An interview with journalist Jim Gilchrist

grass-plains-australia

An interview about my work with Journalist Jim Gilchrist is now available on the Struileag website which can be linked to at Jim Gilchrist’s review. This interview also contains a couple of the Grounded audiovisuals and some photographs. Thank you Struileag and Jim.

Struileag are also doing some wonderful work meeting with the Gaelic diaspora which you can see more about on their website, or even add your own story to. And they have some great performances lined up at Festival 2014

If you are new to the blog, Grounded residency diary entries/photographs for Scotland begin here and for Australia here. Workshops, talks and exhibition details are here

Advertisements

17 July, Setting up the Grounded exhibition

Arriving at the Gaelic Cultural Space with the photos..

Arriving at the Gaelic Cultural Space with the photos

The sand arrives. Having fun with Rona, Gaelic Arts Producer and Kate, Curator (and the sand delivery man who says he's never had such a welcome!)

The sand arrives. From the team – Rona, Gaelic Arts Producer and Kate, Curator (and the sand delivery man who says he’s never had such a welcome!) And that’s Kevin behind measuring up to hang the photographs.

Kate adding the Arrarnda, Gaelic and English word stencils to the windows

Kate adding the Arrarnda, Gaelic and English word stencils to the windows

If you are new to the blog, Grounded residency diary entries/photographs for Scotland begin here and for Australia here. Workshops, talks and exhibition details are here

Heading to Glasgow; exhibition, workshops and artist talks details

seaweed-harvest

Lewis on Isle of Lewis; seaweed harvest

australia

Jim at sacred fish hole of Thutirla Pula story

Tomorrow we are heading to Glasgow to start setting up the exhibition, (and then to enjoy the festival), and so I will be absent from posting for a couple of weeks.

But before we go, I’d like to let you know that I am also running some workshops at the Airc Gaelic Cultural Space and giving two talks at Strathclyde University.

At the Airc Gaelic Cultural Space, 121/127 Saltmarket, (Sat 2 and Sunday 3 August at 9.30am) I am facilitating a photography workshop, and will be “In Conversation” with poet Babs MacGregor. The promo blurbs are here:

In Conversation: Connecting through Culture
Babs MacGregor, Gaelic Poet and Judith Parrott, artist for the Grounded exhibition, discuss what the impact of a strong cultural identity might be on personal and environmental well-being. In the discussion reference is made to Scottish Gaelic and Australian Aboriginal cultures; loss of land and suppression of language, and the deep connections to land that has kept these cultures alive. Chaired by Gaelic Arts Producer Rona MacDonald.

Photography workshop

Judy Parrott, artist from the Grounded Exhibition, invites you to bring your cameras along to the exhibition to discuss photographic composition and design in the context of the show. Then head out into the festival together to take a few exciting festival shots using some of your new-found skills. Suitable for age 15 years and over.

At Strathclyde University as part of their Summer Programme ( Phone 0141 548 2116/4287 or booking information is on page 55, here) on Monday 28 July

The promo blurbs:

Grounded (1.30-2.30pm)

In association with the exhibition Grounded, showing at Merchant City Festival during the Commonwealth Games 2014, this presentation includes images from Australian Aboriginal communities in the Central Desert regions, and from Gaelic speaking communities in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Two places with nothing and everything in common. The presentation invites discussion on ways in which people connect through the land and find spirituality through land. It also addresses the consequences for environmental and personal well-being when people become disconnected from the land.

Antarctica (12-1pm)

This class follows the life of the scientific and trades-people community during four months with the Australian Antarctic Division at Casey, Mawson and Davis Stations, on the ship south, and out on the field. Seen through the eyes of Artist in Residence, Judith Parrott, the presentation includes images and sounds of Antarctica and tells a story of life in one of the world’s remotest locations. How do people manage in an isolated environment with the same small group of people for months or even years at a time, with none of the conveniences of city life? Come along to find out and join in a discussion with the artist about the importance of community and of connection to our environment. (Some information on the Antarctica residencies can be found on my website here)

Grounded Exhibition

And finally, Grounded is on at 121/127 Saltmarket, at the Airc Gaelic Cultural Space, 11am to 6pm, 23 July to 3 August. Details can be found in the Merchant City Festival programme.

The Gaelic Cultural Space will also feature an acoustic programme of Gaelic inspired performances most days at 3pm, morning workshops at 9.30-10.30am and Galgael whose cafe was such a tasty success at last year’s Merchant City Festival.

