Following our successful 'reccie' in March to Maningrida to present community members in the Djlek IPA with a project proposal developed from their concerns about Living on Healthy, we returned with a larger Arnhembrand team to Maningrida in the Djelk IPA and then Kabulwarnamyo in the Warddeken IPA from 11-15 May. Both communities endorsed our proposal and started drawings, digital and oral recordings and signed participation consent forms.
Maningrida, Djelk IPA
After a meeting with Maningrida Arts and Culture, Wiwa Project and Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation to organise the logistics and a programme for the week, everyone scattered around the community to discuss their individual programmes. Guy headed off to talk with the Rangers and they hunted a buffalo, destined for the crocodile trap down near the wharf, where the kids swim! Alexander and Laura Boynes met with Natalie Carey at Wiwa, David, Fran and I collected the art materials and canvases freighted out by barge from Darwin which were stored at Babbarra designs within the Women's Centre. We organised a working programme with the women for the week. We left Henry Skerritt and Bill Fox to familiarise themselves with the art and artists represented by MAC. They were delighted to immediately meet and interview John Marwundjul. Another highlight for them during the week was witnessing the smoking ceremony for the completion of an enormous hollow log Johnny Bulunbulun had been painting at the time of his death in 2010 and which his widow Laurie Maburru had continued to completion. Henry recorded a number of oral histories from the senior MAC artists and also the Arnhembrand artists during the week, which explicate the works being made for the Arnhmebrand project. Bill was tasked with placing Arnhembrand within an international Brand context and also in the stream of multidisciplinary art and environment projects on an international scale. He thought and researched widely during the week.
After buying our food we headed out to set up the “Lab”, the science workshop at Djinkarr, for the painting workshops that week. David and I painted fluoro grounds on 30 canvases in preparation and shortly after, the first artists, Djelk Rangers, Ivan Namarnyilk and Greg Wilson arrived to work on large squares of heavy black paper, while David and I grabbed a few moments to work also.
Later after a magnificent sunset, Leila Nimbadja, Djinkarr Traditional Owner, joined us for dinner and agreed to work with Fran Murrell and the women from Babbarra Designs on a project about food. They all collected and used local seed to apply to small partially painted canvases. Leila has expert knowledge on plants, birds and bush foods and medicine and runs a plant nursery in Maningrida.
The following days were a busy continuum of the Rangers, the women from Babbarra designs and Daniel Bonson from MAC, painting well understood and passionately explained environmentally themed works about ghost nets and plastic in the ocean, through to the first fluoro rarrk feral cat and kitten ever painted!
Alexander and Laura worked with performers at Wiwa, and were really excited to record a Creation story with the Pascoe family. It was a good chance for Laura to observe and do some preparatory dance moves with possible Arnhembrand new wave performers. Alexander and Laura continued work after dark, collecting support material for the digital work, the filming of a cane toad causing great hilarity. It was of course captured by Hugo as usual who was everywhere the whole week photographing and filming everything and at all times.
As the season had dried out quickly, access to remote outstations is now possible and Guy went out with the Djelk Rangers to visit a few and drop off buffalo and crocodile, hunted and butchered along the way, to people who are otherwise totally isolated and without services during the wet. It is burning season and fires were started everywhere in both IPA’s while we were there. Guy walked 5 kms with a fire dripper one day starting fires, David Leece had an exciting time photographing when the fire suddenly flared up near him.
Kabulwarnmyo, Warddeken IPA
We spent our final day at Kabulwarnmyo, spell bound as we made the short and bumpy hop by light plane from Maningrida, over the rugged, remote and beautiful stone country. Elder, Keith Nadjamerrrek, met us at the airstrip and in a freshly washed troopie, delivered us the short drive to the community for further welcomes to Country and a briefing by Georgia Valance and Jake Weigl, who had organised a full and amazing day. Keith led us to the grave of his father, Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek “Wamud Namok” and as his widow Mary watched over us from her tent house nearby, we paid our respects to this great man who started the Kabulwarnmyo outstation and instigated so many other important initiatives in Arnhem Land. We then all walked to the nearby spring where Mary and family introduced the new visitors to the spirits of old people and wet their heads in the spring.
After a brief introduction about Arnhembrand and once again gaining approval to proceed with the project as described in earlier discussions, I quickly set up a painting camp under the trees nearby the spring and was delighted that 4 generations of Lofty’s family were painting with us including his widow Mary, 2 sons, 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren including baby Victor and 3 year old Richard!
After lunch back at main camp and a quick inspection of the Karrkad Kanjdji Trust School project and the other new camp structures which had been surveyed and redesigned by David Leece, (now unglamorously but fondly known as “Dunny Dave”), Keith drove us in the troopie out to see the last work painted on rock by Lofty. Historian, Henry Skerritt was beside himself with excitement, having met and written about Lofty several times.
Near this site was a mossy, fern trimmed “cold” cave, which is named for the breath of the Rainbow Serpent and is also very important for a small pond dwelling invertebrate only found in that special site.
We continued on to a more expansive rock art site where once again I set up to paint on large sheets of heavy black paper, with Gavin, Ray and 2 year old Patrick Nadjamerrek. The rest of the group after a long ramble through the rock art sites with Keith, drove out to the Mann River which is a beautiful swimming place with Pandanas Palms and clear flowing water.
The day ended far too soon but with a clear invitation to return and work for longer with the community next time. As promised, Jake Weigl, as part of the Warddeken fire abatement programme, had set fire to the Country from Kabulwarnmyo to Jabiru that day by dropping incendiaries from the helicopter thus blocking our view totally with smoke on the return flight to Darwin. The aerial tour companies would have been complaining that he had ruined their “scenics” again but at least, because it was a week day, he hadn’t caused the cancellation of the cricket match in Jabiru because of poor light as had happened previously!
Many thanks to all who helped make this second trip possible.