Posts Tagged ‘Aboriginal painting


Book review: ‘The Lumen Seed’ by Judith Crispin (2016)

January 2018

Publisher: Daylight Books

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that the posting on this book contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.



Judith Crispin. 'Sonya Napaljarri Cook Painting' 2015


Judith Crispin
Sonya Napaljarri Cook Painting
Warnayaka Arts Centre, Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015


Judith Crispin. 'Tabra Nakamarra's Puppy' 2015


Judith Crispin
Tabra Nakamarra’s Puppy
Lajamanu Community NT, June 2015



Truth and consequence in red dirt country

Australia has a long tradition of social documentary photography, dating back to the late nineteenth century. From Fred Kruger’s photographs of the Aboriginal community at Coranderrk in the 1870-80s through, variously but not exclusively:

Frank Hurley‘s photographs of the First World War, Antarctic exploration, Aboriginal communities and Australian industry

F. Oswald Barnett and his photographs of the slums of Melbourne in the 1930s

Charles P. Mountford (1890-1976) was an ethnographer and photographer, working from the 1930s-1960s who “showed a keen interest in and respect for Aboriginal culture, a fact that is evident in his archive. Although peppered with the vernacular and attitudes of the times, Mountford’s writing, and more tellingly his photographs, are indicative of his belief that Aboriginal life was richer and more complex than most white Australians conceded.” (State Library of South Australia)

Mervyn Bishop (born 1945), followed in 1974, an Australian news and documentary photographer whose work combines journalistic and art photography. Joining The Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet in 1962 or 1963, he was the first Aboriginal Australian to work on a metropolitan daily newspaper and one of the first Aboriginal Australians to become a professional photographer. Focusing on Indigenous self-determination, Bishop’s work “covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, including the historical moment in 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional land owner. This image – representing the Australian government’s recognition of Aboriginal land rights – became an icon of the land rights movement and Australian photography.” (Art Gallery of New South Wales)

Harold Cazneaux and Max Dupain‘s photographs of Australian life from the 1920-1980s

Jim Fitzpatrick and his Drouin series from WW2

Rennie Ellis‘ photographs of celebrity and Melbourne life

William Yang‘s photographs exploring issues of cultural and sexual identity

Female photographers of the 1960s-90s, such as Micky Allan, Sue Ford and Carol Jerrems who all crossed over into art photography

Robert McFarlane (1960s onwards) who specialises in social issues

John F. Williams who photographed Sydney in the 1970s

Jeff Carter who photographed all around Australia from the 1950s onwards

Ian North and Gerrit Fokkema who photographed Canberra in the 1980s

Joyce Evans (1980s onwards) who took important portraits of a diverse cross-section of Australian intelligentsia and personalities and documented Australian country towns and events for the National Library of Australia

Glenn Sloggett who photographed Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy from the 1990s onwards

More recently, the war photographs of °SOUTH members such as Tim Page, Stephen Dupont, David Dare Parker, Jack Picone and Michael Coyne

Trent Parke who is the only Australian member of the Magnum Photo Agency, whose work moves beyond the strictly documentary to sit between fiction and reality, offering an emotional and psychological portrait of family life and Australia that is poetic and often darkly humorous

And Juno Gemes Indigenous social documentary photography, who documents the changing social landscape of Australia

Unlike America, where social documentary photographers are well known, hardly a name from the above list (save perhaps Max Dupain and possibly Frank Hurley) would be recognised by a wider Australian public and there is little evidence or acknowledgement of their work in Australia. I believe that this is because social documentary photography has never been heavily promoted in this country and that this type of photography is a slice of many people’s work without becoming the driving force behind their oeuvre.

As my friend and curator Nick Henderson observes, “Perhaps the lack of visibility is in part due to many of the social documentary photographers undertaking work for the various state libraries, who regularly commission work documenting place – sometimes external, but also staff photographers – whose work is then not exhibited: many of the institutional galleries haven’t devoted much time to displaying and promoting that work.” While there may have been social documentary photographers in each country town and embedded within federal and state institutions, their work never seems to reach the audience it deserves.


And that is the true

Into this amorphous arena comes a brilliant book Sydney based poet, photographer and composer Judith Crispin titled The Lumen Seed (Daylight Books 2016), a book of that addresses the stories of the Warlpiri people of Lajamanu through conversation, poetry, drawings and photographs, a book that should be compulsory reading for all Australians.

