Insights on Grounded

Excuse my indulgence in posting at the end of this entry a small selection of the comment cards from the Grounded exhibition’s first showing in Glasgow. The many comments received about the importance of preserving culture and sense of place support the aims of the exhibition and I felt that a selection of these insights were therefor worth sharing.

Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be linked to here or here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here. The introductory panel for the exhibition can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

The exhibition is showing next at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, from 13 September to 11 October.

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Documenting Grounded at Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games, Glasgow

These are some official photos taken by Geewhiz digital photography of the Grounded opening on 22nd July 2014 (photos provided by Glasgow Life/Glasgow Arts). I have also included some snapshots from various other sources of the 2 weeks during the Games, at Festival 2014 and the Grounded exhibition.

2,500 people came through Grounded. We had a half-hour slot on Radio Scotland, which you can listen to at Voices of the Commonwealth (this only stays online until 29 August) Our slot is from 2hr 38mins to 3hr 6mins.

The exhibition is showing next at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, from 12 September to 18 October.

If you are new to the blog, Grounded residency diary entries/photographs for Scotland begin here and for Australia here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. An interview about my work with Journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be linked to here.

The first visitors arrive

The first visitors arrive

The smooring of the peat - a Gaelic Blessing

The smooring of the peat – a Gaelic Blessing

Wall selection

Wall selection

Sky recites her poetry at the opening event

Sky recites her poetry at the opening event

Text in Arrarnta and Gaelic on our windows

Text in Arrarnta and Gaelic on our windows

The opening speeches by Lorenzo, Director Merchant City festival; Kate, Curator; Rona, Gaelic Arts Producer; and myself

The opening speeches by Lorenzo, Director Merchant City festival; Kate, Curator; Rona, Gaelic Arts Producer; and myself

Ariel of the Singing Gaelic Ferries introduces the team

Ariel of the Singing Gaelic Ferries introduces the team

The speeches

The speeches

Some of the crowd at the opening event

Some of the crowd at the opening event

At the opening event

At the opening event

The Gaelic Ferries welcome people

The Gaelic Ferries welcome people

The Galgael cafe attached to the exhibition

The Galgael cafe attached to the exhibition

Dancing with Rona at the Galgael Cafe and exhibition space

Dancing with Rona at the Galgael Cafe and exhibition space; Gaelic and Arrarnta type on the wall

Gaelic performances at the exhibition

Gaelic performances at the exhibition

"In Conversation, Connecting through Culture", one of our afternoon events.

“In Conversation, Connecting through Culture”, one of our afternoon events.

More packed events around the peat fire

More packed events around the peat fire

Showing the Scottish Minister for Culture, Mr Michael Russell, around Grounded.

Showing the Scottish Minister for Culture, Mr Michael Russell, around Grounded.

Telling the Culture Minister about going to jail in Alice Springs (as per blog entry)

Telling the Culture Minister about going to jail in Alice Springs (as per blog entry of 6 June 2014)

The Culture Minister as photographer!

The Culture Minister as photographer!

Watching the Gaelic AV

Watching the Gaelic AV

Round table discussion at the Spiegeltent venue with other visiting artists

Round table discussion at the Spiegeltent venue with other visiting artists

Winning a medal for Australia

Winning a medal for Australia

Strip the Willow on Glasgow Green

Strip the Willow on Glasgow Green

Festival 2014

Festival 2014

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

Day 38, Ntaria and a footprint in the rock

Ntaria-hermannsburg-alice-springs

Mark with the Creation Story footprint or Jesus’ footprint

15 September 2013

Things unfold slowly in Alice Springs. There’s a kind of chaos that seems to seep into every crevice it can find, turning things around at the last minute to leave me floundering and confused. Change tumbles and roles and clatters like marbles, scattering the plans of the day. I feel ungrounded, tied down to nothing. It is a difficult environment in which to work when time is short, though perhaps it is possible to find a rhythm if you live here, ducking and weaving with the flow.

But today has a picture to it. We are taking Christopher’s huge Toyota 4WD on a journey, over the bridge and along the dry Todd River that runs through Alice. Six of us squeeze into the old truck but it’s a comfortable, companionable ride heading out of town along the MacDonnell Range; 130km to Ntaria, the Lutheran mission of Hermannsburg.

