White Fella Dreamin'
A High Definition Documentary film, incorporating exclusive archival footage.


A Lyrebird Media Production
is association with Crow Fire Entertainment aka Wayne O’Donovan
Written and Narrated by Wayne O'Donovan.
Filmed (1991–2008) by Wayne O’Donovan,
with additional High Definition filming (Canon XH A1)
by Mairéid Sullivan and Ben Kettlewell 2007 - 2010.
Edited by Mairéid Sullivan and Ben Kettlewell.
Cast: Featuring Wayne O’Donovan and his family, with David Gulpilil, his wife Miriam Ashley, and his son Jamie Gulpilil, and many members of the Yolnul community in Arnhem Land.


Notes from an Interview with Wayne O’Donovan, by Mairéid Sullivan


BEST MATES: the Aboriginalization of a White Aussie Family.
This is the story of an authentic Arnhem Land Aboriginal community embracing a young family from Melbourne–in other words, the assimilation of a white family into traditional Aboriginal society–all living side-by-side over long periods of time, sharing traditional Aboriginal customs, language, dances, music, and folklore, and celebrating life, while joyfully isolated from the outside world, hundreds of miles from paved roads and cities. This story presents a point of view that is pertinent today, by sharing intimate experiences that inspire the joy of discovering the unique riches of this vast land.

This great adventure began in 1991, when legendary Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (b.1953) and Wayne O’Donovan (b.1959) a martial arts instructor and film location consultant, were both young bachelors. At the time, Wayne was part of a team of people engaged in implementation of The Aboriginal Community Justice Program, which was set up following recommendations from The Muirhead Black Deaths in Custody Report. Wayne was an intermediary between Aboriginal people and mainstream culture, which included responsibilities such as negotiating with police on options for Aboriginal people in trouble with the law.

As the story goes, when David Gulpilil was touring Victoria with his dance troupe in 1991, Wayne was offered the job of Road Manager for the tour. Wayne was immediately taken with David’s warmth–his ‘wildness’ and easy laughter. He offered to show David the Yarra Valley on his motorcycle, and so began the journey of a lifetime for a proper wild white fella and a wild black fella. Wayne became David’s bodyguard and personal assistant, and they soon became ‘Best Mates’.

When Wayne met David’s family in Arnhem Land, he experienced an epiphany.
“I was in shock to find his culture existed contemporarily with mine. David’s family embraced me with so much love and care –it felt like the same care my mother showed me. I developed a love affair with Arnhem Land and a relationship with all of the people in the community that has grown to embrace my own family today.”

During many extended stays in David Gulpilil’s community, ranging from 6 to 18 months at a time, Wayne received funding to document the Mandal Pingu language, and as a result, became an intermediary between the Aboriginal community and the Northern Territory Government and NGOs who were engaged in providing infrastructure and support services to the community.

Wayne filmed every day, around campsites, and on hunting and gathering expeditions, capturing a sense of the vastness of the land in sweeping shots of the coastline, land and sky along with close-up details of everyday life in the bush, and many colourful individuals, including those who’ve subsequently appeared in the celebrated film, Ten Canoes.

There are many stories intertwined, from surviving in the bush, traditional hunting and gathering practices, preparing and sharing the traditional fare the community still survives on, to traditional craft, and, of course, traditional storytelling through dance and music, still unspoiled by modern civilization.

David and Wayne remain very close, often commuting between Arnhem Land & Christmas Hills.

Not many people realize that the GANALPINGU people of Arnhem Land successfully defended Australia from Japanese invasions of Northern Australia during the Second World War: When the Australian Army commissioned the legendary ethnologist / anthropologist Donald Thompson, who'd lived in Arnhem Land, to appeal to the GANALPINGU people to help the Australian forces defend Australia, and a good ‘working’ relationship developed. As a direct result of this successful historical partnership, when the Australian Army came in during the ‘Howard intervention’ in 2007, most Yolnul folk were very pleased to hear that the army was coming, because they understood that they were bringing trained medicos and people who could assist them.

“There is one highly respected old man, in his 90s, Tom Djurpmurr who remembers all of these stories. He is featured in Donald Thompsons' classic photo of the swamp people in their canoes gondoloing across the swamp in the late 1930s. In fact, it was this photograph that inspired Rolf deHeer's Ten Canoes. The second canoeist from the left in that photo is Tom Djurpmurr. Once I understood who this man was, I spent quite a bit of time just sitting with him, sharing tobacco. I supplied him with fishhooks and tools, and I often hunted with him. When I first came to Arnhem Land in 1991, it was old Tom who gave me my Skin Name, because of my first successful hunt for crocodile.
‘Skin Name’ represents a generic position within the family system. It's not your surname, nor your Christian name. It's almost like a totem. It's an association name. It's like a team - a football team. It's a whole group of people who have something in common.”
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As a white mainstream Australian family moves into a traditional Aboriginal society–into a traditional world, we learn from their experience. The following chapters help illuminate differences and similarities in the ways in which we live our lives.

