Monday, December 11, 2006
Ten Canoes: From Samoa to Arafura Swamp
The Australian movie "Ten Canoes" is set in the Arafura Swamp of the Australian Northern Territory. The film is inspired by a photograph of 10 canoeists of the the Yolngu people in the swamp, taken by the anthropologist Donald Thompson in the 30s.
The film has won three AFI awards and is Australia's entry for best foreign film at the 2007 Academy Awards.
What has this to do with Samoa? In 2005 I made a nine day visit to Apia, Samoa, at the request of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). It was to conduct a five day workshop for staff from museums around the South Pacific region on the use of computer and telecommunications technologies.
My report pointed out that many of the museums of the region were too small to support their own IT systems. It made sense for them to use a common system which could also share data. On my return to Australia I had ANU students do projects on how to accomplish this. I reported this work at the Pacific Museums in Sustainable Heritage Development, Asia Pacific Week in January 2006.
I was then contacted by a project attempting to combine data from two Australian museums. One of the students who worked on the pacific island project with me went to work on the Australian project. Another student build a demonstration system using test data from the museums. Their presentation, report and open source software are available.
It turned out that one of the museum collections for the project is the Donald Thomson Collection at University of Melbourne, with the photographs which inspired "Ten Canoes".
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Details of Ten Canoes, with excerpts, are now available in the Australian Screen archive.
Anthropologist, Donald Thompson's photograph of 10 Yolngu canoeists inspired the film "Ten Canoes". As "Squadron Leader Thomson", during World War Two he commanded the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit (NTSRU) made up of Yolngu people. That would be a good topic for another film.
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