The Karrabing Film Collective (KAC) is a grassroots arts and film cooperative consisting of friends and family members whose lives interconnect along the coastal waters west of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. Begun in 2008 when members of the extended family found themselves homeless in the wake of deteriorating conditions on their natal Indigenous Community and a neoliberal assault on Indigenous funding, most Karrabing now live on a rural Indigenous community in the Northern Territory and have no formal training in film or art production. The Collective uses artworks and films to analyse contemporary settler colonialism and, through these depictions, challenge its grip. Their films operate at many levels: from insider jokes and hints of a sentient world beyond the edge of visibility, to probes on what is causing everyday corrosion within Indigenous life. KAC’s films and artworks represent their lives, create bonds with their land, and intervene in global images of Indigeneity. They develop local artistic languages and forms, while allowing audiences to understand new forms of collective Indigenous agency. The collective’s medium is a form of survivance — a refusal to relinquish their country and a means of investigating contemporary social conditions of inequality.
Members’ ages range from toddlers to senior men and women. Members currently include, Trevor Bianamu, Gavin Bianamu, Sheree Bianamu, Taleesh Bianamu, Danielle Bigfoot, Kelvin Bigfoot, Rex Edmunds, Claudette Gordon, Claude Holtze, Alithea Jorrock, Ethan Jorrock, Marcus Jorrock, Reggie Jorrock, Patsy-Anne Jorrock, Daryl Lane, Robyn Lane, Sharon Lane, Tess Lea, Lorraine Lane, Cecilia Lewis, Angelina Lewis, Marcia Bigfoot Lewis, Serina Lippo, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Quentin Shields, Rex Sing, Shannon Sing, Aiden Singh, Kerin Singh, Cassandra Singh, Daphne Yarrowin, Linda Yarrowin, Roger Yarrowin, and Sandra Yarrowin.
I am here at Buwambi on the coast of the Cox Peninsula with my niece and nephew, Sheree and Gavin Bianamu, and two of my grandkids, Ethan Jorrock, and Natasha Bigfoot Lewis.
Hey, youbela! I was thinking — I have known your parents since they were little kids and all of you since you were born. Like, Natie, I always picture you running around the yard across from Big Truck’s house where I had breakfast and dinner so many times when I was still a young adult. Your house was where Kilili lived. She was Gavin and Sheree’s makeli (Mother’s Mother). You know that film we are finishing up for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin? Kilili was with Ethan and your sister-girl (Great-Grandmother) when they escaped from the Katherine Internment camp during World War II.
Youbela you were born at Belyuen and grown up Karrabing. Maybe we should begin by talking about what Karrabing means?
The word means tide out — like low tide turning. But Karrabing is all the families around my grandmother side families and everyone married into it. We are all saltwater from the same coast — connected lands from the same coast.
How did it start?
Well we became homeless in 2007 because of a really bad riot at Belyuen. We went south, along the coastline, to a place called Bulgul, and lived in tents there. Most of us in Karrabing were there. You were there too! And we lived there to about 2010 when my mum got a government house in Darwin. We started Karrabing before then — but we really started making the films after that really, around 2011.
And my dad always wanted to be a film star. His hero is Elvis Presley. True. But everyone said, we should just tell our own stories since government wasn’t listening to the problems we were having.
Ok, how old were all of you? I remember some of you were pretty little.
I was born in 2002, so I must have been five.
I was nine.
I was fourteen.
So I must have been thirteen.
That’s when Karrabing started.
So, see youbela really grew up inside of Karrabing.
Yes, as you can see from the first really first short film, Karrabing, Low Tide Turning to this film we making now, Nighttimego (ngupelngamarrunu). From first, to second, to third, to fourth and now this new one, you can see us turning from kids to teenagers to adults, making movies.
So what is it like growing up inside our film collective? Ethan, you first.
Do you think you would know these stories inside these films if you hadn’t been inside Karrabing?
Nope. I didn’t know about that Dog Dreaming no matter my mother’s mum has that totem. I didn’t really believe that Dogs stood up and were always trying to make fires with their own bare hands. At first when people kept telling me about Dreamings and totems and stuff, I didn’t believe them until they took me up to the Dog Dreaming and I saw it myself and started listening to stories the old people were telling me — my grandma and grandpa’s.
And you reckon making these films helps join together contemporary times, like today times, with those older times? Like films help stick that story to our bodies? Help me out. Like how does making film do that? How do we explain this to white people?
: Like the story is in you and you can tell it from yourself.
Like that sweat is stuck to you. Like you don’t want to believe that story but when you yourself tell that story, you believe that story.
Like when you yourself tell the story you look at yourself and find out that you are the story! Does that make sense?
SB, NL, GB, EB
Like the way we say, the country you go to, it has your sweat in it. It’s like that with the films. The stories become stuck inside you because the films have your sweat inside them.
Yeah since I first came here in 1984, all these stories stopped being stories when I started to understand the deeper meaning. How they explain why this or that person acts like they do or this or that place. Like with my brother — your dad, Sheree and Gavin — is always jealous — it’s his Dreaming, that therrawin, that durlg, from the story about the jealous sea monster. It’s inside his body.
