Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 


Filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean set the context in this insider briefing about the making of a remarkable documentary about a unique event in Australian social history – the first contact in 1964 between 20 Martu women and girls who had lived as their mob had lived for thousands of years - and whitefellas, at remote Percival Lakes.

When we first started filming with Yuwali we realised immediately that we had a truly unique storyteller with us. Her account is so detailed and so fresh that it dominates and drives the film. We can’t recall from anywhere in the world such an accessible and perceptive account of the ‘first contact’ experience. While filming we attempted to capture Yuwali’s point of view to try and emphasise the subjective nature of her account. This is a film about her response to the planes, cars, rockets and white men that entered her life when she was a teenager. We took her back to the extremely remote Percival Lakes where the contact occurred and got her to tell us the stories from the exact locations – where she first saw a car, where she was picked up, where she saw the rocket from etc.

"directly authentic"

All of the movie archive used is authentic to this story. The footage in the desert was filmed by the lead patrol officer, Walter MacDougall and the vehicles, dingoes and people are all the direct participants in this story. All the footage of the rockets are the actual Blue Streak rockets that were fired. Almost all of the photographs are also directly authentic although we have used one or two general pictures from other situations. This was a deliberate decision to try and preserve the integrity of the first hand accounts.

"those mysterious whitefellas"

One of the extraordinary elements of filming was the rapport and comfort we managed to achieve with the Martu mob. We were lucky that we were introduced to them by people who had already established a great amount of trust with them. This, and our very small team and willingness to roll with the flow of the Martu activities allowed an intimacy rarely captured. For over two weeks we interviewed Yuwali every day, in all sorts of locations. We ranged widely over her experiences and thoughts at the time. Much of the time we involved Thelma in the storytelling and let the Martu set the scene, and bounce off each other. They clearly felt comfortable with us, to joke about each other, about sex and those mysterious whitefellas. They bring this story and their unique situation in 1964 to life so vibrantly and accessibly that they came to set the pace of the narrative - taking us back to that time and place without the use of dramatic recreations.

Published September 10, 2009

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