There is a HD version of the short promotional video for Grounded here and a lower res version here.

Culture and Festival 2014 guides can be found here

Returning to the beginning

desert-sand-drift

Sand drift

simpson-desert-sand

Country

I have reached the point in the Grounded blog where I said in my first Australia post “I begin this story at the end”. That is, it was the evening of the 21st September, ie the evening of yesterday’s posting, and the evening when I was arrested for doing no more than inquiring after the welfare of a friend; my first blog posting in this leg of the residencies. If you are new to this blog and haven’t read that post and the ensuing day in court, you can link to the story here or to the ensuing day in court here, and to the response by Professor of Criminology, Philip Smith, here. These stories are a window into a strange and disturbing world that is a routine problem for Indigenous people.

But now my post that follows the night in prison and the day in court:

24 September 2014

It’s Tuesday and I have been struggling to stay motivated for the last few days. I am gathering my strength to remain positive and arrange some meetings for tomorrow, so for some light relief I book myself onto the backpacker shuttle bus for a trip to the Alice Springs Desert Park. Its 38 degrees and I will have five hours of walking around in no shade through the middle of the day – but I’m going.

I immediately feel depressed by the light and happy nature of the backpacker shuttle. Their world seems a million miles from mine, like they are floating somewhere between here and the sky.

The Desert Park is well laid out, informative and easy to navigate around. I record the birds and read all the signs.

There is a talk about survival in the desert, which I decide to attend. I sink a little when I see it is taken by a non-Aboriginal person. Admittedly this is not usually the case.

The talk is clear and informative and interesting. She knows a lot. But I am left with an impression that all the Aboriginal people of Australia are happily living connected lives; seamlessly negotiating both the Aboriginal and non Aboriginal worlds in which they find themselves; the consequences of their displacement brushed to obscurity. She tells me that Aboriginal culture is evolving when I ask.

The speaker explains how the land is sacred, that the sanctity runs below the ground too. It is all through the ground. When the park was created, she tells us, the Elders were there to sing to the land and heal it as the bulldozers came through to lay the sewerage pipes and the amenities. My heart sinks some more.

It feels like the King’s New Clothes. This woman talks with a smile; with knowledge and authority. Perhaps it is me who has it wrong; a visitor who knows very little, who’s barely scraped the surface of the complexities of life here.

But this place is the physical heart of Australia; the spiritual cog around which the wheel is turning. From here energy must travel the spokes of the wheel and reach that distant coast, with its back turned and eyes gazing out to sea.

I watch the tourists leave; smiling, interested and satisfied.

(A Guardian article titled, “Indigenous incarceration rates are a national shame” can be read here, and I have many other links on the Australia Digital Resources Page of this blog which can be linked to here. I have also just added to that page an interesting article on Aboriginal languages that can also be linked to here. And a link to the Alice Springs Desert Park site.

Don’t forget too, where we started in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland – the first posting of which can be found here with digital resources here.)

 

Day 43, Exploring the desert

tracks-goanna-desert-australia

Goanna tracks in the desert

dunnart-tracks-desert

Dunnart tracks in the desert

21 September 2013

It is Saturday and I have agreed with some others to set out in the big truck to do some exploring. My residency time is fast drawing to a close. We clamber in, pulling ourselves up into the high vehicle, and rumble onto the dusty roads, stretching into the open space out of town.

Napatika (Ewaninga) is a place of rock carvings, set back from the road to Maryvale, about 30km from Alice Springs. It is a very important men’s place. The large red rocks are covered in abstract designs; concentric circles, wavy lines and animal tracks, their abstract nature designed to conceal their meaning from uninitiated members of the group.

Each symbol is linked to the locality, representing waterholes, campsites or meetings. These carvings are symbols of the Altyerre (laws of the Arrernte Culture and Creation Time) and the Senior Arrernte Custodians say the meanings are too sacred and dangerous to reveal to those not initiated in Aboriginal Law.

One of the Altyerre events recorded is the Rain Dreaming. This is one of a number of sites on the path of Rain Dreaming that starts near Hermannsburg over 100 km away and travels onwards east and north to Queensland. The songs, art and ceremonies link the people with their neighbours. The stories are passed on to the young Arrernte men at their initiation ceremonies.

