Manganinnie (1980)




Director:     John Honey.

Starring:     Mawuyul Yanthalawuy (Manganinnie),  Anna Ralph (Joanna),  Phillip Hinton (Edward),  Buruminy Dhamarrandji (Meenopeekameena),  Reg Evans (Quinn),  Jonathan Elliot (Simon Waterman),  Timothy Latham (William Waterman).

child's view of near-genocide of Tasmanian Aborigines


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Tasmania, Australia 1830.  A white family, the Watermans, is moving away from large fires in the area.  The children see a group of Aborigines walking along a ridge with the fire in the background along with a rising sun and to them it looks like the men are burning.  Simon says:  "They're fire people."  Dad gets a bit angry and tells Simon to stop upsetting his sister Joanna.  Dad adds:  "I want no more delays."

A grown Joanna as narrator says she still vividly remembers that day.  She speaks of the native Tasmanian people and notes that a young woman named Manganinnie seemed to know just about everything there was to know in their world. 

Father reads from the Bible to his three children.  He then says a prayer for the family.  Somewhat similarly, Manganinnie speaks to her small tribe.  They then sing a song.  

A captain of a militia asks Mr. Waterman if he will aide them in the fight against the blacks who have been raiding white settlements.  The captain says that they cannot let these attacks continue.  Waterman says the soldiers can stop here and rest, but Waterman doesn't want to be a part of the militia.  One of the white men says that the blacks are treacherous.  Waterman counters with:  "There're not many people who'd be happy to be removed from their own land."  The captain says that this is necessary.  The militia leave. 

Mr. Waterman prepares to leave with the militia, but they are late in returning.  He doesn't want to go, but figures he has to do this.  Joanna in her bed hears the sound of horses riding up to their farmhouse and then riding away from the farmhouse. 

The dogs of the tribe smell strange odors and start to growl.  Manganinnie awakens and starts waking everyone up.  The tribesmen and women start running, but the soldiers are soon coming after them.  Manganinnie hides.  She hears shots and is worried.  She starts to walk in the direction from whence came the shots.  She finds her husband dead by the shore.  She burns his body and cries and sings. 

Back home father reads from the Bible again to the children.   As narrator Joanna says, she heard the sad story of the disappearance of the tribe from Manganinnie herself.  She guesses that Manganinnie must have been very upset and extremely lonely. 

Winter comes to Tasmania and Manganinnie builds a fire to stay warm.  The snow melts as spring arrives.  Manganinnie continues to think about her family and tribe.  For her it's like the small water fall carries the voices of her people.  One day Manganinnie sees a very young Joanna out with her father.  She watches as he puts feathers in her hair.  Father is called and he tells Joanna that they have to return, but Joanna plays by the stream.  Manganinnie appears on the other side of the stream and Joanna starts to walk over to her.  The Aborigine woman has to take fire with her everywhere she goes, because she has no way of starting fire.  Joanna, without any fear, goes right up to Manganinnie.  Manganinnie touches her face and hair and says in English:  "White."   Then she starts talking in her native language to Joanna.  At night Manganinnie would shout loudly for the spirits of the night to stay away from them. 

Joanna notices the slowing burning fire on a dried stalk of a tree in Manganinnie's right hand.  Manganinnie lets Joanna blow on the fire so that it flames up a bit more.  Dad calls for his little girl and Manganinnie tenderly touches Joanna's face and then hurries away.  Joanna, however, just follows Manganinnie.  Manganinnie bends down and Joanna climbs up on her back.  The Aboriginal woman carries Joanna away piggy back style. 

Manganinnie is very happy and rejoices at the return of a child.  Meanwhile, dad gets very worried and starts running through the forest shouting out Joanna's name.  He returns the next morning to search for Joanna. 

Joanna awakens because the men are ringing the bells in their hands.  Joanna pulls away from Manganinnie and may be a bit scared. 

Quinn, who works for dad, finds Joanna's hat that fell off her head and tumbled down a waterfall.  At night the men search for Joanna with torches. 

The next morning Joanna comes out of Manganinnie's cave and travels over to a larger waterfall.  She starts to walk in the forest, but has a terrible time making much progress because the brush is so thick.  She turns back and goes back to the waterfall.  Then she goes back to the cave. 

