Close encounters of the first kind

 
Published: Sunday 30 April 2006

Aborigines Australia

Some aboriginal Australian tribes had their first contact with white settlers as late as 1964 -- nearly 200 years after Europeans set foot on the continent. Australian anthropologist Sue Davidson recently made this revelation. Her basis: newly discovered film footage dating to 1964, capturing the moment of one such contact. The footage captures 20 women and children of the Martu community of Western Australia encountering patrol officers from the Woomera Rocket Range in the state. The cops were clearing an area into which rockets were to be fired.

More than 40 years later, Yuwali Nixon and her sister Thelma Judson -- among the Martu women involved in that encounter -- told Davidson how they "hid among sand dunes with other children as the white men searched for them". "We thought that they would kill us," recalled Nixon, around 17 at that time. She has now collaborated with Davidson and lawyer Peter Johnson on a book on the encounter. The anthropologist notes that the experience for her aborigine collaborator had been so traumatic "that she could remember everything really, really succinctly".

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