Documentary Australia Foundation

Next submission deadline is
16 May 2014


Director /
Francis Jupurrurla Kelly and David Batty, Jeni McMahon
2009 June
AUD $80000
AUD $80000
55 minutes

About the film

CONISTON tells of the forgotten tragedy of Australia's Central Desert people.
The last known massacre of Indigenous Australians occurred in Central Australia in 1928. Eighty years later, the last of the survivors tell their side of the story.

In 1928, following the murder of a white dingo trapper, Central Australia would witness the last known massacre of it's indigenous people. With over one hundred killed during a series of punitive expeditions those who lived fled far and wide from the massacre sites. Denied a voice at the official inquiry and dislocated from their lands the survivors passed down the story of this bloody episode to their children and grandchildren. Eighty years later only a handful of the direct survivors remain.

By 1928, Central Australia was in the firm grip of drought. Just at the time as pastoralists were carving out vast tracts of land to run cattle, the original owners of the land were gravitating to ancient water sources, mainly in the form of soaks. Conflicts between Aboriginal people and white settlers were on the rise. The new "owners" of the land were becoming increasingly agitated by the "cheeky" Aborigines. Conversely the Aboriginal people were getting angrier by the day as they watched fences being erected and their waterholes fouled by cattle.

Alongside the invasion of their country and the devastation of the water holes, the white men often took liberties with Aboriginal women. Their law, customs and traditions were at odds with the invaders.

On Coniston Station, just north of what is today Yuendumu, dingo trapper Fred Brooks made camp at a soak he shared with around 20 Warlpiri people. After taking liberties with one of the women he was murdered by her husband, a young Warlpiri man, the now infamous Bullfrog.

The events that followed would go down as one of Australia's darkest periods. A series of reprisal killings was led by Mounted Constable William Murray and resulted in the wholesale slaughter of as many as 100 Aboriginal people

Miraculously, a handful of people have been located who survived the killing times and were present when many of their family members were murdered. Children at the time, they are all now in their 80's, frail but resolute in their desire to have the story told.

Funding amount Sought

AUD $80000

Total Project Budget

AUD $80000

Length of Production

55 minutes

Stage of Production


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

"Coniston" will explore the Coniston events through the Warlpiri, Anmatjere and Kaytetya aboriginal languages of Central Australia. Through these languages, the people affected by the Coniston massacre will explore how their communities are still feeling the pain of this event decades after it occurred. The Coniston story should be known to all Australians as a dark part of our history, yet to date there have been no films that have explored it from the perspective of these aboriginal groups. This project will meet the aims of any philanthropic foundation as it is giving voice to these family and community groups through their native languages. It will explore not only the events that led to the massacre as well as the actual event but also the long lasting aftermath and the effect it has had on the culture of these people.

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

The Indigenous communities involved in the telling of this story want it to be told on a large scale. The objective in making this film is to ensure the Coniston story is a well-known part of Australia's history to a broader audience. We would like to see the film distributed via educational platforms as well as broadcast on Australian television, sold on DVD and shown at relevant film festivals. This documentary will shed light on what is Australia's last known massacre, while further exploring the complex history of the treatment of aboriginal people. We expect to measure the impact of this project by the amount of schools that incorporate the film in to the curriculum, viewer numbers on the television broadcast, sales from the DVD distribution and by the scale of publicity the film receives.

What is your education and outreach strategy

We have allocated a large amount of our budget to the educational distribution of this project. Our aim is to distribute the DVD along with an educational interactive element that will allow the information to be taught within the school system. We are also in the process of negotiating an interactive project with the National Museum of Australia to have an interactive display along with viewings of the documentary. PAW Media has a 25 year history of making media in language. It has access to production resources, editing equipment, and local community workers. We aim to use this as part of our outreach strategy.

Who are the filmmakers responsible for the project?

Production body - PAW Media, Yuendumu (NT)
Potential Co - Production (still in talks) - Rebel Films
Director - Francis Kelly (Director of "Bush Mechanics" series/ Director of "Aboriginal Rules" documentary)
Director - David Batty (Director of 'Rebel Films' production house)
Executive Producer - Susan Locke (General Manager of PAW Media)
Producer - Gabrielle Brady (Video Producer of PAW Media)