Finding families on film

Post date: 
Tuesday, 3 April 2018
Its a long way back DVD cover
It’s a Long Road Back DVD cover

This year marks 10 years since the National Apology to Australia’s Stolen Generations, 20 years since the Bringing Them Home report and over 30 years since the Stolen Generations were documented in two AIATSIS films.

It’s a Long Road Back (1981) describes the long-term and repeated instances of Aboriginal children who were taken from their families between 1883 and 1969 by the Aborigines Welfare Board in New South Wales. Partly historical and partly biographical, film maker Oomera (Coral) Edwards uses her own family and personal experience as an entry point to explore the personal costs of the Stolen Generations. As a result of the experiences documented in this film, Edwards establish Link Up - an organisation that assists members of the Stolen Generations locate and be reunited with their families.

This organisation later became the focus of a later documentary Link-Up Diary (1987), where Edwards collaborated with then Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS) film maker David MacDougall. This documentary is centred around a personal journey by MacDougall, who accompanies Edwards, her colleagues historian Peter Read and trainee Robyne Vincent to document the activities of the organisation and the broader consequences of the Stolen Generations through several cases in and around Sydney. In particular, the documentary demonstrates being reunited with family is only the first step to a much longer emotional journey members of the Stolen Generation take through this process. Like It’s a Long Road Back, Link-Up Diary highlights the personal and emotional cost of former government policies that resulted in the Stolen Generations.

Link-Up staff whilst filming Link-Up Diary in 1986 (AIAS)
Link-Up staff (L-R) Oomera (Coral) Edwards, Peter Read, Robin Vincent and
film maker David MacDougall whilst filming Link-Up Diary in 1986 (AIAS)

These documentaries are also an important record of changes in ethnographic film making in Australia and concerns regarding the lack of Aboriginal participation; concerns that resulted in a training program for Aboriginal film makers by the then AIAS.

This training commenced with a short course for two Torres Strait Islander men, Trent Bani and Dimple Bani, resulting in the production of Importance of Torres Strait Islander Singing and Dancing. Following this, a further four trainees including Edwards commenced at AIAS, who made the film It’s a Long Back as a training exercise. Subsequently, Link-Up Diary was the last film produced by film maker David MacDougall for AIAS.

More about the films


Bryson, I. 2002. Bringing to Light: A history of ethnographic filmmaking at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Last reviewed: 4 Apr 2018