This smallish book (in size, 23.5cm wide by 15cm high) of 120 pages has good strong boards, excellent typography, nicely weighted paper and feels solid in the hand. The book is well printed, although some of the highlights of the photographs have gone missing in action. The layout of the images and text is engaging, challenging the reader to comprehend, contemplate and consider what is being shown and spoken to them. Use of negative space, as can be seen in the example pages below, is excellent. The reader does not feel overwhelmed by comatose verbiage, but empowered when listening to the stories, proposed: “This book is about magic. Not the magic of Kabbalists, Theosophists, or conjurers, not Crowley’s magick with a k, not the magic of the New Age or Western religion – but magic that describes the world hidden inside this world, a world seen only by Aboriginal elders and the dying.” (Judith Crispin, Introduction, p. 12)

As Crispin states, this book is not a book of photojournalism and is the most subjective it can be, the photographs growing out of her love for this community. The multi-dimensional photo essay, for that is what it is in more traditional terms, represents some of the views and customs of the Warlpiri people and for Crispin, her journey started in the centre of Australia’s Anglophile government, Canberra, and ended at Wolfe Creek Crater, birthplace of the rainbow snakes, the Warnayarra, which underpin all Australian Aboriginal cultures. The peoples of this ancient culture speak to the earth, they tend it and understand it; they believe in the deep magic of the landscape, and strengthen the land through gardening and the trees through song. They speak to the spirits of the waterholes and have a deep respect for the spirit of the animals that inhabit the land. “The deep love that Warlpiri people have for the landscape, its mountains and waterholes, is almost incomprehensible for white people.” (Juno Gemes, Foreword, p. 9)

I’m British and I have been here in Australia since 1986 and I have never understood the non-relationship Australia has with its Indigenous people. Growing up on a farm for the first twelve years of my life in England gives me some understanding of a life lived well on the land. We were working class poor, my mother having to boil water on a stove so us kids could have a bath in a copper on the kitchen room floor; and we lived on what we could shoot from the land – pigeons, pheasants, rabbits and hares – and we were acutely aware of the providence and blessings of nature for our sustenance. A totally different connection to land than an Aboriginal one, but a connection none the less, as I found out when I visited the old farm on a recent visit to the UK in August. Walking up the cart path where I had played as a kid brought all the magic rushing back… the flowers, the forest, the trees, the animals and the earth.

Therefore, when I read of the white man’s abuse of the traditional lands of the Aboriginal people I am appalled. If you read the extract from Five Threnodies for Maralinga printed below, you begin to understand the pain and anguish of these people, killed by the atomic cloud of over 7 major tests and 700 minor trials involving plutonium, uranium, and beryllium at the Maralinga site which occurred between 1956 and 1963, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia and about 800 kilometres north-west of Adelaide. “In 1948, Warlpiri people were forcibly relocated almost 600 kilometers from their spiritual homeland to Hooker Creek, now Lajamanu, in Gurindji country. Old people, afraid to live among Gurindji ancestors and spirits, tried to walk back to Yuendumu but were rounded up and returned.” (p. 45)

This beautiful, powerful and deeply personal book tells some of their stories. It saddens me beyond belief that these wonderful people have been estranged and displaced from their traditional lands; decimated, killed, and abused; have been exposed to nuclear radiation, poverty, and untold harm and deprivation, both physical and mental. That they endure is a testament to their courage and culture. Juno Gemes observes that, “Crispin’s images are filled with compassion and tenderness. This is not an easy work… The Lumen Seed is a tough and powerful work in photographs, narrative texts, drawings, and poems it sings stories off the Warlpiri at Lajamuna at five minutes to midnight.” (p. 9)

The book needs to be tough to tell the true. But through poetry, love and light a new cosmology emerges that brings hope for a better future. Truth and consequence in red dirt country.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Many thankx to Myrtille Beauvert, Daylight Books and the artist for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


The Lumen Seed by Judith Crispin (Daylight Books), a cultural dialogue that is taking place before a backdrop of offences against the Australian continent, as well as a history of systematic discrimination against Indigenous peoples on the part of the country’s white population.



“Yeah, it make me real sad and cry for my country. Because God bin put me there, God put my people there. Why someone could move us, because of his power, because of his idea? Cutting off God’s power, God’s idea here. God’s word, God’s light… and that is the true. Cut off like this electric wire, if you cut him off, like that.”

Jerry Jangala, senior Warlpiri elder and Law man from Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert


“The Lumen Seed is a tough and powerful work. In photographs, narrative texts, drawings, and poems it sings stories of the Warlpiri at Lajamanu at five minutes to midnight. Who will hear, who will see, who will act?

