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Tales of friendship and betrayal

Documentary series>> First Australians • Written and produced by Rachel Perkins • Seven episodes

By Seema Sanghi
Published: Thursday 15 July 2010

imageCritics have called it one of the most significant documentary series in the history of Australian television. First Australians chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia through the eyes of its original denizens.

Rachel Perkins and team capture 80,000 years of existence in a compelling format which weaves in various individual experiences. In the first episode, They have come to stay, Marcia Langton, senior documentary consultant, imagines the day in 1788 when the British encountered the first Australians.

“For Aboriginal people ... suddenly there are 11 giant ships with strange people wearing clothes, funny hats and carrying guns. What are these people up to? How long are they going to stay?” Several sources bring every story to life: 1,500 still images supplemented by evocative voice-overs (words taken from archival documents); 260 hours of archival interviews; diverse commentators, and extraordinary cinematography.

It is not a documentary to make people feel guilty. It goes beyond black and white politics into the complex tales of friendship and betrayal, treachery and triumph. The stories covered are diverse: the unlikely friendship between the English Governor Phillip and the Aboriginal warrior Bennelong; the alliance between clan leader Wonga seeking land for his people and Scottish preacher John Green, and the individual experiences of children forced away from parents and put into homes.

imagePerkins and her co-producer Darren Dale have admitted in interviews they felt embarrassed about how little they knew while researching this project. First Australians cannot be considered a comprehensive history, but as Perkins says, “Hopefully it will trigger interest in the people on whose lands we have made our homes.”

The documentary is supplemented by study-guides, a substantial interactive website and a hard-cover pictorial book.

Seema Sanghi is a freelance journalist. She has researched aboriginal people in Australia

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