A story of immense achievement

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Don and Koopah

australia

Jim at sacred fish hole of Thutirla Pula story

This short ABC news report – Twin celebrations for Wangkangurru Yarluyandi people, features Elders talking of their Native Title Claim success. I take my hat off to them for this success story; the years of hard work and the suffering that has gone into achieving this moment. Don Rowlands and Jim Crombie, who feature in the report, both helped develop the Grounded exhibition and I am so delighted to see them here relating the good news. Having had the honour of spending time with them, I know how much heart and soul has gone into getting to this point.

For those new to the blog, the Grounded exhibition, a commission by Glasgow Life for Festival 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, is now open at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, from 13 September to 11 October, a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

The Grounded residency diary entries and photographs begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

You can also link to information about the exhibition at these links: Introductory panel in English and Introductory panel in Gaelic.

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, and the promotional audiovisual, can be watched here

Educational workshops run at An Lanntair Gallery in conjunction with Grounded can be viewed here and here.

Joe’s educational video of me talking about the exhibition can be viewed here.

The introductory page for the blog can be found here. Feedback on the Glasgow Festival 2014, XX Commonwealth Games exhibition can be linked to here. Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be linked to here. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here. A BBC Radio Scotland interview can be found here. A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. And you can listen to a cut down recording of “In Conversation: Connecting through Culture” at this Vimeo link. (16 mins.) (One of our afternoon events at Glasgow Festival 2014 showing). Or listen to some music from one of our Glasgow afternoon events here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

Some other sites that link to Grounded can be found here

Funder acknowledgements can be viewed here

 

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More than a song

I am inserting in here a link to a song and video by Dol Eoin MacKinnon. Dol Eoin sang this song at one of our afternoon sessions during the Grounded exhibition in Glasgow. I really hope you enjoy and admire the song and video as much as I do. Only 13 days to go now until Scotland votes on its future.

Dol Eoin’s next short film includes a feature on Grounded. Looking forward to being able to share that with you too.

The Grounded exhibition is showing next at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, from 13 September to 11 October, a partner event at Hebtember Festival.

If you are new to the blog, the Grounded residency diary entries and photographs begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. The book that accompanied the exhibition can be found at Exhibition explanatory book

Three audiovisuals that were part of Grounded, and the promotional audiovisual, can be watched here

An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be linked to here. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here. A BBC Radio Scotland interview can be found here. A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. The introductory page for the blog can be found here. Feedback on the Glasgow exhibition can be linked to here. Photos of the Glasgow opening event are here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

My artist biography can be linked to here and here and my personal website is here

Wadlu-gnana

There are three audiovisuals in the Grounded exhibition. Wadlu-gnana (Wangkangurru language, meaning Grounded) is the first AV to be uploaded to this blog. The Australian Aboriginal song on this sound piece is from the CD “Dreaming Songs of the Warumungu Women” and provided with their kind permission and that of Papulu Apparr-kari.

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

If you are new to the blog, the Grounded residency diary entries and photographs begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be linked to here. And a response to the Alice Springs jail post by Professor Smith can be found here. A BBC Radio Scotland interview can be found here. A review by Dr Kate Robinson can be found here. The introductory page for the blog can be found here. Feedback on the Glasgow exhibition can be linked to here. Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here.

Day 38, Ntaria and a footprint in the rock

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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 27, Consequences of a massacre; And a rodeo

rodeo stockman horses australia

16 August 2013

I am perched on the patchwork quilt that covers my little bed, the Calico curtains tied up in a knot to calm their mad flapping in the breeze. The wooden veranda doors are pinned back and I look past my verandah to the latticework and a dusty street beyond. My portable air conditioner hums, cooling the room that sweats under its tin roof despite the hot breeze flowing through. Everything has the feeling of being coated in a layer of dust; even the air has a certain gritty quality. Something in the environment does seem to leave a vague gloss of chaos over how events evolve here, but most of it does seem to happen in its own way, and after various incarnations of how an outcome might be reached. I follow these threads to wherever they might lead. Right now, I am preparing for some photography workshops I am running here as part of the residency, which has been achieved by bringing together many organisations to help fund it.

