Trailblazer for First Nations media, Freda Glynn, has found herself in an unfamiliar position – in front of the camera.
Jennifer Scherer

17 Jun 2019 - 10:03 PM  UPDATED 17 Jun 2019 - 10:03 PM

The director of Sydney Film Festival's documentary of the year described the project as a painstaking labour of love but one that was well worth the effort.

Erica Glynn's film, She Who Must Be Loved, offers an intimate portrayal of the director's own mother, Freda Glynn: a vibrant and tenacious Kaytetye woman from central Australia.

A voice for First Nations people

Glynn is best known for co-creating the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), a turning point for Indigenous broadcasting across the continent. Passionate about providing a voice to and for Aboriginal people, CAAMA delivers meaningful coverage to remote Aboriginal communities in their native tongue. By 1982, CAAMA was broadcasting on 8KIN FM in Arrernte, Pitjantjatjara, Luritja and Warlpiri. Now, the station has programming in at least 10 languages.

The 80-year-old was also responsible for the development of Imparja Television in 1988, the first Aboriginal commercial network. Based in Alice Springs, Imparja's service continues to deliver programs across eastern and central Australia.

Glynn is also the matriarch of a film-making family that spans three generations. In addition to her daughter Erica, Glynn's son Warwick Thornton is celebrated for creating the acclaimed films Samson and Delilah and Sweet Country. Determined to continue their grandmother's legacy, Dylan River is emerging onto the cinematography scene: his work Tales by Light documents some of the longest surviving Aboriginal ceremonies and customs across Northern Australia.

Glynn's granddaughter Tanith Glynn-Maloney has also taken an interest in the film word.  With a similar dedication to preserving Aboriginal testimony and experience, Ms Glynn-Maloney also had a hand in producing She Who Must Be Loved

But Freda Glynn has herself generally shied away from the spotlight.

“It’s true that a lot of people, including us, have been trying to hunt [Freda] down to do the film [about her life],” Erica Glynn recently told NITV News.

“I’ve looked at my mother’s life many times … from when she was born to today; [her life] spans so much change for Aboriginal people in this country,” the director said.

“From being under the thumb, being massacred, having land taken, child removal – every single one of those have directly affected my mother to the point where she could help turn that around through the establishment of media and being involved.

“To the point where we can tell those stories and people are listening … They are willing to digest that information.”

She Who Must Be Loved challenges the colonial narrative of First Nations history, culture and testimony Ms Glynn-Maloney recently told NITV News.

“We explain that in the film: the only stories that were about Aboriginal people were about us, not for us,” she said.

“Setting up CAAMA and Imparja was about getting that vital information to Aboriginal people in their own languages, but also them being able to access radio or television out in their communities.”

The success of these ground-breaking media outlets is something Freda Glynn is most proud of.

“People were really angry about it [CAAMA] and they thought we would spoil broadcasting,” she told NITV News.

“In fact we had my father … he could speak most central Australian languages because he’d grown up there …  and the Northern Territory government asked him to keep an eye on what we were planning for the government, what we were talking in language."

Glynn told NITV News that there were many who thought the station would never succeed.

Determined to prove them wrong, the popularity of CAAMA grew rapidly, eventually branching out into music genres such as Aboriginal rock.

“We’d go everywhere and people were switching on their radio, changing their radio station,” Glynn said.

It's this perseverance which has seen many credit Glynn as a trailblazer for First Nations film and media.

In the pages of 'Kin: An Extraordinary Filmmaking Family', actress Deborah Mailman thanked "Aunty Freda" for providing the foundation to "sustain the culture and languages of Central Australia".

Director of The Sapphires, Wayne Blair also expressed gratitude to "Nana Freda", describing Glynn as "a champion for blackfella filmmakers" who "sacrificed a great deal for what we now possess".

A journey through memory

Erica Glynn described her film as a journey through memory, with the undertones of an investigation, but one that really only "scratched the surface" of her mother's life.

Having spent the majority of her life behind the camera, Erica says the role of 'subject' did not come naturally to her Mum. To balance the uncomfortable role reversal, Freda Glynn ensured she was still at the helm of the cinematography process.

“I’m happy to hand it over, be led by the subject – I’m comfortable directing that way,” Erica Glynn told NITV News.

“It’s the old people out bush or the people with the rights to talk about certain stories who are the bosses, the directors.”

A pivotal moment of the film depicts the attempted unravelling of truth behind the passing of Freda Glynn’s grandmother. Told that her grandmother had been killed in a massacre, the film marked the start of a deeply personal investigation for Glynn. 

The film's team spent countless hours trawling through archives in the pursuit of truth, but Erica Glynn said there was no trace of the story which had haunted her family for decades.

“What I witnessed Mum go through, it was emotional and quite intense at times …there was a real sense of frustration from Mum because in her heart of hearts she was hoping that there would be some written documentation and proof [of her grandmother's fate],” said Ms Glynn.

“We went through police diaries for days and days and days to see if there was anything - and of course, it’s not documented.”

Ms Glynn-Maloney was also hoping for a sense of closure for her Grandmother.

“Not having that resolved fully for Nanna ... we didn’t get to know exactly where the site [of the massacre] was, so she could grieve and make peace with the past.”

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