The Hermannsburg mission was founded by Lutheran missionaries from Germany in 1877. It continued until 1982 when the land was returned to the Aboriginal people.

Although the missionaries to Australia are accused of banning traditional practices and mixing different language groups together, causing loss of identity and belonging, there is also the viewpoint that the Australian Aboriginal people were already dispossessed, raped and murdered by white settlers and governments who made it impossible for them to continue in their culture, and that without the missionaries the lives of the Aboriginal people could have been even worse. Indeed, in Central Australia, the Arrarnta were denied access to their waterholes and were being shot and poisoned by the pastoralists, when the Lutheran Mission persuaded them to give up their nomadic lifestyle and live in the mission. This had the dual effect of helping Arrarnta survive but at the same time lose much of the essence of their culture and traditional material.

Now there are many outstations around Ntaria, small communities serviced by Ntaria, where a few families live in close connection with the natural environment. Outstations are set up to bring Aboriginal people closer to their traditional lifestyles.

We are going to Ntaria today for a choir day, organised by choirmaster David, and two other choirs. Pitjantjatjara people’s Utju choir, and Asante Sana from Alice Springs are joining the local Western Arrarnta, Ntaria (Hermannsburg) Ladies Choir to sing first in the Lutheran church, then in the shade of the community’s open basketball court, and finally down by the red rock of the gorge.

German buildings of thick, whitewashed stone make up the old part of Ntaria. Inside the stone the space is bare and cool, protected from the burning blue sun with logs laid across the ceiling and thatch above. These buildings are neatly placed at spaced intervals across the red dust of the courtyards, and punctuated with gleaming white bark of the eucalypt trees that offer an occasional, scanty olive-shade. The community where people live lies beyond the fence, a low spread of tin-roof, concrete brick bungalows common to the communities.

We enter the church, a hubbub of chatter and children and lone dogs that wander in the door for a look and to sniff the cooler air. There is a warm three-dimensionality to the sounds of the church. When the singing starts it is a treat to hear the music of Arrarnta language stitching together the old Lutheran songs.

The second part of the day is planned for the shelter of the basketball court, a wide, open concrete floor with a flat tin roof for shade. The microphones are set up at one end, the backdrop of open country behind, and we all sit in groups around the floor. But hot winds are sandblasting the community today and we are assaulted by scouring dust, thrust and swirled in our eyes and faces, ripping across the concrete floor, on which we are all seated, in red waves of sand and grit.

The subdued shade of the tin shelter, the blazing blue of the heat outside, bouncing off the ground, the ripping wind and dust, all make for a challenging photographic and sound recording experience, but the singing goes bravely on, and the smiles are broad and lift our spirits beyond the superficial challenges of the day. It is decided, however, that singing at the gorge will not be practicable.

Mark Inkamala is senior lawman of Western Arrarnta country. He came with us from Alice Springs for the day to be with his family here and join the festivities. Mark has told me about Jesus’ footprint in the rocks near Ntaria and wants to show me the spot, so before we head back to Alice at the end of the day, we take a drive to the red rocks on the sandy riverbed. The footprint is also part of a traditional Creation story, the first man to set foot on earth. Today Mark refers to it as Jesus’ footprint.

It is dark by the time we are all piling back into the car for the journey home and we chat and laugh as we drive, one eye always on the lookout for wild horses or camels or cattle or kangaroos; the others on the road.

Back at my studio space I can never decide what must come first – food or drink to stave the dryness of my mouth after a long hot day, or a shower to scrape off the layers of dust caked into sun cream, or a phone call home.

(Some new links are up at the Australia Digital resources page of the blog, relating to Aboriginal land rights, Australian Bureaus of Statistics on Language, an ABC story on Ntaria Aboriginal Ladies Choir, a historical article on the Hermannsburg mission, and some cultural stories from the West MacDonnell ranges)

Day 33, Looking for answers to my question

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Don and Koopah

29 August 2013

I move into my luxury new accommodation today. There is another bungalow in Don and Lyn’s yard, with a kitchenette and a bathroom, and it is being vacated by the workmen who were staying there. I can take up residence. I am pleased that I can still see my “Parrott Hilton” sign from the little front deck. This is simply “The Hilton”.

