Martin Butler and Bentley Dean

Walkley Documentary Award

Contact Film/ABC TV

First Footprints

First Footprints is a televisual archaeological “dig” which comprehensively explores the history of Aboriginal tribal structures and land management techniques which prevailed for 50,000 years on the land mass which became known as the island continent of Australia. The film took three years to make, as Martin Butler and Bentley Dean researched exhaustively and built trust ith communities all around the country. Working as a two-person crew, they drew out relaxed and articulate stories from the Aboriginal elders and archaeologists whose voices guide the film.

Butler migrated to Australia in 1981. He spent the next 25 years as a long-form current affairs producer at Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent and Dateline. He’s produced two Walkley winners, and won the New York Film and Television best documentary award.

Dean studied at the Victorian College of the Arts and in 1997 was in the ABC’s first series of Race Around the World. His 2003 film, The President Versus David Hicks, won an AFI Award for best documentary and the Logie.

Butler and Dean previously collaborated on the 2010 Walkley-winning Contact, winning two AFI awards and the 2010 Walkley for coverage of Indigenous affairs. Both Contact and First Footprints have won the NSW Premier’s History Award.


The film-makers visualise an enormous span of history by taking us to sites of ancient significance from 50,000, 30,000, 15,000 and 9000 years ago. Those places are then used to explain how the continent and its inhabitants evolved as 200 “nations” and cultures to become the biggest sustainable estate on earth until the arrival of outsiders. The judges were impressed with  the documentary’s high production values, factual integrity and educative impact using academic experts, scientists and tribal elders to engage viewers with an awe-inspiring heritage: “Was, is and always will be… Aboriginal land”.

Judges Comments