Judith Crispin’s experience echoes mine 40 years earlier, although I could not always get back to the same teachers. We belong to a long photographic tradition. It is the tradition of Tina Modotti and Josef Koudelka – a generation of documentary photographers who believe fervently that if you show people what is actually happening in the world, they will understand and be moved to demand change. Activist social documentary photography has always been defined by this passionate subjective belief in democracy and action.”

Juno Gemes, Introduction to The Lumen Seed, 2016




Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' cover

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed book cover

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 29

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 29

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 32

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 32

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 46

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 46

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 55

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 55

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 74

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 74





Foreword: Five Minutes to Midnight

There is nothing like twilight in red dirt country – the soft crackling of fire warming your billycan as the Seven Sisters begin their dance across the night sky. Or the camaraderie around a campfire as people speak in their indigenous languages – the women making jokes about the day’s goings-on or about mistakes made in the intricate protocols of a Law you are learning, day by day. Everything that lives has meaning here. Upholding knowledge is a lifelong obligation for First Nation Custodians – not only in the present but into the future. How can we Australians know this land or our place in it, if not through relationship with our hosts, the Aboriginal people?

When inviting me to write this foreword, Judith Crispin explained her choice, saying, “You are uniquely positioned, as Australia’s premier and longest-serving photographer who has worked collaboratively with Aboriginal people in communities around the country making their culture and struggle for justice visible.” Truly, in both a professional and a practical way, I know the difficulties and the deep satisfactions of working in community. I understand the privileges of learning about the Law, the reciprocity of gratitude, and the obligation to stay true to the received teaching over a lifetime.

As a photographer of long experience, with friendships in Aboriginal communities, I know how everything depends on one’s openness to experience, on the give and take inside relationships that informs how one sees and feels. Photographers in this tradition work in slow time. You learn to move with the people, move within the rhythm of their days, within their country, their wind and sky. What is learned through these relationships can change how one sees forever. By invitation, we become messengers from the frontier of interpersonal experience, conveying urgent messages from our teachers and hosts.

Into this collaborative tradition of relational interpersonal documentary photography – which began with the work of committed photographers in Australia during the 1970s – now steps Judith Crispin with her important book about magic, knowledge, and history. She relates teachings of the Law men who adopted her, who gave her the skin name Nangala, a name that defines her relationship to everyone in the community. In this way, she is being “growed up,” learning how to see the universe according to Warlpiri Law.

“There is a particularly miraculous vision of the world that comes only with the diagnosis of serious illness. . . . Something is different now – because I know there is a secret world nested inside this one. I’ve seen it.”

The Lumen Seed
opens onto an apocalyptic scene. A hardwood mulga tree, reaching for the sky, holds a placard: “The Lord’s Return is Near.” In Coober Pedy, a curved handmade house rendered in warm mid-tones is edged with the sign “Welcome to Nowhere.” Dusty desert roadscapes unfold into the giant sacred stones of Karlu Karlu. An emu wanders nonchalantly into a gas station. We’re in Emu Dreaming Country now, meeting Crispin’s traveling friends.

A UFO mural at the gas station resonates later in the book with stories of Wolfe Creek Crater, where the meteorite landed. In the Jukurrpa we are told two rainbow snakes created that country, way back at the beginning. UFOs “zipping around the trees” form part of our desert lore. Funky and surreal, these images are imbued with humour. The images that follow lead us onward into a country of visual narratives – foretelling beginnings and endings. Intuitions manifest unpredictably. We enter a thousand kilometres of “bull dust and bone-jarring track, into the Tanami Desert,” which is as nothing compared with the howling grief of Crispin’s first poem…

Foreword extract by Juno Gemes, Hawkesbury River, April 11, 2016, pp. 6-7.



In late 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer. Before then, I’d not understood how five words could change everything. “I’m sorry, Judith,” my doctor told me, “it’s cancer.” It’s a cliché that you only learn to value life when death is walking beside you, but it was absolutely true for me. I remember driving over Clyde Mountain to bring the word cancer to my parents’ home. Every tree on the range seemed invested with vital force. Every leaf was vibrant, iridescent. Gray mountain gums, in headlights, seemed to manifest ancient intelligence – bearing witness to the fleeting existence of human beings. The threat of death reminds you how precious people are – your oldest friends, children, lovers, parents – you wonder how you’ll bear to leave them. There is a particularly miraculous vision of the world that comes only with the diagnosis of serious illness.

