Screen cap from promotional trailer
form y Ten Canoes single work   film/TV  
Note: Written in consultation with the people of Ramingining.
Issue Details: First known date: 2006 2006
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A story within a story and overlaid with narration, Ten Canoes takes place in two periods in the past. The first story, filmed in black-and-white as a reference to the 1930s ethnographic photography of Donald Thompson, concerns a young man called Dayindi who takes part in his first hunt for goose eggs. During the course of several trips to hunt, gather and build a bark canoe, his older brother Minygululu tells him a story about their ancestors and the old laws. The story is also about a young man who had no wife but who coveted one of his brother's wives, and also of the stranger who disrupted the harmony of their lives. It is cautionary tale because Minygululu is aware that Dayinidi desires his young and pretty third wife.

The second story (shot in colour) is set much further back in time. Yeeralparil is a young man who desires the third wife of his older brother Ridjimiraril. When Ridjimiraril's second wife disappears, he suspects a man from another tribe has been seen near the camp. After he spears the stranger he discovers that he was wrong. Knowing that he must face the man's relatives he chooses Yeeralparil to accompany him during the ritual payback. When Ridjimiraril dies from his wounds the tribe's traditions decree that Yeeralparil must inherit his brother's wives. The burden of these responsibilities, however, is more than the young man expects.


  • The promotional trailer for this film is available to view via YouTube: (Sighted: 28/9/2012)

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Works about this Work

De Heer's Story of Country Helps Heal Penelope Debelle , 2014 single work column
— Appears in: The Advertiser , vol. 19 April no. 2014; (p. 4)
Respecting Protocols for Representing Aboriginal Cultures Jared Thomas , 2014 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 14 no. 3 2014;
'This essay undertakes a detailed discussion of how respecting protocols for representing Indigenous cultures supports the interests of Indigenous communities and producers of stories with Indigenous content. To highlight the importance of Indigenous protocols I review the prominence and reception of Aboriginal stories in Australian film and literature and discuss how protocol guidelines can prevent problematic representations. I demonstrate how protocols influenced writing Calypso Summer (2014), a novel exploring issues relating to my cultural group, the Nukunu, to illustrate the challenges encountered and benefits gained from employing Indigenous representation protocols. ' (Author's introduction)
Ten Canoes as ‘Inter-Cultural Membrane’ Anne Rutherford , 2013 single work criticism
— Appears in: Studies in Australasian Cinema , October vol. 7 no. 2-3 2013; (p. 137-151)
'This article examines the ways in which Ten Canoes (de Heer and Djiggir, 2006) works as what Nicholas Rothwell has called ‘an inter-cultural membrane’. The article scrutinizes the rhetoric developed around the film, exploring questions around ownership, cultural mediation and the authorial voice. An extended interview with the co-director, Rolf de Heer, examines the production process to explore the structuring of the film through script, shooting and editing and the double process of pragmatics and aesthetics that drove the production process. The article proposes reframing the question of authenticity as fidelity to the complexities of the present, rather than fidelity to the past. It argues that an attempt to fully understand and articulate the complex dimensions of cultural exchange, collaboration and cultural translation, and the complex intermeshing of hybrid cultural and aesthetic notions, would produce a more productive and dynamic debate around the interface of cultural exchange than currently emerges from the rhetoric around the film. The article argues for an engaged and dialogic approach to film criticism, grounded in cultural research, in which the conceptual paradigms and speaking positions of the critic are equally opened to scrutiny.' (Author's abstract)
The Great Tradition : A Lilyin Song from Cape Leveque Stephen Muecke , 2013 single work criticism
— Appears in: Telling Stories : Australian Life and Literature 1935–2012 2013; (p. 404-410)
Ten Canoes and the Ethnographic Photographs of Donald Thomson : ‘Animate Thought’ and ‘The Light of the World’ Anne Rutherford , 2012 single work criticism
— Appears in: Cultural Studies Review , 1 March vol. 18 no. 1 2012; (p. 107-137)
'This article explores the genesis of the film Ten Canoes in the photographs taken by anthropologist Donald Thomson, in Arnhem Land, in the 1930s. Thomson's images profoundly informed the look and content of the film, and the paper traces this genealogy in order to identify a 'cultural imaginary' at work in the film. I argue that a close study of Thomson's original photographs reveals an approach to photography and to culture that dramatically exceeds the boundaries of the detached anthropological/scientific gaze. Thomson's vision is a highly tactile one. His images are as much an encounter with the light of the world as they are a document of a time, an environment and a culture; his lens is as much an organ of touch as an instrument of observation. In a remarkable example of what Tim Ingold has called 'animate thought', Thomson uses the materiality of photography to make manifest a life-world in which reeds, water and sky are as animate as human figures. Not easily accessible to established criteria for analysing ethnographic images, such as questions of self-reflexivity, Thomson's polycentric images profoundly challenge the humanist assumptions of many contemporary approaches to reading images. This insight raises new questions about both ethnographic photography and the relationship between the photographs and Ten Canoes.' (Author's abstract)
Canoes Float Over Culture Gap Stephanie Bunbury , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: The Sunday Age , 21 May 2006; (p. 6)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer 2006 single work film/TV
Ten Canoes Takes Us for a Great Ride David Stratton , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 10-11 June 2006; (p. 9)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer 2006 single work film/TV
Journey to a Lost World Phil Brown , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: Brisbane News , 21 - 27 June no. 592 2006; (p. 27)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer 2006 single work film/TV
Film : Ten Canoes Shane Brady , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: Brisbane News , 28 June - 4 July no. 593 2006; (p. 36)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer 2006 single work film/TV
Taking Audiences on a Wonderful Journey Dougal Macdonald , 2006 single work review
— Appears in: The Canberra Times , 1 July 2006; (p. 26)

— Review of Ten Canoes Rolf De Heer 2006 single work film/TV
Ten Canoes a First 2006 single work column
— Appears in: Koori Mail , 12 April no. 373 2006; (p. 34)
In Search of Lost Time Garry Maddox , 2006 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 20-21 May 2006; (p. 18-19)
Top End Tales Nicolas Rothwell , 2006 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 27-28 May 2006; (p. 4-6)
Rothwell discusses a range of Australian films in which Aborigines have been depicted. He focuses particularly on Rolf de Heer's Ten Canoes and Kim McKenzie's documentary, Fragments of the Owl's Egg.
Canoe Culture Bridges Gap Philippa Hawker , 2006 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Age , 3 June 2006; (p. 17-18)
Tribal Voice Claire Scobie , 2006 single work column
— Appears in: Sunday Life , 11 June 2006; (p. 25)
Last amended 11 Mar 2015 14:30:06
  • Arnhem Land, Top End, Northern Territory,
  • 1000-1099
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