And that’s why we made that film Morwannameri, The Jealous One!
Ok, Natie, so what has it been like for you growing up inside Karrabing, making films?
What do I like about Karrabing?
Sure; or what has it been like growing up making films since you were a teenager?
When we came together as Karrabing, all my grandmother side family, we were able to stick together. We all became as one during those terrible times. We never separated. We kept using film and making films to keep together and tell our stories. I like that idea. And when we are making the films they let me look at all those Dreamings — Dog and Mudi and durlg and where the Black Nunggudi water snake goes — with my own eyes, I learned much more. I was able to stick the places into my head.
You reckon making stories help keep the story in your head?
Because we go there. We see it. Our sweat is in it and it’s in us.
And if we go there to make the films, and we really try to make the films true even though they are also just a story, we come to know the places and Dreamings because we come to know we are still there and we are still continuing the story. Then we have the possibility of passing all of this down to our kids or sisters’ or brothers’ kids.
When we go there to make the films and everyone tells us the story about that place, then we pass that knowledge to all the young people, the little, little ones.
Do you think the knowledge is in the past or in the now?
In the past but …
In the past but we know it very well in the present time. Well the story is still there. If you go there you can see it — right there, staring at you. No matter what form of transport you want to go, by sea or by air, or by car, you can see it.
Doesn’t matter what form of transport because you can still see it. But we play it in the now times so it is not just in the past; it is here inside us, like when we always say its in our sweat. We work to make the film and the film also helps us make it really real to ourselves. It is now because it is still there.
And are your mob still here?
Yes we are still here. And that Dreaming is still here. And it’s still true.
It was true in our grandparents’ time and still in our time and still going to be in our kids’ time.
For me, I like the films because they give me something to do and because when we’re telling the story we’re acting it out. Sometimes it’s a bit rough and tough but in the end it can be pretty funny.
You shifted a bit from acting to shooting, aye?
Me too, Nanna. I do a bit of acting and bit of shooting.
Yeah when we did When the Dogs Talked and Windjarrameru, we used a really nice white man, Ian Jones, to shoot the films. But then we had to get up every morning and shoot all day for something like a week. And we thought, lets shoot our own film with iPhones then we can be more relaxed.
It’s really fun when we get together and have a laugh with the family, because living on communities is really stressful a lot of the time.
Yeah, I don’t think people realise how stressful it can be living in communities.
It really is. When people have nothing to do, and they are really bored, they can just start arguing, or drinking or whatever, and fighting is something to do. And people can get really hurt, people get really angry and family split up. But when we are making films, most of the time we are just cracking up laughing.
And to be honest that’s the best thing I like, because when we’re being Karrabing we can go out bush and do some cultural things and learn with the family and just get away from all the stress and relax and learn.
True. That’s true for me too. Our films and art are being shown across the world now. Where have we been?
Well me, Natie, and my brother (Gavin), we went to Jerusalem where our film Wutharr, Saltwater Dreams was being shown in the Jerusalem Show. And we went to Ramalah and saw how the Palestinians had to live. And they were really interested in the Dreaming part and how we all have different ideas about the meaning — some Christian, some for Ancestors, some for just motors break down.
Yeah and yet we all still come together. They always ask us about that — you mob disagree? Sure. But we still together Karrabing.
I only went to Sydney because I don’t have a passport yet. But when we went to Sydney a lot of people were interested and wanted to know if our films were on YouTube.
Me, I’ll go anywhere! I went to Jerusalem (Jerusalem Show-Qalandiya Biennale), Berlin (Berlinale, Forum Expanded), Mechelen (Contour Biennale), Brussels (Villa Empain), Netherlands (Van Abbemuseum), Paris (Pompidou) — and we’re all going to New York City and London — and Athens (documenta) in June.
Why do you think people are interested inside and outside Australia? Lots of people would pluck out their eyes to go to these places.
It’s interesting for outside of Australia — they find it interesting because they don’t know about Aboriginal people and how they live and what they do and believe in.
It’s different from their environment. The way they live is in big city. We live in the bush area.
: Yeah, but, I don’t know how to put this, but like Australia has NITV, and they show a lot of good films, aye? So how you reckon our films fit into that?
Well they don’t show the way, like true story, the way we live in everyday life and how it all connects to the generations and generations. They don’t show it like that. They just show it little bit. The way it connects to past is that we listened to stories our old people told us, and passed down to us, the new generation mob. So the films have those stories inside them but we tell it the way we are living.
Yeah, they don’t show much. Like some show old stories but they don’t show how it fits with how we live, you know, in scrub, in and out of scrub to city, back and forth. Like real life, properly way how it all fits together. And like with this new film we are recreating what all those old people, our grandparents were going through in their life times when they were living in the bush, and army and police tried to control them, we’re trying to recreate that. But also it’s true about our lives now. Different time. But police and government still are doing the same thing.
We are trying to show what is true, then and now, because these stories, these places and Dreamings and struggles are still here with us now. No matter, we are the new generation.
The Karrabing Film Collective is a film cooperative consisting of friends and family members whose lives interconnect along Indigenous coastal homelands northwest of Darwin, NT.
A companion piece to this article is available online as part of un Extended 11.2.