A story of immense achievement


Don and Koopah


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


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


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


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


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


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)

Australia Grounded Artist Residency; I begin this story at the end

Illustration by artist Megan Forward

Illustration by artist Megan Forward

21 September 2013

“That’s me sitting on the bench in the cell to the left”. How I came to be sitting in an Alice Springs prison cell, and the broader implications of this in relation to the local population, is explained here. I believe my jail story is a window into a strange and disturbing world that is a routine problem for Indigenous people.

This evening is the Bush Bands Bash, down by the dry Todd riverbed that runs through town, flanked by eucalypts awaiting the rains. The Bash is preceded by three days of professional development and rehearsals for the bands. It is the peak Central Australian Indigenous music showcase event.

I head down in the late afternoon with a couple of friends I have met here. The music has already started at Snow Kenna Park, and groups of people are sitting together on the grass watching the stage as we move into the park to join them.

The air is warm and relaxed; and keen with the enthusiasm of the young musicians. Smiles are radiant in the space.

As the sun starts to set, we decide to take a break and go for an amble up Anzac Hill. Outside the gate there is a remarkably strong police presence, which rather surprises me given the good-natured festival feel to the event.

As we leave the event my companions and I stop to look in the direction of a distressed call that splits through the otherwise happy sounds. Some Aboriginal women are being taken into custody by a group of policemen.

“Protective custody” is a police power in the Northern Territory, which enables police to apprehend an Aboriginal person who is intoxicated and incarcerate them until they are sober;a controversial law. There is an overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the prison system, which is hurting families and communities.

The women we can hear are in their middle years and posing no evident threat to themselves or anyone else. They have had a few drinks. My companion, who works locally in a supporting role with the Aboriginal communities, moves forward to question what is happening as the women are directed into the back of the police van. The police do not want to engage in this conversation, and after my companion – a quietly spoken, respectful young woman – tries a few times to have her questions answered, the police ban her from returning to the Bush Band event.

We leave to continue on our walk. About an hour later we return to the event. We both re-enter the gate.

We have gone no further than a few steps inside when two large policemen suddenly appear from behind, grab my companion by the shoulders and pull her backwards. “You are under arrest”. I turn in shock and follow them back towards the van. I stand back a little watching the scene before approaching my companion and asking if she would like me to accompany her. Then I turn to the policemen and say in quiet disbelief, ‘You can’t do this!”

I am immediately surrounded by policemen. Two large men grab me, one on either arm with enough force to make me stumble. That same phrase, “You are under arrest”, and I am pushed towards the back of the van.

One Aboriginal man is spread out on the floor of the van. I don’t see him at first in the dark enclosed interior. It is my foot touching something soft that makes me look down. Another man is sitting hunched beside us on the little side bench. We look through the grill to the world outside as we are driven along the streets of Alice Springs to the jail. I phone my husband, back in Brisbane, to alert him to the course of events, and tell him I will call again when I know what is happening.

At the jail we are taken out of the van one person at a time and led to the front desk. I am first and the others are kept inside the back of the van.

At the front desk I try to engage with the policemen there, explaining that I am in Alice Springs to do an art exhibition as part of the Commonwealth Games Festival events, telling them I am a visitor to town, suggesting amicably, when they don’t respond, that they might even feature in the show. But there is no way past the wall that now stands between us – the arrested and the enforcers of the law.

There is one officer who seems less certain of the procedures. He says in a moment when no one else is around, “I don’t know what you are doing here. You seem like a nice person”. Though this is meant, I am sure, as a gesture of support, I am a bit disturbed by the implications of how others in the jail are being perceived. I imagine, after all, that most people in this jail are in fact nice people.

I am frisked, and all my possessions are taken away. My shoes are removed and I am left vulnerably barefoot. I am given a green towelling blanket, a heavy-duty sheet and a foam mattress. I am walked down the corridor to the cell.

Walking down the corridor, I ask for a phone to call my husband. “Later”, I am told. “I thought it was my right to have a phone call”, I say. “No”, comes the reply. “But they have that right on the telly”, I say with an attempt at a friendly smile. Silence.

I ask how long I can be locked up for without a charge. “There is no ruling”, comes the reply. “It just depends on the circumstances and how busy we are”. “But there’s a limit on the telly?”, I suggest, pushing my luck at humour again. Silence.

