film is based on the book Cleared Out, by Sue Davenport, Peter Johnson and Yuwali.
Contact is showing at the Chauvel cinema in Paddington, Sydney, for two weeks, or if enough people go and see it, possibly for longer. It will screen in Melbourne for a couple of weeks at Cinema Nova in Melbourne from September 17th.


I concur. This is an amazing film, beautifully made. Yuwali is a gifted storyteller and her words are very cleverly overlaid with the footage. I once gave Thelma a lift from Newman to Kunawarrijtji - I had no idea that she was part of this courageous group.
I'm told that Contact will also be part of the Canberra Film Festival but there's nothing on the website yet.

I second it. This is perfect story which moved me. Thanks for this wonderful masterpeice.

Thanks again

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