Documentary’s a true record of desert life

Among the Gudadja tribesmen of Australia's Great Sandy Desert Malcolm Douglas is known as a "white fella bush man." It's a title he earned when he came second in a spear-throwing contest, competing against about 120 Aborigines. It also helped win the cooperation of the Gugadja people in filming his excellent documentary - Return to the Desert - which is being shown on Channel 7 at 7.30 pm on Thursday as part of The World Around Us series.

Douglas' previous top rating documentaries include Across the Top, North to Niugini and Follow the Sun. This latest one includes the first footage shot of the rare marsupial mole in its natural habitat, the desert sand dunes. "Much of the tribe's mythology relates to the mole but it's so rare that about 70 per cent of the young people have never seen one," said Douglas last week.

Unfortunately, the story of the thumblong mole, which has neither eyes nor ears, has an unhappy ending. After filming it, Douglas wanted to release the tiny animal. The tribesmen however wanted to take it to Alice Springs to an illegal collector who had promised them $1,000 if ever they found one. While the matter was still being resolved, the mole died, Douglas believes of shock.

The documentary records for the first time on film the lifestyle of the Gugadja people. A copy has already been given to the new film library in the National Archives. During the last 10 years the desert tribes men have drifted in to the join large permanent communities on the desert's edge. But while few, if any, now live in the desert, they regularly revisit their traditional hunting grounds. It was on one of these trips that Douglas accompanied them, filming the aborigines making boomerangs and spears, tracking lizards and digging for frogs and witchetty bugs.

April 27 1980