Curtin staff member Sally Goldrick from the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts has been nominated for an Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) Award for her documentary Whadjuk to Wadjemup.
Whadjuk to Wadjemup is a short-form documentary that tells the story behind the first all-Aboriginal relay team to compete in the Rottnest Channel Swim.
The narrative weaves between the preparation leading up to the event and the significance of Wadjemup (renamed Rottnest by 17th century Dutch explorers) to the Nyungar people.
Despite being a tourist hotspot today, the island has a dark history as a penal colony. Between 1838 and 1931 was a prison for approximately 3,700 Indigenous men and boys, many of whom died on the island and were buried in unmarked graves.
In the 93 years that the island was a prison, several escape attempts were made to swim back to Perth (Whadjuk). For local Aboriginal people, Wadjemup traditionally meant ‘where the river flows’, but since this tragic chapter in its history, it has taken on a more sombre definition: ‘The Island of Spirits’.
“We were swimming for the spirits of our old people, for all the ancestors who tried to make that swim and never made it,” narrates swimmer and co-director Dennis Simmons in the documentary.
For Sally Goldrick, her part in the story began over a cup of coffee.
“I was working as an executive producer on Noongar Dandjoo with Dennis Simmons,” Goldrick says. “Dennis had arrived in the studio looking totally exhausted and I offered to buy him a cup of coffee.
“We sat down in the cafe and Dennis explained that he was part of a group that were training to become the first all-Aboriginal relay team in history to swim in the Rottnest Channel Swim.
“Listening to Dennis and eventually meeting the swim team, I knew that this was a must do story that needed to be captured and watched by the next generation. It was also a very positive story despite the underlying dark history.”
As the co-director, producer and camera operator, Sally was present during all the filming production processes, from the initial training sessions and practice open water swims to the Rottnest Channel Swim itself.
“Watching and capturing on camera the swimmers crossing the finish line and Vinka holding up the Aboriginal flag was such a special moment,” Goldrick says.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for all the competitors and hard working coaches and I have formed long-lasting friendships with many of the swimmers, coaches and support crew.”
She also credits the guidance of co-director Dennis Simmons as a major factor behind the swim team and documentary’s success.
“Not only did he direct and swim in the event, he also mentored the teenage ‘spirit dancers’ that featured in the documentary,” Goldrick says. “After witnessing the team successfully making the journey first-hand, these young men have now been inspired to participate in the English Channel swim.”
For the last 23 years, the ATOM Awards have helped to showcase some of the education sector’s best media producers from across Australia and New Zealand. This year there are close to thirty categories, including feature-length documentaries, television programs, animation and new media.
“I feel incredibly proud and excited to be nominated for this award,” Goldrick says. “I’m extremely grateful to the wonderful swim team, coaches and support crew who made this experience so rewarding.”
The winners will be announced on 26 November.
You can watch Whadjuk to Wadjemup on SBS On Demand.