Three sisters, raised in Brisbane, return to Arnhem Land to mount a fight against a major corporation threatening to destroy their land. Doesn’t exactly sound like the plot of a typical reality series, does it?
But that’s exactly what makes new three-part doco Stringray Sisters a must-watch; it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Directed by Katrina Channells, the crowd-funded series was shot over four years on a minuscule budget of $40,000 with the simple aim of offering viewers a rare insight into life in a remote Indigenous community.
This happens through the lens of three twenty-somethings, Noni, Alice and Grace Eather, sisters and proud Kunibídji women, who face off against a petroleum company that plans to explore for lucrative oil and gas deposits throughout their birthplace -Maningrida in Arnhem Land, NT.
“I’m angry, frustrated, I feel sad. I’m terrified at the same time,” says Alice, the middle of the three. “That’s a word I hear from a lot of Mob that I speak to – they’re terrified.”
Not only will this be physically destructive to the life-sustaining local fishing grounds and to culturally significant sites, it will be a massive blow to Maningrida people – particularly elders and community leader like their mother, Helen Djimbarrawala Williams.
“We focus on our youth, but we always remember our elders who are sitting back watching this community at its rapid pace change into an unknown future,” says eldest Noni. “They’ve done their fight. They rely on us younger mob to get up and stand and talk – it’s our responsibility too.”
The stingray sisters and their parents, Michael Eather and Helen Djimbarrawala Williams.
Receiving their formal education in Brisbane and travelling home for their traditional one, the trio's adolescence straddled two vastly different worlds. But the connection to their birthplace runs more thickly through their veins, inspires them, drives them.
“I’m grateful for my Aboriginality. I’ve heard many stories from many people about how lucky I am to have the best of both worlds. And I think of how hard it can be for a lot of Indigenous people who have lost their language, their dance, their identity,” says Noni.
“I came back to Maningrida mainly because I felt like I was missing out on a huge part of my life. I knew I’d be missing out on important pieces of the puzzle that make me whole.”
Director Channels, a childhood friend of Alice from Brisbane, knows the challenges these women have faced - watching their white father subjected to snide racism, witnessing young people losing hope, seeing elders taking a lifetime of knowledge to their graves - but this environmental challenge, she believes, is "one of the biggest and most unrelenting" they and their community has ever come up against.
But, she notes, there could be few better champions than the "stingray sisters".
"Even at the age of ten I knew these sisters were special. I knew they were gifted. I knew they were the strongest women I’d ever meet," she said.
"The sisters have opened their world to all of us in the hope that we, as viewers, can learn something about what it means to be a young Indigenous person in a nation where being Indigenous has never been seen for what it really is, a precious gift."
For more information, or to watch the series, head to the Stingray Sisters website.