We sit at these rocks, at the edge of a large circular clay pan which, when it does rain, must spill with water and metamorphose the landscape with plant growth, birds and animals.

We loiter and laze and chat, listen to the birds and bend close to the wild flowers before getting back in the big truck and exploring further along the road.

Day 42, Lionel Possum and preserving language and culture

Pitjantjatjara-bible-alice-springs

Kanytjupai and the Pitjantjatjara bible translation

20 September

I am introduced to Lionel Possum today. Lionel is the son of Clifford Possum who is considered one of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal artists. Lionel has inherited the right to his father’s stories and his dot work has the same precision and uniformity as that of his father.

Lionel is working on a painting, Worm Dreaming. He tells me if I go out at night I can hear the whistle of the worms, digging under the earth. We sit on the concrete in the shade of some corrugated tin with his painting spread out on the ground, its precisely placed, deep ochre red and yellow dots, set beside rich dark black. He is a strong man, like his Daddy, he tells me, painting the Dreaming.

My other meeting today is with Kanytjupai. Kanytjupai is Pitjantjatjara from Pukatja (Ernabella) but lives now at a hostel in Alice Springs for her care. She is working as part of a team translating the bible into Pitjantjatjara, and has been working on this for many years. She says it will be for many years more too.

Kanytjupai shows me a copy of this amazing work, and the beautiful paintings it contains. Zebras and Kangaroos drink side by side at a waterhole with emus grazing nearby. Rabbits and koalas and snakes move through the trees and the grass, and on the horizon, the silhouette of a young Aboriginal boy feeds what appears to be a gazelle. The whole image has a beautiful golden water-colour wash.

It is important to translate the bible into language, as this has been one way that language has survived. Ironically the missionaries who introduced the bibles were also responsible for much of the banning of cultural practices. It is with great resilience that the Aboriginal people have used this medium as a means of preserving what they can of culture and language.

(The Digital Resources Australia Page of the blog has 2 new links – one on Lionel Possum and an ABC article about Australian Aboriginal youngsters retracing the steps of their ancestors)

Day 41, Anthwerrke (Emily Gap), Eastern MacDonnells

emily-gap-macdonnell-ranges-alice-springs

Anthwerrke, Eastern MacDonnells

18 September 2013

I have a very special morning today, meeting with Mark Inkamala and Baydon, two senior lawmen of Western Arrarnta country.

There is much they are unable to tell me of storylines related to their clan, as it is sacred information held only within the clan, but I am very grateful for what they do share.

In the same way, the basement of the Strehlow Museum where Mark now works relates to secret men’s business and ceremony. I am told that up until recently Aboriginal women would not enter even the upstairs of the museum. Much of the collection can only be accessed by the Traditional Aboriginal Custodians.

Some communities in the Northern Territory cannot be visited without a permit. And moving around the community must be done with the guidance of a cultural advisor to prevent accidental entry to sacred or men only sites.

Today Mark and Baydon accompany me out to Anthwerrke (Emily Gap) in the Eastern MacDonnells, Eastern Arrernte country. This site can be visited by the public, though at one time that would not have been possible.

Anthwerrke is the sacred site of Caterpillar Dreaming. Red ochre lined paintings, drawn onto the rocks, mark the significance and the story of this place. It is where the three caterpillar beings of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) originated, the ancestral beings for the Alice Springs area, from whom Aboriginal people conceived in Alice Springs consider themselves descended. The geographical features of the surrounding landscape were formed by the caterpillars as they travelled out from here to the edge of the Simpson Desert.

The sandy riverbed of the red-rock gorge bakes in the sun, cliff edges sharply delineated against a vivid blue sky. White-barked gums grow in the dry, where water must rush in a flood. It is a place of vivid red and white and blue with smatterings of olive green.

Standing on the naked riverbed, in the silence of the gorge, it feels like I can sink a little further into the ground. As the warmth of the sand moves upwards through the soles of my feet my body relaxes.

No-one speaks. The air is thick with silence, like some communal sigh from the watchful painting on the rock walls. The chaos of Alice Springs is miles away. That feeling I always have in Alice of being displaced from where I thought I was, and having no sense of where I am going, has simply vanished. Here we can feel grounded. Here it is as though the rocks are waiting patiently for some line of connection to past and future to re-gather its strength and for the chaos to settle to peace.

(A link to an article about The Dreaming is now up on the Australia Digital Resources page of the blog)