Don works as the National Parks Ranger for Munga-Thirri National Park in the Simpson Desert and works tirelessly to protect the land and culture well beyond the official boundary. He says, “This job is vital to me. I don’t know where I would be without it. Working ‘On Country’ is very important to Aboriginal people”.

I spend some time with Lyn and Don on their veranda each day, chatting about life over a cup of tea. It is a difficult road for them as they fight to protect the Aboriginal land, trying to reach agreements with the Pastoralists, and often not being able to reach agreement even with their own people. The consequences of displacement spill over into families.

Don tells me he believes the Aboriginal people are often still caught in the web of the settlers’ will. “The white people call on the Aboriginal people to support them when they have done something culturally wrong, and the Aboriginal people often come out in support of the white man. Perhaps they still feel obliged”.

A compounding complication is that the pastoralists come to town with a truck of meat to hand out free to the Aboriginal population. This has always been the way, says Don, but now they are more selective to whom they donate. Whatever the original motivation for the donation might have been, one outcome seems to be a fear of losing this benefit by speaking up against some pastoralist activities.

Don has a difficult path to negotiate in his continued struggle to protect the land from over grazing, road graders going through sacred land, and visitors in 4WDs heading cross-country, inadvertently – or through lack of awareness – damaging sacred sites.

We leave our veranda to visit one of these burial sites with a representative of council, to see how the vehicle tracks now leading there can be disguised to prevent more traffic coming this way.

There are dust storms in the late afternoon so we do not head out again with Jim as planned. We shut tight our doors and windows as the sand scours each surface it sweeps against, tossed and thrown in the baking wind, searching a way in. It always succeeds.

But for Aboriginal people living a traditional life, says Don, a sand storm on the dunes was a beautiful thing. “Wind exposes any small dead wildlife. The goanna then comes to feed, and we could feed on Goanna. And the dust is taking seeds and nutrients right up as far north as the storm will go. When the drought breaks and it rains, the rivers will bring the sand back south again.”

As I bunker down for the evening I reflect on all the issues resulting from displacement; effects on the land and environment, on culture, on people’s belonging and sense of wellbeing. My brain spins webs, seeing all manner of environmental destruction that could not have been dreamt of if we had remained more connected. I can see in my mind’s eye, the Aboriginal people walking, navigating Songlines that connected them across the whole country, the speed of their travel conducive to absorbing their surroundings; the pat-pat of feet on ground physically imprinting a memory. And then, destroying my image is the ever-present car. Close on its heels, the giant blank wall of a shopping mall blots out my mind’s view.

A Question:

In medicine it is well known that there is first the disease, and then follow the symptoms, symptoms that can’t be cured without curing the underlying disease.

Some symptoms in our world flutter through my brain – environmental destruction, obsessions with consumerism and wealth, depression and isolation; is the underlying disease that causes these symptoms our evolved disconnection from the very land on which our feet depend? If we can work out the disease, will the cure become easier to find?

(There is a rather hard to see speech bubble next to the post title, where comments can be left, or at the end of the tags it says, ‘Leave a Reply”, – for anyone who cares to offer their thoughts?)

Day 29, The Importance of Belonging for Personal Wellbeing

grass-plains-australia

21 August 2013

I drive the kangaroo marathon to Barcaldine again today. I have learned to drive after 8am and return before 5pm to avoid the chance of meeting one of these great animals head on. I scan the far horizon to the sides of the road, not just for the kangaroos, but also the emus that can appear from nowhere and dart out in front of the car.

But in the middle of the day the biggest problem is the carcasses that litter the road; the ones not yet pulled to the side that can appear too suddenly from under the vehicle ahead.

I arrive in Barcaldine and make my way back to the now familiar Red Shed. It is a warm and homely welcome that I get on meeting the team again.

Darryl shows me his painting of the Southern Cross and Rainbow Serpent. Rings of dots, to represent the waterholes that the Rainbow Serpent has created, are in the position of the constellation of the Southern Cross. The Rainbow Serpent is spiritual to Aboriginal people. It is the creator of the waterholes and rivers and land formations of Australia.

“I like being on country”, he says. “I’d feel weird if I wasn’t”. On country, he explains, means being on the land that you are from, where you have been brought up. If you are off country you know that you are on other people’s land.

Darryl explains how the Iningai people of this area were slaughtered, and if they weren’t slaughtered they were moved onto the missions, like Cherbourg nearer the coast. It affects him daily, he says. He still thinks about it. “But we are still here”, he says, “strains of us”.