I say I would like to make a complaint to someone. Silence.

I put my foam mattress on the moulded concrete bench that runs down one side of the cell and carefully place my folded sheet and blanket on top. I sit on the cool bare concrete beside my mattress as the key is turned in the lock. I look up at the averted eyes of the person who is turning the key.

It is about half an hour before I am joined in the cell by my companion. We can hear the distressed calls of the Aboriginal women through the wall. There are just two of us in our cell. Next door there must be about fifteen.

Inside the cell, grey concrete benches are moulded into the floor and walls. A large black number 6 is painted on the wall above one bench. At the end of the other, a narrow, waist-height stainless steel partition marginally conceals the stainless steel toilet, and above the toilet, a water fountain on the wall, which from my visual memory could only be reached by leaning across the toilet. I can’t bring myself to use the toilet and sit uncomfortably on the bench.

I ask my companion if she would like to learn some Scottish songs. She smiles and we sing together for a good few hours – Will ye Go Lassie Go, Mo Ghile Mear, Banks of Loch Lomond – I can only remember the really well-trodden songs. My brain is numb to anything that hasn’t been with me a long while and I can’t seem to retrieve the words of other songs. My companion then teaches me an Arrarnta song.

Every now and then a policeman looks in. My companion and I pull out Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind and, by this time, it is with some defiance that we sing.

Our voices sail out into the space, mixing with the calls and cries from along the corridor, briefly glancing off the ears of the occasional officer that passes by our way.

I feel homesick. These words leave my mouth so thin that they evaporate as soon as they touch the air. But inside of me they are 3-dimensional, full of bulk and weight and taking a form that presses outwards on my rib cage, squeezing against my throat.

We are brought some food and water that we pick at and leave. I ask again if it is not the law that I should be allowed a call. “Not until you are charged”, they say.

It is now 5 hours since I phoned my husband in Brisbane from the back of the van. I think of him, sitting there in the night, wondering what is happening. Finally the policeman who showed some humanity earlier in the evening arrives with a phone for me, and a message, “Be quick. I’m not supposed to do this”.

It must be about midnight, the first time I am called out of the cell. It is not explained why I am being called. I am sat beside an officer with a notepad and pencil. He asks me what happened. I don’t know if this is my statement or a complaint, or what really, but I tell him what happened and he writes it down. At the end he asks if I will sign it. I don’t know the implications of signing it or what difference it might make and say it concerns me to sign it. “Why am I signing?” I ask. He says I don’t have to sign. I say I won’t bother. I feel vulnerable, uninformed, tired and unsure. I am sent back to my cell. Is that my complaint dismissed? I don’t know.

It is 1.51am before I am taken to be charged – about seven hours after our arrest. I am hungry and tired. My companion left the cell an hour ago and I have been here on my own, not knowing what is happening.

At the front desk again, I am taken to a booth and photographed from all angles, all my fingerprints are taken and the palms prints of my hands, over and over again as the machine doesn’t seem to be doing its job properly, until I feel exasperated. I feel I am already a criminal. “Why do you need my fingerprints?” I ask. “I haven’t done anything!”

I am taken to the desk to give my statement and I launch into an account of the evening. But I am immediately stopped. “Just three lines I am told”. I pause and stare into some middle distance. “I was only trying to check that my friends were OK”

I am issued with a bail statement. $500 if I don’t turn up in court on Monday morning at 9am. I look at these men in silent wonder. Are we from completely different planets!? If I hadn’t been so tired I think I could be almost fascinated by them and the workings of their brains.

It is 2.30am when I am released into the dark and empty streets of Alice Springs, the crime capital of Australia where one is told not to walk alone at night. My companions appear from the shadows across the street as I exit the hot, bright lights of the station through the sliding glass door. It is just as well. I do not know where I am and could not find my way home.

The policeman who showed a little humanity during the evening had said they would drive us home except they are not allowed to. At least the thought did cross his mind.

As we walk home I am too tired to feel much but my mind wanders with the Aboriginal people of Alice Springs against whom there is clearly an underlying prejudice; who might have no support on the outside; who do not understand the system; many of whom do not speak English as their first language; and whose starting point as they face the jail is one of dispossession and displacement and generations of disempowerment and fear that has led them to this place where the oppression is repeated. More of their stories will follow in this blog.

