Sinem Saban is an award-winning independent filmmaker whom, for 22 years has been working closely with the Yolngu First Nation of Northeast Arnhem Land in Australia. This has given her unparalleled and trusted access into their often distant and misunderstood world. Sinem is my special guest this morning to yarn about The Law of the Land her latest documentary.
Luku Ngärra: The Law of the Land is her latest documentary which, in line with her long standing principles as an independent film maker, has taken 5 years to complete with no corporate or government funding. Luku Ngärra premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival in October 2022 where it won the 'Change' Award.
Director Sinem Saban sat with Dr. Gondarra in March 2019 and interviewed him over 4 days while Cyclone Trevor poured torrential rain on the earth outside. Deep in his elderhood, wise from decades of life experience and frail from ongoing health battles, the 12+ hours of interview footage with Dr Gondarra has become the backbone of this documentary.
Ms. Saban says, ‘Dr Gondarra has a strong yet gentle way of placing audiences in their heart space, and without condemnation of anyone, has a great power of shedding light on things that are gravely unjust.’
Inspired by his own personal heroes Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Gondarra speaks profoundly about change needing to come from the way we view the world, the environment, the spirit world and each other. He questions the colonial paradigm, its laws and its spirituality, and asks audiences to consider another way of thinking, seeing, and believing that is not led by power, greed, capitalism and destruction.
The film will give an uncensored platform to Yolngu people of N.E Arnhem Land who are witnessing the colonial impact of the modern world deeply compromise their cultural and spiritual wellbeing. By presenting how and why the two worlds collide, from the perspective of Yolngu themselves, the film will promote a deeper understanding as to why the social issues exist in Yolngu society, and hence how they can be improved.
With a background as a Media and Legal Studies High School teacher and a passion for giving uncensored voices a platform through independent media, Sinem's 16+ years of work have kept true to her values.
Her first experience in documentary film-making was in 2004 when she was the main camera person for a proiect that revealed the horrific human cost of the war in Iraq titled, 'I Know I'm Not Alone' (directed by Michael Franti). This experience saw her at the age of 26 enter the active war zone in Baghdad with no fear and a spark of positivity to bring justice and a voice to innocent victims. This journey also took her to Palestine and Israel where she dodged bullets when entering a hostile curfew zone.
Six years later in 2010 she directed, produced, and edited her first documentary, 'Our Generation' which looked at the human rights violations of the John Howard era NT Intervention policy.
This became a cult film amongst the grassroots Aboriginal rights movement in Australia and won the 'Best Campaign Film' at the London International Documentary Film Festival 2011.
Across the span of the next 8 years, she produced over 300 short videos for various Indigenous organisations in Australia, namely Young Deadly Free, NAAJA (North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency) and NAAFLS (North Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Service) as well as Indigenous suicide awareness videos for Beyond Blue and campaign videos for Independent Indigenous MP for NT, Mark Yingiya Guyula.
Dr Gondarra was born at Milingimbi, an island off the north-east Arnhem Land coast, in 1945. He was taught to speak, read and write English at the local Mission School by the late Beulah Lowe. His formal dominant culture education and training commenced as a Youth Leader and Sunday School Teacher in the local Methodist Church, followed by the Lay Preacher’s Course at Alcorn College in Brisbane during 1964.
He then returned to Arnhem Land and took up the position of Lay Pastor at Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island. He spent two years (1969-1970) training in christian education with the United Church of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Solomon Islands. He later undertook additional training at the Raronga Theological College, also in PNG.
Dr Gondarra was ordained as a Minister of the Methodist Church in 1976 and was the Parish Minister at Galiwin’ku until early 1983 when he took up a position as Lecturer at Nungalinya Theological College in Darwin. He then became Moderator of the Uniting Church Northern Synod (1985-1987).
Following this, he took up the position of Chief Executive Officer with Aboriginal Resource and Development Services Inc (ARDS) where he worked until his retirement in 2001. Dr Gondarra then became the Chairman of ARDS.
He is also the Chairman of the Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA) (since 1993).
He was awarded an honorary Cultural Doctorate in Literature by the World University of Roundtable, Arizona in 1991 and in 1998 received an Order of Australia Medal.
Dr Gondarra has had a passion for helping people to bridge the cultural divide that exists between Indigenous and other Australians. This has been part of his work within the Methodist and Uniting churches, as an Australian citizen and as a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (1988-2001).
He has also long championed the recognition of Aboriginal Traditional Law as a source of law in Australia.
Dr Gondarra has been actively involved in the business world and operates his own consultancy and small family business with cross cultural communication as his main area of focus and operation.
He is a founding member and Co-Chair of “Mawul Rom”, a program that delivers accredited training in Cross Cultural Mediation, and he continues to actively lobby for the recognition of Aboriginal Traditional Law and governance.
In 2008 he was formally recognised as Djirrkay, (traditional political leader) of the Dhurili Clan Nation.
Dr Gondarra's civil rights activism coupled with his role as a recognised law man and spiritual leader makes him a true visionary for not only his own people but also Indigenous people across Australia.