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PITJIRI: The Snake That Will Not Sink

Year: 1986

Classification: G

Runtime: 48 min

Produced In: Australia

Directed By: Karen Hughes

Produced By: Karen Hughes

Language: English

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The story of a young white nurse and her relationship with an Aboriginal community.

In 1936 on a remote outpost in the Northern Territory, nine Aboriginal Elders appeared before Ruth Heathcock, who they believed was a member of their tribe before the Dreaming. Fifty years later, Sister Ruth returns and describes the psychic phenomena that she experienced and how this changed her perception of the human state.

The story of Ruth Heathcock, a young white nurse who worked with the Aborigines from 1928 onwards in health missions. A special relationship developed between her and the Aborigines she treated, who gave her the name Pitjiri ("the snake that will not sink"), and allowed her to see secret rituals performed and become party to secret Aboriginal knowledge. She was a pioneer in black-white relations and was also involved with legislation regarding the non-isolation of leprosy sufferers. At the age of 84 she was living in Adelaide and involved with the establishment of an Aboriginal Heritage Centre. Besides looking at Ruth's story, the film also follows her return to the country and tribal people of Ngukurr who influenced her life markedly.

  • WINNER! Best Australian Film, 1986 Australian Teachers of Media Awards

Produced and directed by Karen Hughes
Cinematography - Sally Bongers
Additional photography - Gerald Thompson, Christopher Faull
Sound - Bronwyn Murphy
Editor - Harriet Clutterbuck
Music - Stephen Matters
Executive Producer - Norris Blanks

With Vera Waldersdorf as the young Sister Ruth

(c) 1985, Karen Hughes