I believe my jail story illustrates an overzealous approach to arrest and detention by the Northern Territory police, when it comes to matters relating to the Aboriginal population.

It is for this reason that The Northern Territory Police are included internationally in the Grounded exhibition, and on my blog and Facebook page. I thank them for this opportunity. They have provided material to raise a debate on whether perhaps the Aboriginal people of Alice Springs are being locked up without justification. I am putting this out there now in the hope this story is picked up and carried.

Next I will post the story of events in court. In the meantime, please do take the time to look at some articles I have linked to below.

(Articles relating to the wonderful music event and a chance to listen to some Australian Aboriginal singers are also added as links on the Digital Resources, Australia page of the blog).

Australia is Still Fighting a Land War and it is the Country’s Great Divide Article by Ali Cobby Eckermann, Artist in Residence at University of Sydney in The Conversation

Ten dark secrets Australia doesn’t want you to know Buzzfeed article

Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service report

Megan Forward is the talented artist who did the prison illustration. Check out her web site here.

Day 17, A Day at Sea

david sRGB

5 July 2013

I have had the idea in my mind that I want to peer under that sometimes flat, sometimes billowing table of the sea with my little camera. It is so ever-present, so huge. And we only see that coloured, shifting plate of water, most-times never sparing a thought for the entire universe that carries on below.

Morag, my house-mum, asks Catriana, who says her husband could take me out on his boat for a whole day, but I only have time for a shorter outing. Catriana asks Iain who will, but our free days don’t coincide. Iain asks Roddy and we make an arrangement. Such is the helpfulness of everyone here.

I meet Roddy and his brother David this morning at Lochboisdale. The wind has thankfully dropped and the sun is breaking its way through. Roddy and his brother-in-law recently lost David’s boat at sea – casting them off into cold water for a full half hour before they were finally found and rescued. I was invited to go along on Sunday with them when they are diving to recover the wreck, but Sunday being the first day of Ceòlas, I am not able to, so David is taking me out today. We are going in Iain’s boat. Perhaps the whole community has been involved in this venture!

I drive the short distance to Lochboisdale where I am meeting David. Work is progressing here on the Stòras Uibhist £10m pier development project.

The community in South Uist are another who have bought their own land. £4.5m to form Stòras Uibhist, (South Uist Estate) was raised from a worldwide appeal reaching £50,000, and funds coming from Scottish Natural Heritage, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Western Isles Council and the Big Lottery fund. It was the biggest community land purchase in Scottish history with 2700 islanders on South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula taking control of the 92,000-acre South Uist Estate.Their pier development project, says David, will be good for the fishermen.

David clearly loves to be at sea. A car accident when he was sixteen has left him unable to work as a fisherman but this, he says, is all he wants to do. He is from a family of fishermen – his father and his father’s six brothers all work at sea. He has tried working in Glasgow in an attempt to do something else, but it is not for him and he has returned to South Uist where his heart seems to truly belong, amidst the wild green hills and the changing moods of the sea.

Roddy and David wrap some green twine around my tripod where I have perched my little GoPro camera. This twine is my extension line enabling us to lower camera and tripod into the sea.

David measures out in fathoms, on a weighted rope and using his arm’s length as his guide, the distance to the seabed. We know then how low I can drop my camera before it hits mud, and we release the estimated amount of twine, casting my precious little device into the deep unknown. It is not without some qualms that I let the twine slip out through my fingers, and the hint of silver is all I can see now as the tripod slips lower into the water until there is nothing, just the twine disappearing and a slight tug from below. It is a thrill to not know what I am capturing on the camera. Whether anything is swimming by or not, I will have at least an image of the deep.

It is fun thinking of other places we can try. We head on to rocky shores and lobster creels, then onto the salmon fish farm where we climb out of our boat and onto the floating walkway around the farm, with the help of the workers there, to lower my camera into the big round nets where the salmon are reared.

We return to shore in the early afternoon as a soft misty rain starts to fall, salty and hungry, skin tingling, fresh air in our lungs, the wind settled in my hair, our eyes bright with enthusiasm and laughter.