MADAYIN applies to sacred things, or sacred business, even attending to the secrets, but Mudahyin is not child’s play. Mudahyin is fair dinkum adult stuff that you have to take seriously. One example of MADAYIN is the handling of guns. The gun is something that isn’t used all the time. It’s used for hunting. Not everybody can use a gun, and there are rules around the use of a gun, such as how it should be kept stored away, and so MADAYIN are the rules that apply to management of all aspects of life.

Traditional Aboriginal Dinner Time is very different to dinnertime in our culture. “Often, when working with David on films or dance tours, he'd complain about our food being dead. ‘It has no life in it’, he'd say. And on the flip side, after spending twelve months living in Arnhem Land and living off traditional fare, I got really tired of having to kill something before I ate it. Everything we ate was very much alive. If it was running around, it was only a half hour to an hour before you actually ate it. “

Language is also very different between the two cultures. In a traditional culture, words have multiple meanings. For example, FIRE. DJUNGI represents every aspect of FIRE.
DJUNGI can be a cigarette lighter or matches to light a fire.
DJUNGI is also the fire that you lit. DJUNGI is the lightning that strikes down in a storm. DJUNGI is the sun in the sky. DJUNGI are the sticks you gather together to make fire. DJUNGI is the tree that provides the sticks from which you can light a fire. So, when someone is talking about DJUNGI, you have to be familiar enough with the language to know which Djungi their talking about.

BUNGAL or CEREMONY: In mainstream culture the significant ceremonies are christenings, the sixteenth birthday, or the twenty-first birthday, or the engagement, wedding, or the bar-mitzvah, these are occasions where the extended family and friends are invited to attend a big celebration over several hours. In Aboriginal culture, the ceremony is the equivalent of those milestones, but BUNGAL can also be the retelling of a mythological story, which includes where you get a particular food at a particular time of the year, and the relationship that food has with your ancestors and with you and the people around you. Most traditional Aboriginal communities have a ceremonial time of the year covering a two to three month period.
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The Aboriginal system of education is similar to an apprenticeship form of learning. Grandchildren spend a lot of time with their Grandparents. Their role is to teach all the skills of the culture, beginning with two-year olds, teaching them how to dance, paint, make crafts, and how to throw spears while hunting for food. These days the children are encouraged to go to school to learn English and the BALANDA (White fella) ways, so there's less and less opportunity to spend quality time with the elders of their culture who hold the key to their heritage.

“I've come across very few Aboriginal people in my particular community that have graduated grade twelve. One outstanding example demonstrates this sad dilemma: A girl, from the community, who missed out on traditional training in ceremony and hunting and gathering techniques because she attended school away from the community. She was the pride of both the black and white community within the town of Ramingining because she graduated high school. She took various jobs within the community, and because she learnt English, she had the where-with-all to move into the fringe of Darwin society and lived in a housing commission flat. There, she meets a white fella who also lived on the fringe of society, and they had a child together. She learnt how buy drugs in bulk and so now the pride of the community is the main drug dealer because she is able to travel outside of Aboriginal Australia into mainstream Australia, negotiating her way around to get the money and organize the drugs and then take them back to her community to sell. Prior to her procuring and selling drugs in the community, it was strictly a white man's occupation.“

Monash University did a demographic study several years ago. Basically, the conclusion to this study was that in fifty to a hundred years time, all Australians could have Aboriginal descent, because, right now, the Aboriginal people are the most intermarrying group in Australia. For instance, Aboriginal people have married Europeans, Middle Easterners, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Hindu's, etc, etc. That's why it's important to pursue land rights for Aboriginal Australians because everyone's grandchildren are going to benefit from this.

“When one of my traditional Aboriginal friends was visiting Melbourne, I took him to the Yarra River. We were sitting by the river and enjoying the pleasantries of the rapids, and I said to my Aboriginal friend, this is where my son was conceived, and he goes ‘Ahhhhh, that's why we're here. I didn't know why we were here, but you brought me here because your son is the traditional owner for this place. Now I understand why we're here.’ Traditional ownership, as I understand it from the traditional owners of this country, is the land or place your mother visited when she was pregnant with you.” Usually, it is a junction of waters, or a large body of waters, or a bend in the river or some prominent water feature. In their belief system, there is a spirit that comes from this place and is part of the composition of the new individual. Being a traditional owner means that you have to care for that land and insure its health, therefore ensuring your own health.

David Gulpilil is the first Aboriginal to play a major role in a movie. He has single-handedly bridged the great divide between indigenous and immigrant Australians through his long list of classic film roles, from the Walkabout (1971) and Storm Boy (1976), to Ten Canoes (2006) and the upcoming film Australia (2008).
Wayne O’Donovan is a martial arts instructor and an advisor on location for filmmakers such as Rolf deHeer, Philip Noyce, John Cann, Justin Saunders, David Stratton, Jack Thompson, Gray Foley.
Mairéid Sullivan & Ben Kettlewell, award-winning filmmakers, musicians, recording artists, and authors, manage their production company Lyrebird Media from their studio in Melbourne, Australia: www.lyrebirdmedia.com

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