Words by Sasha Sarago Photography courtesy of Yarn
Stingray Sisters is the awe-inspiring documentary featuring the Eather sisters (Djapa): Noni, Alice and Grace. This candidly funny and emotional family drama invites you to witness life in Arnhem Land through the eyes of three young Kunibídji women.
Born in Maningrida, Northern Territory to Aboriginal Kikka (mother) Helen Djimbarrawala Williams, Traditional Owner and political leader and balanda (white) Babba (father), Tasmanian-born artist and gallerist Michael Eather. Helen and Michael’s love at first sight union paints the picture of the djapa’s early beginnings – and how these precious moments influence the way they navigate the beauty and challenges of living in two worlds.
Kikka Helen makes a selfless and painful decision to send her daughters to Brisbane to obtain an education under their Babba’s guidance. Slowly coming to terms with the guilt of leaving family and Country behind, and despite their new urban lifestyle, Noni, Alice and Grace make a pact to stay fluent in their Ndjébbana language, keeping culture, Country and ceremony alive by visiting their traditional lands over the years to ensure their cultural identity remains strong.
“It just goes so deep, it’s almost unexplainable, it’s this miraculous thing in the air. That’s how we feel about tradition and language and culture. I realise that when I go into the city and people are like ‘you can still speak your language?’ and I say ‘Yeah I do’: this is actually huge. It’s a gift that you cannot let go of. It’s who we are. It’s identity, it’s truth, it’s real, it’s everything.” Grace Eather.
Eventually returning home to Maningrida, emotions run high when Alice discovers a petroleum company’s mining application to explore for oil and gas across Arnhem Land in the back of their local newspaper. Hit by the devastating news, Alice immediately finds solace in childhood friend, Stingray Sisters Director, Katrina Channells. Equally overwhelmed by Alice’s angst, Katrina and fellow producer Bridget O’Shea start to film the djapa’s remarkable fight to protect their sacred lands.
With 85% of the Northern Territory under application or approved for fracking the air of destruction that looms over Arnhem Land is a frightening reality for local Traditional Owners. “You chuck a stone in the water, there’s going to be a ripple. You put a drill in the sea bed, there’s going to be a ripple effect.” Alice Eather.
Cognisant of the sleeping beast, Alice is vigilant and reiterates a firm message when questioned about her stance on sea bed mining: ‘no’, ‘yaka’, ‘goma’, ‘no’. She encourages her mob not to succumb to the corporate powers that be: “Our voices are slowly getting buried down into the ground with the old mob passing away. Their voices will continue through song, but the voices to fight for country, we need to carry on.” Alice Eather.
Four years in the making, and backed by legions of supporters through grants and crowdfunding campaigns. Creative duo Katrina Channells and Bridget O’Shea, from Melbourne-based documentary production company Yarn, successfully produced the three-part series. A passion project from the heart, Katrina and Bridget worked tirelessly to bring audiences the grit and spirit of three Aboriginal women rarely seen by mainstream Australia.
“Noni, Alice and Grace Eather have shared their story and opened their world to all of us. They’ve done this in the hope that we – as viewers and as a society – can learn something about what it means to be a young Indigenous person. For far too long in Australia, being Indigenous hasn’t been seen for what it truly is: a gift.” Katrina Channells, Director.
Through tears, laughter and joy, Stingray Sisters is a heart-warming depiction of three fierce, witty and vivacious saltwater women – and what it means to be Aboriginal – fighting for Country.
“There’s always beauty in a lot of madness.” Alice Eather.
To view Stingray Sisters online visit www.stingraysisters.com. You can also meet Alice, Noni and Grace Eather and Helen Djimbarrawala Williams in person at the premiere festival screening of Stingray Sisters at Darwin International Film Festival on Friday, 16 September.
Sasha Sarago is the editor of Ascension Magazine. She is a proud Aboriginal woman of the Wadjanbarra Yidinji and Jirrbal clans ‘Rainforest People’ of Cairns, Far North Queensland. She is also of African-American, Malay, Mauritian and Spanish descent. Sasha’s dream is to savour the breathtaking views of Positano; Moscato in hand as the founder of a globally inspiring lifestyle and media company.