I head to the little Lochboisdale Post office where I can get a pot of tea and home-made cake and, with the sea still on my skin, I understand why David wants this life on the sea, and struggles to come to terms with the loss of his preferred career.

Feb 2014:

I have a wonderful footnote to add to this. Since I wrote this diary, David has started up his own business, offering boat trips with overnight camping, walking or fishing adventures, wildlife cruises and boat trips to the remote islands. He will be a fabulous guide for anyone who goes. Find him at: Uist Sea Tours

To relax in the evening, Mary, one of the Ceòlas organisers, and another generous sponsor of this residency, has invited me round for a lovely dinner. Here I meet Janice and Rosie, a couple of dancers and am invited to their dance performance at Stoneybridge community hall.

The piece they have choreographed is inspired by watching the birds on the machair. As they dance the birds come to life in the hall, sweeping low on the waves or soaring with the wind; Or battling against the wind until they give in and glide suddenly backwards at speed.

Day7, A Summer Solstice at Callanish Standing Stones and the Community of Ness


21 June 2013

I am driving the road to Ness again today to meet with Donald MacSween. Sweeny, as Donald is known, has a croft and is showing me round, introducing me to the sheep and the chickens, and taking me to the family peat bank and the moorland common grazing.

The peat bank is not beside the house but out on the moor. Sweeny machine cuts the family peats but many still use a tairsgear, a long wooden handle with an angled blade at the end. There is renewed popularity in the use of the peats for fuel, and the cruach (peat stacks), traditionally curved and tapered to a point, can be seen across the islands, black and rich-smelling; rough with aged and partially decomposed moss and vegetation.

Leaving the open moor, we retrace our drive to Del Beach to listen to the rhythmic rumble of the sea, splashing and sighing on the pebbles; a sound continuously split by the high pitch calls of oystercatchers, terns and gulls. Their chicks are nested on the ground, amongst the pebbles, and we look on as one eggshell shuffles and cracks and a small beak appears. The whole place is alive with nests and chicks and calls from above and below. There’s trout in the river and sea trout in the sea and all the while that magnificent mass of water shifts and sighs against the shore.

Ness is the furthest north of all the communities in the isles, and people have a strong sense of being not just from the Isle of Lewis, but from Ness. More than one person has mentioned this special identity as being partly attributable to the distance put between themselves and the main town of Stornoway across the moorland road. The journey is about 30 minutes by car and this is discussed in terms of a long distance that helps the people of Ness retain their identity as Niseachs. They are very proud of where they are from. There is a population of around 1000 and approximately 16 villages in the community of Ness. Gaelic is spoken by the majority of people.

Ness is part of the Galson estate, which is now in community hands after money was raised to buy the estate. It is a crofting estate of just over 600 crofts. Over the years, the community has since raised money for a £2m sports centre, a local charity shop, a launderette, a social club, and a play-park. The churches are also a big part of the community. “It is a way of life that we look after ourselves”, says Sweeny. “There’s always a big project on the go. The projects are not just good for the sense of community wellbeing, but also provide work, keeping the young people here and strengthening the Gaelic language”.

After leaving Sweeny, I stay on the west side of the island, waiting for Midsummer’s Eve, pottering south along the shore in my car and stopping for a picnic tea. Clachan Chalanais (TheCallanish Stones) is about to come alive for the summer solstice.

Chalanais is a ring of 13 large Lewisian gneiss stones, about 13m in diameter, with a huge monolith at its centre, and the remains of a chambered cairn. Running from the circle is an avenue to the north, formed by two parallel lines of 19 stones. Single lines of stones also run to south, east and west, making the shape of a Celtic Cross when viewed from the air. Much research has been done on the astronomical orientations of the stones, which are believed to have been there since 2900 BC. Local tradition says that giants who lived on the islands refused to convert to Christianity and were turned to stone as punishment.

Under a leaking sky a couple of drummers, a didgeridoo player and a piper with some home-made bagpipes hammer out their tunes, and a man and woman dressed in long flowing cloaks, and witch and a wizard-like hats, stand with their backs erect against the stones. Most people mill about waiting for the sun to drop beyond the horizon, but the sky drips down and, though light gradually fades, we have no idea of the position of the sun.

What does it matter? We are there to mark a day, a time passing and some unknown ancient era, and I still leave with a smile.

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