Manganinnie carries Joanna through the forest.   She builds a fire to warm the girl.  Manganinnie then crushes some leaves to make a potion for Joanna to improve her health against the chills of the night.  Later Manganinnie brings her some type of young marsupial, perhaps a wombat(?).  Joanna is very happy with the animal. 

Joanna and Manganinnie now learn each other's name.  At night Joanna holds her wombat and talks to the animal.  Joanna is a bit sad and Manganinnie has her lay her head in her lap while she strokes Joanna's hair.  Joanna has to learn to be quiet when Manganinnie is hunting for animals to eat.  Manganinnie whacks a small marsupial that looks like a mammal rat.  Joanna is shocked a bit that they might eat the "rat". Manganinnie prepares the food, but Joanna is reluctant to eat anything.  She tries to get Joanna to eat, but Joanna just keeps shaking her head no.  She does, however, start getting very hungry and tries a piece of the meat on her own.  She gags a bit, but does eat some of the meat. 

Joanna picks up the Aboriginal language fairly quickly for she is soon listening to Manganinnie's stories. 

Times passes and Joanna's once clean dress is completely soiled.  And her face is very dirty.  Manganinnie is up in a tree.  She hears the snorting of a horse and motions to Joanna to come over by her.  Joanna hides from the man on horseback and he just passes by the hidden two females. 

At night it rains hard.  Some type of animal, probably a human, comes close to Manganinnie's fire and she screams so loud that the man turns and leaves. 

Winter is near and Manganinnie leaves the cave up in the mountain to come live closer to the river.  The wombat has already left the cave as winter approaches.  Joanna as narrator says that Manganinnie kept wishing and searching for her people.  She would call out hoping her people would hear voice. 

One day Joanna hears the sound of an axe being used to cut down trees.  She goes to check out the sound.  She sees a man sharpening his ax and she steals some food from the man.  The fellow comes looking for what or who could have taken his meat, but Joanna and Manganinnie successfully hide from him. 

Manganinnie uses a "canoe" vessel to row her and Joanna over to a sacred island where Manganinnie's people would come to begin their journey to the dreaming.  Joanna wanders off a bit and finds a place with some type of altar where there is a human skull as the centerpiece.  This frightens her and she runs to find Manganinnie.  At night Manganinnie tells Joanna that here is the place of the departing dead "where the souls leave for the dreaming".   She also teaches Joanna the song of the fire.  In the fire Manganinnie sees her deceased husband. 

A dog finds Joanna and sits by her.  Manganinnie has made a kind of dress of animal fur.  With the dog they return in the boat to the mainland, but once on the mainland, the dog takes off and disappears.  The two females walk across a wide field and then go back into the forest.  At night they hear someone or something coming toward them rustling the leaves and brush.  They are a bit fearful, but it turns out to be the dog returning to them.

Manganinnie takes Joanna with her to the Great Ocean in the hopes of finding some of her people.   Manganinnie becomes sad because she thought at least one of her people might return to this place as they always do at this time of year.  Joanna plays on the beach.  Manganinnie prepares another torch.  Joanna, however, drops the burning torch into the ocean and the fire goes out.  Manganinnie is helpless in getting more fire.  This frightens Manganinnie because now they have no protection from the spirits of the night.   

At night the two females see the fire of white men on the beach.  When the men are sleeping Manganinnie goes down to the fire to light her torch.  The white men awaken and one of them even wounds Manganinnie slightly in the left arm with a rifle shot.  They catch her and tie her to a tree. 

In the morning a white inhabitant of the area asks to have the Aborigine woman.  So the men give the woman to him, as they leave the campsite.  With a pistol in his hand, he tells Manganinnie:  "You obey me!"   Joanna and the dog watch Manganinnie taken away at gunpoint.  She watches as the white man uses a flint to start a fire.  At night Joanna sneaks over to the white man and gets his his knife and flint and starts cutting off the ropes around Manganinnie.  Meanwhile, the dog comes up and starts attacking the white man.  The guy accidentally pulls the trigger of his pistol and it goes off in the air.  So the man is totally preoccupied with the dog now.  The two females leave the campsite and, after he bites the man a few more times, so does the dog.

Joanna uses the flint to start a fire.  Manganinnie is so happy.  Joanna lights the new torch for Manganinnie. 

