8 must watch movies about Aboriginals of Australia and New Zealand

Akash Poyam

It was sometime in 2015, while I was searching through the list of movies based on indigenous people, that I came across a movie called “The Tracker.” While I had seen indigenous movies before—though mostly based in America, Canada—besides the touching and realistic acting of Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, the lives of aboriginal characters characters in The Tracker, made me feel a strange connection in many ways. The movie was my first peek into the lives of Indigenous, Aboriginal people of Australia. My interest in knowing lives of Aboriginal communities deepened, as I learnt of the many similarities between the Aboriginal Dot Paintings with Bhil and Gondi Paintings of central India. Apart from the artistic style, the themes and the depiction of nature and animals in Aboriginal paintings seemed very akin to those in our Gond tribe painting and Bhil paintings.

Indigenous peoples’ lives are largely characterised by shared experiences of their lives’ coherence with nature, their century old resistance for autonomy, and history of colonialism by west and now by new nation-states. Along with many such common experiences, they bridge an experiential connection between Indigenous communities across the world and not only make us understand our own realities better but also provide strength in everyday experiences of violence, racism and colonialism.

As an Adivasi/indigenous person of central India, the realities depicted in Aboriginal, indigenous movies helped me understand, reconnect and make sense of my own self, identity and community, better. Here is a list of some of my favorite Aboriginal, Indigenous movies based in Australia and New Zealand, that you may also find interesting:


  1. The Tracker (2002)

The Tracker is undoubtedly one of the best movies about Australian aboriginals. David Gulpilil’s simplicity and intense performance is something you’d definitely cherish. It is a story of a tracker, a mysterious figure that assists three white policemen in following a fugitive, an aboriginal suspected of murdering a white woman. The journey turns violent and troublesome as they get closer to the isolated civilization. Soundtrack of movie is icing on the cake that keeps you emotionally connected. The movie was chosen for Best Film and Best Actor (David Gulpilil) category by Film Critic Circle of Australia for the year 2002.


  1. Samson and Delilah (2009)

Winner of the Golden Camera award at Cannes Film Festival in 2009, the movie was also nominated as Australia’s official entry in the Academy Awards best foreign language film category. It is a confronting and beautiful love story of an aboriginal boy and girl that shows unfortunate and disturbing realities of aboriginal life in Australia, dominated by poverty, unemployment, drugs, violence etc. There are not many dialogues in the movie, but plot and characters keep you engaging till the end. Highly recommended.


  1. Whale Rider (2002)

The movie is a poignant film about a 12 year old Maori girl who dreams of becoming the chief of her people. Other than giving a peak into the Maori culture, it captures the very essence of clash between traditional and modern world. A realistic and powerfully well-crafted movie that transcends your expectations. For her mesmerizing performance, Keisha Castle-Hughes also became the youngest nominee for the Academy Awards for Best Actresses in 2002. The movie also won the audience awards as the most popular film at both the Toronto and Sundance film festivals.



  1. Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)

Based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara, it is a powerful and inspiring story. Set in 30s, the movie depicts racism of British against the Aboriginals of Australia and the treatment of ‘half-caste’ children. The journey of Molly, Gracie and Daisy after escaping native children’s settlement following Rabbit-Proof-Fence, is true representation of courage and determination. A heartwrenching movie indeed.



  1. Once were Warriors (1994)

A drama film based on Allan Duff’s novel of the same name. It contains an evocative and realistic plot that leave you emotionally drained. It gives you hard hitting reality of Maori life in an urban space and touches issue of domestic and gang violence, and cultural awakening. Though violent but grounded in reality, the movie is heartbreaking, chilling and sticks with you for a while. Further, if you liked the movie, don’t miss its sequel- What becomes of the Broken Hearted released in 1999 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrrjDgSuLZY.


  1. Ten Canoes (2006)

A story within a story, beautifully narrated by David Gulpilil with subtle humor, it is about Yolngu ancestors, before the arrival of whites in their land. The story of Minygululu and his three wives, nuances of their culture and humor would definitely keep you entertained till the end. A simple story that has layers of depth in it. Cinematography, especially the usage of black & white verses colored effects to differentiate two eras is beautiful. Though not a documentary, it is a perfect combination of anthropology and cinema.


  1. Walkabout (1971)

Starring David Gulpilil, it is a film about two white siblings stranded in Australian outback after suicide of their father, followed by their adversity and dependence on an aboriginal man, who is on ‘walkabout- a practice of staying away from tribe’. Depicting conflict between two cultures, it is an offbeat survival story that often puzzles you and keeps you grasped to the plot. With 70s artsy effects and beautifully photographed, the movie depicts extreme realism.


  1. Charlie’s Country (2013)

The most recent movie on the list, Charlie’s Country is another masterpiece of David Gulpilil who won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival 2014, in the Un Certain Regard section. Party based on Gulpilil’s own experiences, caught between subjugation of aboriginals by white laws, Charlie is baffled between edges of two culture. Finally fed up Charlie heads into the the wild on his own, to live the old way. A haunting and powerful portrayal of Australian Aboriginals’ ordeals.


Thumbnail Picture: from the movie Rabbit Proof Fence.

Akash Poyam

Founder and Editor of Adivasi Resurgence. Akash belongs to Koitur (Gond) tribe from Balrampur, Chhattisgarh. He is an independent researcher and has written on a range of Adivasi/Tribal issues. He can be reached at - poyam.akash@gmail.com आदिवासी रिसर्जेंस के संस्थापक और संपादक, आकाश, बलरामपुर छत्तीसगढ़ के कोइतुर (गोंड) समुदाय से हैं। वह एक स्वतंत्र शोधकर्ता हैं और उन्होंने विभिन्न आदिवासी विषयों और मुद्दों पर लिखा है। उन्हें इस ईमेल poyam.akash@gmail.com पर पहुँचा जा सकता है।

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