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form y separately published work icon Ten Canoes single work   film/TV  
Note: Written in consultation with the people of Ramingining.
Issue Details: First known date: 2006... 2006 Ten Canoes
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

A story within a story and overlaid with narration, Ten Canoes takes place in two periods in the past. The first story, filmed in black-and-white as a reference to the 1930s ethnographic photography of Donald Thompson, concerns a young man called Dayindi who takes part in his first hunt for goose eggs. During the course of several trips to hunt, gather and build a bark canoe, his older brother Minygululu tells him a story about their ancestors and the old laws. The story is also about a young man who had no wife but who coveted one of his brother's wives, and also of the stranger who disrupted the harmony of their lives. It is cautionary tale because Minygululu is aware that Dayinidi desires his young and pretty third wife.

The second story (shot in colour) is set much further back in time. Yeeralparil is a young man who desires the third wife of his older brother Ridjimiraril. When Ridjimiraril's second wife disappears, he suspects a man from another tribe has been seen near the camp. After he spears the stranger he discovers that he was wrong. Knowing that he must face the man's relatives he chooses Yeeralparil to accompany him during the ritual payback. When Ridjimiraril dies from his wounds the tribe's traditions decree that Yeeralparil must inherit his brother's wives. The burden of these responsibilities, however, is more than the young man expects.




Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Language: Aboriginal Yolngu AIATSIS: languages. AIATSIS ref. (NT SD53) , English

In Yolgnu language, with narration in English by David Gulpilil, as The Storyteller. Versions in Yolgnu with narration in Yolgnu are also available.

Works about this Work

“The Gum Trees of Our Place” : Community Trees in Australia Janet Kahl , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: Literature and Aesthetics , vol. 30 no. 2 2020; (p. 71-91)
'Trees have long been special to human beings and their communities. Throughout history trees have provided material for domiciles, ship building, weaponry, furniture, and fire. While part of the environment, trees can also be imbued with characteristics to represent the human, as manifestations of particular people, gods, or spirits. Trees, when carved and shaped, scarred and marked, can become visible symbols and expressions of beliefs. As Carole M. Cusack phrases it, the tree is a “fundamental symbol” which is a reflection of “both human beings and of the physical universe.”2 Trees have been used to identify important meeting places and have formed part of the religious life of societies, with rituals based around sacred trees and groves found in a multitude of the world’s cultures and civilisations. They can be an expression of community life, heritage, and culture, and can more broadly, as is the case in Australia, be symbolic of local or national concerns. 3 This article explores several examples of trees that have become symbolic tokens for parts of the Australian community while simultaneously binding human civilisation to nature. In this transformation of trees into something more, even something sacred, certain tensions between Australia’s ancient past, colonial history, and complex present arise.' (Introduction)
Collaborations and Renegotiations : Re-examining the ‘Sacred’ in the Film-Making of David Gulpilil and Rolf de Heer Alison Jasper , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Literature and Theology , June vol. 31 no. 2 2017; (p. 187–199)

'This article discusses the term ‘sacred’ in relation to the work of nineteenth-century sociologist Émile Durkheim, for whom the word denoted the objects, practices and assumptions that sustained communal solidarity and fostered dynamic energies, whether or not they were conventionally described as ‘religious’. I then turn to the work of more recent scholars of ‘critical religion’ suggesting that the terms ‘religion’ and ‘the sacred’ derive from a predominantly western, patriarchal and colonial context, forming part of a complex network of interconnected categories that represent a distinctive and dominant discourse of power constructing a privileged identity through hostile Othering or exclusions. Arguably, in the Australian mainstream, a discourse of ‘religion’ imported largely by Christian settlers from the west over the last two hundred years has been employed to exclude Aboriginal ways of understanding the world, for example by promoting the category of ‘land’ as an exploitable, God-given human possession. Nevertheless, drawing on the work of Julia Kristeva, I understand that an encounter with the Other—whether the Aboriginal or the balanda—can be viewed differently: as a zone of properly disturbing but also creative possibility. It remains very important, however, to acknowledge the power imbalances that are still embedded within such encounters, and the consequent risks to indigenous Australians, of further dislocation and dispossession. This idea is explored through a consideration of the collaborative film-making of David Gulpilil and Rolf de Heer and, in particular, of two films: Ten Canoes (2006) and Charlie’s Country (2013).'  (Publication abstract)

Ten Canoes as a Communist Film Darren Jorgensen , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Studies in Australasian Cinema , vol. 10 no. 1 2016; (p. 168-175)
'This essay thinks through the populist Marxism of Bertolt Brecht, and more specifically his courtroom challenge to the film industry, in order to interpret the Australian film Ten Canoes as a communist film. The idea of communism has recently been proposed by French philosopher Alain Badiou as a way of naming projects that are not only anti-capitalist, but that also suggest alternative modes of organisation. Ten Canoes actualises Brecht's ideas about what a collective filmmaking process might consist of, and more significantly what it might look like. The stilted acting, multiple storylines and structure of the fable that Brecht employed in his theatre productions are also visible in Ten Canoes, forms that resulted from a filmmaking process that involved extensive consultation with a remote Australian Aboriginal community. Its members made decisions about the film's story, script and casting. This coincidence between a German theatre director's ideas and twenty-first-century cinema points to a coincidence of aesthetics and politics, to which this essay gives the name communist.' (Publication abstract)
Ten Canoes Rewatched – Ethnographic Document Meets High-spirited Whimsy Luke Buckmaster , 2016 single work review
— Appears in: The Guardian Australia , 3 January 2016;

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer , 2006 single work film/TV
The 100 Best Australian Films of the New Millenium Erin Free , Dov Kornits , Travis Johnson , 2016 single work column
— Appears in: FilmInk , 22 September 2016;
Canoes Float Over Culture Gap Stephanie Bunbury , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: The Sunday Age , 21 May 2006; (p. 6)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer , 2006 single work film/TV
Ten Canoes Takes Us for a Great Ride David Stratton , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 10-11 June 2006; (p. 9)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer , 2006 single work film/TV
Journey to a Lost World Phil Brown , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: Brisbane News , 21 - 27 June no. 592 2006; (p. 27)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer , 2006 single work film/TV
Film : Ten Canoes Shane Brady , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: Brisbane News , 28 June - 4 July no. 593 2006; (p. 36)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer , 2006 single work film/TV
Taking Audiences on a Wonderful Journey Dougal Macdonald , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: The Canberra Times , 1 July 2006; (p. 26)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer , 2006 single work film/TV
Ten Canoes a First 2006 single work column
— Appears in: Koori Mail , 12 April no. 373 2006; (p. 34)
In Search of Lost Time Garry Maddox , 2006 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 20-21 May 2006; (p. 18-19)
Top End Tales Nicolas Rothwell , 2006 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 27-28 May 2006; (p. 4-6)
Rothwell discusses a range of Australian films in which Aborigines have been depicted. He focuses particularly on Rolf de Heer's Ten Canoes and Kim McKenzie's documentary, Fragments of the Owl's Egg.
Canoe Culture Bridges Gap Philippa Hawker , 2006 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Age , 3 June 2006; (p. 17-18)
Tribal Voice Claire Scobie , 2006 single work column
— Appears in: Sunday Life , 11 June 2006; (p. 25)
Last amended 22 May 2019 07:55:52
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