Manganinnie finds a sign of her people: a dead sheep killed by an Aborigine spear.  She follows the footsteps that lead them to a farm.  She passes by a gristmill and sees footprints in the flour.  Manganinnie doesn't find any of her people.  At the cave she moans.  The wombat returns to them. 

From a ridge Manganinnie sees Aborigines sneaking up on a farm house.  The whites fire from the house and wound a man.  The  Aborigines start running the other way and white men on horseback chase them.  Manganinnie turns away and leaves after she sees a white man come up to the wounded black man and finishes him off with another shot. 

One night Manganinnie carries a sleeping Joanna into the barn of her family.  She lays the sleeping girl on some hay.  Father goes out to check the horses before he goes to bed.  He finds his little girl.  When Joanna awakens she is on a bed in the house.  The whole family is around her and she panics and yells for Manganinnie.  Dad says that he will sit with Joanna,  The others leave.

One of her brothers, Simon, sneaks in the room and gives her some feathers.  In the morning Joanna hears a dog barking.  Mr. Quinn is trying to fight Manganinnie's dog off.  The dog starts running back into the forest with Joanna and Simon running after the dog.  The dog brings the two children to Manganinnie, who seems to be dead or dying.  Mr. Quinn and dad bring Manganinnie's body back to the farm.  Dad tells mother that because the black woman took care of their girl, they will bury Manganinnie with the respect due her. 

Joanna is going to burn the body rather than have Manganinnie buried.  She sneaks out at night and lights the wood inside a shed on which the body lays.  Quinn rushes over to stop the burning, but dad realizes what is happening and tells Quinn to stop.  Dad goes and sits down by his daughter. Joanna takes his hand, holds on to it  and starts talking to him.


Good film.  The film tells of an Aborigine woman who sees the few people of her tribe killed or run off.  Of course, this makes her very sad and very lonely.  So when she finds a little white girl named Joanna Waterman playing in a stream she goes down by the stream bank on the other side from Joanna.  The little girl is curious and goes over to see the black woman.  Manganinnie turns and leaves, but Joanna keeps following her.  So Manganinnie bends down so Joanna can ride piggy back.  Over time the girl learns the Aborigine language and customs, as well as the practicalities of surviving in the Tasmanian forest.  Joanna doesn't realize it, but she has received a great gift from Manganinnie: empathy for others and great knowledge of the Aborigines.  The problem is that Manganinnie is still so upset about her people that she thinks she is dying.  The film is good in and of itself, but also good because it presents a sympathetic picture of an Aborigine woman and her tribe.  Even the Watermans learn respect for the Aborigines through the actions of Manganinnie.  Mawuyul Yanthalawuy (as Manganinnie) and Anna Ralph (as Joanna) are both very good in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Tasmania is an island and today a state of Australia, lying 150 miles south of the southeast part of Australia. 

1642 (November 24) the first reported sighting of Tasmania by a European by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, after his sponsor, the Governor of the Dutch East Indies. The name was later shortened to Van Diemen's Land by the British

1772 a French expedition led by Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne landed on the island.

1777 Captain James Cook sights the island.

1803 first white settlement in Tasmania is by the British from Sydney at Risdon Cove on the eastern bank of the Derwent estuary in 1803.

1804 an alternative settlement is established by Capt. David Collins 5 km to the south in 1804 in Sullivans Cove on the western side of the Derwent at what became known as known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, later shortened to Hobart.

The Aborigines very strongly opposed the arrival of the whites. Troops had be stationed across much of Tasmania.  The goal was to put the Aborigines on the islands around Tasmania. 

1828 - martial law declared against Aborigines in settled areas after Van Diemen's Land Company shepherds kill 30 Aborigines at Cape Grim.

1829 "Protector" George Augustus Robinson begins his Aboriginal mission at Bruny Island.

1830 George Augustus Robinson tries to bring about a reconciliation with Aborigines by visiting west coast.

1830 "Black Line" military campaign tries to round up Aborigines but in seven weeks only there are only two dead and two captured.

1832 George Augustus Robinson brings Aborigines from Oyster Bay and Big River tribes to Hobart. These were the last Aborigines removed from European-settled areas.

1832 end of martial law against Aborigines.

1835 - most of the remaining Tasmanian Aborigines surrender to George Augustus Robinson and are moved to Flinders Island.



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