Renewing Women's Business

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Film Study Guide for Renewing Women's Business

Renewing Women's Business gives us one community's views and understanding of the established customary laws of women and how these customs are passed on as part of young girls initiation into adult knowledge. We are taken on this journey with Lily Gin.gina the last initiated female of the Wardaman people of the Victoria River District of Northern Territory, Australia.


Renewing Women's Business can be used as a resource in Aboriginal Studies, and for exploring Culture and Identity at senior secondary levels.

Most students have only a generalized knowledge of Australian Aboriginal people.

The video provides a chance for students to see how women's traditions live on in a particular person and to discuss the issue of whether these traditions should remain as a part of culture for Aboriginal women today.


Here is a song that you have probably heard:

Rock a bye baby
One the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
Down will come baby
Cradle and all

Is this something more than a silly meaningless children's nursery rhyme? Is it perhaps a way of knowing about an event that actually happened in another part of the world hundreds of years ago?

Even if this song had never been written down it would probably still exist in Australian society today, passed on orally from generation to generation. Are there other stories or songs about beliefs or family history that have been passed on to you? List these. You can also talk to your parents or grandparents and ask them about family traditions that they inherited from their parents.

Are there any places that are important to you or have special associations or meanings to you?

Are there any beliefs that are important to you and that you want to pass on to others? Or are there traditions in your family, things that you always do at certain times of the year?

Many young people today will not have any such stories or traditions. But many Aboriginal people continue to pass on the knowledge of cultural practices and traditions that have been in existence for possibly thousands of years. These may have changed over time, because culture is dynamic, but to many older people they are still an important element in their lives. The question has to be asked are they still important in a modern society?

Watching Renewing Women's Business will help you work out your own ideas on these issues.


The best way of exploring the film is to focus on issues raised in the main sections of the film.

  1. We are introduced to Lily and her daughter and granddaughter and see the nature of the place of her clan country.

  • Why is Lily such a significant figure?
  • Describe the nature of Wardaman country where she comes from
  • Why is this country so important to her?
  • Why is she keen to have the young girls visit these places associated with her?
  1. We see the rock art of the area, and Lily explains its meanings connected with stories and laws relating to women. The rock art was created to help pass on ideas that explain and make sense of the world its creators lived in.

  • Identify stories that help explain natural features, stories that help explain laws and stories that explain human behavior.
  • Name some of Lily's Dreaming totems
  • How does Lily's sense of place help reinforce the meanings?
  • Why do Lily and Queenie call out?
  1. We visit a waterhole and again learn about law and beliefs about 'love magic'

  • Which ancestor started the 'love magic'? Where do they find the 'love magic' and what is it made of? Why is this 'jirri' powerful? What happens when you put this 'jirri' on your body?
  1. We visit the Dreaming place of Lily's skin name, Nimira to understand kinship relations and marriage

  • What does a skin name tell a person? What are the rules for skin names? Why would the skin name system have developed? How do the girls respond to this belief system? What happened in the olden days if they broke this law?
  1. We visit the place where Lily grew up

  • What is this place called?
  • Is this a Wardaman nameand part of Lily's country?
  • What does Lily discuss with her grandchildren here?
  • There is a story about two birds what did they do and why?
  1. We see preparations for the women's ceremonial dance of the Mordu

  • Name some of the ways in which they prepare for the ceremony
  • Where does the white paint come from?
  • Name the dances that we see?
  • Why would such dances have been created?
  • Why do they continue to teach these dances?
  1. The girls discuss their views of these traditions and bush education

  • What attitudes do the girls have towards their culture?
  • How do the girls record the stories experience of their journey?
  • Do you think the experience of the journey has made an impact on them? Explain your reasons.


  • Lily is the key figure in the film. What qualities does she have? How does she relate to Julie?
  • The word 'culture ' is used several times in the film. What is 'culture'?
  • How has Lily's culture shaped her sense of identity?
  • What else has the ancient Aboriginal culture provided us with?
  • The girls on the journey are all related to Lily but they have grown up in a different world to Lily. What might be some of the main differences in their lives? How do we see that their identities are shaped differently to Lily's?

  • The girls in the film are living in two worlds. What are the main things that you think they can gain by knowledge of their traditional culture?

  • Culture involves both change and continuity. Culture grows out of and is a response to time, place and circumstances. Will the culture that Lily explains and passes on be continued by the young girls when they become grandmothers? Why or why not?

  • Lily's culture reflects certain beliefs that many people today would find unacceptable reflect on those seen or mentioned by Lily. Can you still respect a culture that has beliefs that you do not personally accept? Discuss this idea.

  • Lily's culture also involves values and customs that were appropriate for the society that created them. Name some of these and discuss why they are not relevance today. For example, skin relationships may have been essential for small societies to avoid harmful relationships but would this system have the same relevance today. Do you think these rules and laws can be adapted to suit today's society? What dangers might come about from such a change. Explain your views.

  • The girls say that they have appreciated and valued this journey with Lily. What has this journey meant for you? What understandings have you gained from it?


© 2005 - 2017 Wardaman Aboriginal Corporation & Julie Drew BA (Hons), MPhil 2001 USyd
Produced by
Burbank production Services Pty Ltd
PO Box 323 
Willoughby NSW 2068