In the afternoon I meet with Tony Weldon, custodian of the Longreach area. Tony was brought up on a sheep and cattle station west of Longreach. He left home at 14 to work on stations, doing fencing, ringing and droving before leaving the bush to work for Telstra.

Tony tells me of how a map was once drawn, marking Longreach as Iningai territory, but no Iningai people have been found in and around the town. He talks of the massacre in the area that wiped out the Iningai population, and subsequent removal of the bones to a museum in England. At least the bones have at last been returned to their keeping place in Longreach.

As Custodian of Iningai country, Tony is involved with Aboriginal health and housing, and helping the young people into the workforce. Aboriginal people can be shy and find it hard to communicate, he says. If there is any disturbance and police are involved, the police might get angry at these young people for not talking, and want to lock them up. Tony intervenes to help the young people communicate. But there isn’t much trouble, he says.

He tells me he was brought up in a white man’s world. “I’m lucky”, he says. “It is easier for me to fit in. For others who have come from smaller communities to the town it is much harder for them to adapt. But they are talented and strong”.

I am saddened that the adaptation seems to only be one way; that these young Aboriginal people must adapt to the dominant culture; this just seems to be taken for granted, like a rosy woolen blanket obscuring other possibilities. I can’t help but feel that the dominant culture has much to learn from the Aboriginal communities. But such an idea seems lost in the heat and the history and the marching forwards of every-day life.

Like Tony, many Aboriginal men worked as drovers and stockmen in their adaptation to colonisation, riding the horses with the cattle. And tonight is my opportunity to see these skills in action as the rodeo is in town.

The oval in Longreach is small but that is good as we can get up close. Around the oval are stalls of salty popcorn; dazzling red and green, iced slushies; hot dogs and burgers. A bar area is sectioned off from the ring. Along one side of the oval is a raised terrace of wooden benches. Many bring their own fold up chairs and sit pressed up against the oval fence – a solid wooden base supporting wires, widely spread for visibility, but strong and thick. Country music is jangling loudly through big black speakers. And the air… dust settles on everything.

Beside the stalls where the horses and bulls are kept, cowboys in dusty jeans and battered hats lean against the fence of the floodlit oval, or swing their legs over to perch on the wires, intently cupping their face in their hands for a better view, spurs hooked along in the wire. Under a shimmer of dust their faces are swarthy and strong, fixed with a determined set or breaking into a sudden grin. They stand straight and lithe, these men of the horses.

I never really expected to enjoy the rodeo but I do. The music matches the fierce energy of the horse and rider as they burst through the metal gate and into the ring; bucking horses and bucking bulls, men thrown and rolling away from reared hind legs, the clowns who rush to the ring to divert a bull away from a fallen rider, dust flying, and Lockie, the compère, calling the women in the crowds to fever pitch over the masculinity of these rugged young men.

I move around the fence for different vantage points and settle after a while opposite the gates from which the riders burst forth. A sudden pull of a rope from inside of the ring releases the riders, and is quickly followed by a leap back over the fence by the puller of the rope.

I am positioned next to an elderly couple with their fold up chairs pressed tight against the fence, when an almighty horse comes hurtling through the gate and gallops like the wind in a dead straight line towards us. Looking through a telephoto lens it is not long before I am running up the bank in the opposite direction, and I am alarmed to see this old couple do not even flinch as the horse crashes its sweating bulk into the fence in front of them, the rider thrown from its back. He grabs the fence to gracefully somersault and twist his body, avoiding the laps of the elderly couple, who are still sitting smiling in their seats. A great pile of dust comes over the fence with him and covers my camera bag, abandoned at the scene, in deep red.

I stay until midnight.

(For more reference links visit the Australia Digital Resources page of the blog)