Recently with family, I had the absolute pleasure of watching In My Blood It Runs, an Australian documentary by filmmaker and director Maya Newell. The film follows the story of (then) ten-year-old Dujuan Hoosan, an Aboriginal boy who is caught between two lives (and education systems) in the Northern Territory of Australia: the predominantly English-language system, with its focus on Western values and historical perspectives; and the stories of Arrernte and Garrwa culture in the Sandy Bore Homeland and Borroloola Community.
Put simply, In My Blood It Runs is one of the most remarkable documentaries that I have ever seen. As an Australian who lives a comfortable, middle-class life on the east coast of the continent and is a product of the nation’s public-education system, I have long been troubled by the history of the nation and the ongoing effects of colonisation, paternalism and assimilation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The film employs a narrative structure and cinematographic style that very impressively combines historical footage, intimate family moments and gorgeous views of the Central Australian landscape.
What impressed me most, however, was the creators’ intention to give agency to the Arrernte and Garrwa family participants, even handing cameras to them to contribute to the recording and overall production. More detail is listed on the ‘About’ page of the documentary’s website, such as the following excerpt:
This collaborative approach used on this film is not ‘new’ but draws from a long line of First Nations initiatives, organisations, filmmakers work both within Australia and internationally who have fought for the right to have agency over their own narratives for a long time. Screen Australia has a leading guide ‘Pathways and Protocols: A Filmmakers Guide to working with Indigenous Peoples, Culture and Concepts’ that we adopted and built upon to create an approach that would work for this film.
As a brief aside, this commitment reminds me of an article that I read recently for my own research into podcasting by Day et al. (2017), called ‘The Expanding Digital Media Landscape of Qualitative and Decolonizing Research: Examining Collaborative Podcasting as a Research Method’. In this article, Day et al. (2017) explored the use of podcasting as a collaborative method to publicising the stories, ideas and knowledge of Indigenous peoples across Canada to improve water and environmental management. Based on the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith and her text Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999), these researchers strived to produce new methods of sharing Indigenous peoples’ knowledge as it is—without a Western filter. The voices that you hear are the voices of the people.
The key term here, linking back to In My Blood It Runs, is ‘decolonising’. By handing cameras to the Arrernte people, by letting them speak without a non-Indigenous Australian person’s narration applied over the top, we see a beautiful representation of their very real struggles between two worlds. I was moved, for instance, by the genuine attempts of the Arrernte people to educate their children in their own language, keeping their tradition and stories of the Dreaming alive. All the same, I was troubled that the only real way to do this is in restricted circumstances at school or back at the homeland, and often in a visual way that relies on the transcription of their words in the Latin alphabet. Even with such wonderful attempts to maintain these cultures, the truly oral way of memorisation and intergenerational transmission is being lost, giving way to the visual bias of Western culture (as explored by media ecologists such as Walter J. Ong).
I believe that one of the greatest lessons that we can all learn from this film is to question the very purpose of education. Throughout the presented story, we see that Dujuan is fluent in three languages, intelligent and very charismatic. Yet, for all of this, he is seen as a failure in Australia’s more Western education system, which prioritises measurability and a path to the world of work. Dujuan is a self-proclaimed ‘bush kid’ who yearns to be with his homeland; he loves learning and connecting with his people and it just so happens not to be the kind of education that the Australian Government (and connected industries) would prefer.
I hope that as many Australians as possible will watch this documentary, not just to figure out how we can ‘close the gap’, but also to learn how we can improve—better yet, transform—our own views of what it means to be educated and live a full life, respecting our collective human stories and ensuring proper care for the natural environment.
If you are interested in watching In My Blood It Runs (within or outside of Australia), make sure to visit the documentary’s ‘Watch the Film’ webpage.
As a concluding thought, I realise that I am a white Australian who lacks specific, expert knowledge of the myriad Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on this continent. If I have misrepresented any aspect of culture, language or history in this review, please do let me know and I will correct it. I am always seeking to learn more.
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