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Rachel Perkins on First Australians

By Sista Girl Productions, 2009 3:54 minutes

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Rachel Perkins often draws inspiration for her films from Indigenous history. As an Indigenous filmmaker, she considers her depiction of the past to be an ‘intervention’ in the dominant white construction of Australia’s history. The seven-part television series First Australians told a truer and more complete story of Australia’s past than most Australians are aware of. In exploring and representing the long and complex story of Indigenous people on the Australian continent, First Australians highlighted their central place in the country’s development as well as the inextricable link between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australian history.

In researching the series, Perkins uncovered the forgotten story of William Barak, a 19th century pioneer of civil rights. When many people watched First Australians, they were disturbed by their ignorance of so many of the events that have shaped Australia’s past, and their sense of themselves as Australians changed. Perkins considers the work that she does in documenting Indigenous history and culture to be very much ‘of its time’ and predicts that in the future Indigenous people will tell their stories very differently.

Collection Blak Wave

Discussion Points

One of the things that stands out when Rachel Perkins speaks about her work is her generosity towards both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. While First Australians is an intervention directed at challenging an Australian history that has been written by the colonisers rather than the colonised, Perkins considers that all Australians are short-changed by the silences and gaps in the country’s story and that First Australians is history to be shared.

  • Choose an event described in First Australians that you did not previously know about. Consider why you may not have known about this and how learning about it has changed your understanding of the country’s history.
  • Taking Perkins’ discussion into account, think about some of the reasons why it is so important to understand the past.

History is as much about the present as the past, but in the case of Indigenous Australian history the past’s relationship with the present has become an ideological battleground in what are now known as the ‘history wars’.

  • Read Bain Attwood’s book Telling the Truth about History, which provides an accessible and comprehensive discussion of the issues involved in researching and documenting Australia’s Indigenous history.

Perkins describes her work as very much rooted in the present. Anticipating a time when her filmmaking approach will become outmoded, Perkins pledges herself to the future. She views the work that she and her fellow filmmakers are producing as the early stages of a larger project.

In talking about her work as a part of a much longer history of Indigenous filmmaking, Perkins acknowledges Indigenous artists who have preceded her, like Bob Maza, Essie Coffey and Lester Bostock. For more information on these pioneers of Indigenous filmmaking, go to Australian Screen Online. There is also a biography of Bob Maza at