• Interviewing elder Tess Napaljarri Ross behind the scenes on Kardiyalu Kangurnu. (Paw Media)Source: Paw Media
It’s hard to believe, that it wasn’t all that long ago, that a group of Warlpiri elders from Central Australia, saw a white person for the first time in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a puzzling surprise, and a shock that would change their lives forever.
Nevanka McKeon

2 Mar 2016 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2016 - 3:34 PM

In a landmark documentary Kardiyalu Kangurnu, elders from different Central Australian communities share their stories of early contact with Kardiya (non-Indigenous people) and the food and animals they brought with them to the region.

This period of first contact is the theme of this animated documentary made by PAW Media (Pintubi Anmatjere Warlpiri). It tells the story of how the elders reacted to the sudden appearance of visitors and how it changed their lives.

Kardiyarlu Kangurnu features the stories from elders Jerry Jangala Patrick, Tess Napaljarri Ross, Jack Jangala Cook and Cecil 'Crocodile' Japangardi Johnson who recount their own individual stories.

The animated documentary is beautifully and comically told by these elders from the region and comes to life by the clever use of inter-cutting between footage from interviews and images, and uses groundbreaking animations to tell their stories. It tells of how these elders live in the present day through live action interviews - and how they were in their youth, living a life in the bush, through animated flash backs.

"30 yiya-Jangka-rla Kardu manu nalu media yapa kurlangu nyampurla Yurntumu-rla"

- "For 30 years, we've been creating TV, radio and music in the remote Aboriginal community of Yuendumu. Working with local people in language and according to local cultural protocols we create unique Aboriginal media productions,” says PAW Media.

Kardiyarlu Kangurnu was created from the award-winning animated oral history film First Contact which was initially 3 – 4 minutes long. It consisted of just the one story, told by elder Jerry Jangala Patrick, about first contact with a non-Indigenous person, Olive Pink, who was an Anthropologist and later went on to campaign for the rights of Indigenous Australians.

The success of First Contact at the 15th National Remote Indigenous Media Festival Awards held at Ntaria, Hermannsberg, in the Northern Territory in 2013 meant the team had exciting opportunityto further develop the short film to a longer form, that would become the half-hour animated documentary airing tonight.

Creating a 30-minute animated documentary would have its challenges. One of the first things to do was find additional story-tellers from the region.

Jonathan Daw is the documentary’s producer, animation coordinator and trainer. He says they were never going to take the easy way out when it came to finding the right story-tellers. “We could’ve made it simpler for ourselves and stuck to just story-tellers from Yuendumu, as there’s lots of good story-tellers but we wanted to represent a good cross section of the communities that we represent and the language groups we represent”.

Simon Japanangka Fisher Junior who is a born and bred Warlpiri man from Yuendumu and is the documentary’s animator and editor. He adds that with the area being as large as it is, it was very important to “have elders from south and north Warlpiri areas, Lajamanu and an Anmatjere elder from the nearby Napperby community”.

The PAW Media team explained that interviewing the four elders in their familiar environment was a crucial part of the process and was also the quickest and easiest part of the making of the animated documentary as it took only a day each to record their stories and two weeks to sub title the traditional languages and edit the stories.

The cultural and historical significance of recording of the elder’s history and their stories – having them told, shown and captured through animation was not lost on the film makers or the elders, as Simon Japananka Fisher Junior explains.

“I was speaking to the four elders and they were very happy, said it was good to tell their story, to have it passed on, especially for the younger generations to know what happened to the elders, especially for the northern Warlpiri”.

In a world where people are often pre-occupied and distracted with social media, the internet, mobile phones Jonathan Daw says this style of story-telling is not only crucial for historical purposes but educational purposes for the local Warlpiri community. “It’s very important, it’s good that films are made this way, as it’s very watchable, young people want to watch it and it’s a great way of educating,” he says. The PAW Media team also said the powerand engaging style of animated story telling at Yuendumu has been welcomed by the local school.

Animated story telling has created career pathways and real job opportunities for the local people living in and around Yuendumu.

Kardiyarlu Kangurnu took about two years to make from conception to finish and impressively, everything you see and hear in the documentary, is all made and done by the PAW Media team, at this small Yuendumu community of approximately 1000 people.

Executive Producer Michael Taylor is proud of what they have achieved, saying “every single model, every single frame recorded, every single set, every piece of music, every single sound effect was all done here”.

The animation technique used in Kardiyarlu Kangurnu is a unique under-camera technique that has been developed by PAW Media over several productions. The technique is inter-cutting between images, footage and animation. The animation was shot on digital SLR camera, as well as a top-mounted camera to look down on the models. Models combined plasticine and local materials including sand, and used both formal figures and traditional symbols to tell the stories.

“We were called the Warlpiri Animators, you know as in, like the Terminator,” says Simon Japanangka Fisher Junior.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the PAW Media team as they had to battle some elements that a Disney animation film probably wouldn’t have to come up against - such as the heat. Jonathan Daw explains, “the heat at Yuendumu, it would melt the plasticine”. Michael Taylor further adds, “You have to keep it in the refrigerator. And we get power cuts all the time, with the electricity going off. There’s always challenges like that.” Michael Taylor also says keeping dogs away from their workspace was another thing altogether. “Lots of cheeky dogs hanging around, also lots of mob coming and going, it’s community”.

The PAW Media team certainly punch above their weight in what their small team has produced and the amount of time it took to create the animation for Kardiyarlu Kangurnu, which as explained by Jonathan Daw is a slow technique. “it takes us a day to make just 12 seconds of animation."

Watch PAW Media's First Contact right here. And don't miss Kardiyarlu Kangurnu tonight, at 7:30pm on NITV