I learn a lot more of the Native Title Claim by the Iningai, and of what it is to live as a Bidjara Person in Western Queensland, as people generously share their thoughts and stories for the sound recordings I am gathering.

I leave feeling confused by the details of the Iningai claim on land that is currently under Bidjara custodianship, but understand that my confusion reflects an existing confusion resulting from historical removal of people from their land.

As Donna tells me, “I thought I was Bidjara but my family has told me I am Iningai. We have to find out who is the rightful owner of the land. Perhaps some Iningai escaped from the massacre in the cave. There’s a lot of Bidjara around and we thought there were no Iningai, but now I’ve been told I’m Iningai and we don’t know anything about ourselves. Thinking I was Bidjara and being told I was Iningai, I was confused. It took me forty-one years to work out who I am and then they tell me I’m a completely different tribe. You just don’t know who you are. You have to work out who you are to be the person you are.”

(On the Australia Digital Resources Page of the blog I have now added articles on language resources for Central-West Queensland, Iningai Keeping Place and Searching for the lost Iningai)

 

 

Day 24, Australia; returning to the start of the second residency

Zane Douglas with his painting for My Earth Calls

Zane Douglas with his painting for My Earth Calls

12 August 2013

I am in Longreach, Central West Queensland, Australia. It is only a couple of weeks since I was in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, but already I am on the other side of the world; Stage Two of the residencies.

It is winter but the daytime temperatures are reaching 33 degrees, in stark contrast to the Outer Hebrides. And though at night it drops to 5 or 6 degrees my bedsit room in the top of the old wooden Arts and Crafts Heritage Centre remains sultry and hot under a thin tin roof. Heather is seeking out a portable air conditioner, for which I am intensely grateful.

I am sitting at a little square table covered with a yellow gingham cloth; out on the wrap-around verandah in the cooling evening, my verandah doors open to the night and the moths and mosquitoes that seek out my light. There is a beeping of reversing trucks slicing through the black night air, a rumble of road trains along the nearby highway that stretches north to Darwin; the softer sound of cicadas chirping lightly in the middle distance. A smell of smoke is hanging like dust and the inevitable dog barks somewhere in the night.

I have cooked a simple tea downstairs in the kitchenette attached to the crafts workshop space; a walk around the verandah that overlooks the sprawling, country-town streets, and down the wooden steps with my head torch, to the kitchenette.

On my first night here I was taken for dinner to meet Zane and Lyndall, two Australian Aboriginal artists and friends of Kristy from Vast Arts, part-sponsors of my residency. Zane and Lyndall are painting for an exhibition entitled My Earth Calls, to be presented by Red Ridge at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.

In the way of synchronicity, it seems we are already strangely connected. I learn that Zane is from Tagalaka country, Croydon, near Normanton, hundreds of miles away to the north in the Gulf Country. Normanton is where I met Sidney, who I introduced you to in my blog home page and introduction to this project. And Sidney is Zane’s father’s cousin, Zane’s Uncle.

I tell Zane the story of my meeting with Sidney 2 years ago in the empty Normanton street; of our ambling conversation and its impact on my motivation to finally get this project off the ground. Zane is the first person I have met on this Australian leg of the project. And throughout the evening we shake our heads and laugh again at the connection that is already there, hovering in the wings. I ask Zane to give my best wishes to Sidney. Zane agrees saying we must complete the circle.

Even so, the connections do not end here. Because Lyndall, the only other person I have so far been introduced to here, is from Wangkangurru country around Birdsville where I am heading from here. It is meant to be, she says.

In the late afternoon, Heather pops by to see how my wonderful air conditioner is working and invites me round to meet her husband and his fossil collection. He is a true man of the west, with his beaten up hat and long relaxed beard. Their yard evokes a sense of both order and chaos, with the hundred upon hundreds of sea fossils he has collected from this unlikely place: crabs, sharks teeth, spiral shells, all stacked and displayed amidst old glass bottles, bits of engine, rocks of agate, opal, iron; and two kangaroos lazing sleepily under the hot interior sun.

(A link to a map of Aboriginal Australian languages is available in the Australia Digital Resources page of the blog, and a list of Australian Aboriginal languages)