The interval between diagnosis and surgery is an eternity. The surgeon showed me a chart – “If the cancer falls into this range,” he said, “you’ll live; this range and you’ll die.” I felt like Schrödinger’s cat, neither living nor dying. People who see their own death live in two worlds, one mundane and one miraculous. Later, when the cancer had been removed and my death sentence lifted, I watched that other world diminish day by day. No matter how I clung to that miraculous vision, it faded – just as the certain knowledge of my death faded. But something remained. Something is different now – because I know there is a secret world nested inside this one. I’ve seen it. …

The earliest photographs in this book were taken in 2013, when I still believed the Warlpiri needed my help – to promote literacy and health, to outline positive pathways toward reconciliation, and so on. The later photographs were taken in December 2015, when I knew, without a shadow of doubt, that I was the drowning woman and the Warlpiri were the lifeboat. Lajamanu’s elders, especially Wanta Jampijinpa, Henry Jackamarra, and Jerry Jangala, were kind to me. They gave me a skin name1 and showed me how to be a “policewoman” for Jdbrille Waterhole. They seemed genuinely delighted by my interest in Warlpiri cosmology, which they illustrated with stories and drawings – some of which are reproduced in this book. The older women took me “hunting” for wattle seed and bush potato. They told me stories of covenants entered into with ancient star-beings and showed me places along the Tanami Track where min-min lights had chased travellers. Fairy tales and mysteries take on new importance when your life feels precarious.

Lajamanu in 2016 is a meeting of two universes. Elders check their Facebook status on iPhones while explaining, in matter-of-fact tones, about a landscape that will hold you or kill you, depending on your scent – where spirit snakes live in the waterways and the dead walk side by side with the living. In Lajamanu I lost my fear of dying, and more importantly, I lost my fear of living. This is a book about magic. Not the magic of Kabbalists, Theosophists, or conjurers, not Crowley’s magick with a k, nor the magic of the New Age or Western religion – but magic that describes the world hidden inside this world, a world seen only by Aboriginal elders and the dying.

This is not a book of photojournalism and makes no attempt to be objective. Quite the contrary, in fact, I wanted this book to be as subjective as possible. These photographs, especially the portraits, have grown out of my love for this community – the poetry of these often physically fragile people, whose unshakable belief in the deep magic of the landscape gives them a strength rarely evident in the city. Warlpiri culture is gentle; it leaves no tracks on the earth. The history of Aboriginal Australia is largely a record of gardening – “cleaning up country” with firestick farming and ceremonies to strengthen trees through song. When Warlpiri people move through the landscape, they introduce themselves. They apologise to that country for breaking twigs. They ask permission to take water from the creeks. If humanity ever transcends its selfish and murderous nature, it will be because of people like the Warlpiri.

Introduction extract by Judith Crispin pp. 11-13.



You shall not trap me in this fish-trap of yours in which you trap the dead,

because I know it, and I know its name,

I know the name in which it came into being.

(Coffin Texts)



Judith Crispin. 'The Lord's Return is Near' 2014


Judith Crispin
The Lord’s Return is Near
Coober Pedy SA, November 2014



The Stuart Highway is a bisecting line in a thousand kilometres of nothing. The sheer scale of the landscape is overwhelming. I’d driven for two days with only Leonard Cohen and David Bowie for company, and had never felt more isolated. I don’t know why I stopped, leaving the Land Rover idling in the middle of the highway, and walked over to the tree. Perhaps its tallness startled me – its length so exposed above the desert floor. I wanted to lay my palm against its bark. At first I didn’t notice the sign nailed high on its trunk: “The Lord’s Return is Near.”

This stretch of highway lies south of the rocket range at Woomera. There are oceans of blood on this land. The Woomera immigration detention centre continued a legacy of suffering that began years earlier, in the 1950s, when Maralinga’s radioactive clouds blew over Woomera, a military township, and killed all the children.

Between 1952 and 1963, British forces dropped nine nuclear weapons and nine thermonuclear weapons between Woomera and the Western Australian border, within contamination distance of urban centres. The Menzies-led Australian government of that time was wholly complicit and lied about the known dangers of nuclear tests. Between these bombings, Britain conducted continuous “minor trials,” which, according to the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, additionally detonated 99.35 kg of beryllium, 23.979 kg of plutonium, and 7968.88 kg of depleted uranium. By contrast, Little Boy, dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 by the United States, contained only 64 kg of uranium-235, and Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 by the United States, contained only 6.4 kg of plutonium. Anyone who wishes to immediately lose faith in the human race should read the short transcript of the Royal Commission, which is freely available online. (pp. 16-18)


Judith Crispin. 'Welcome to Nowhere' 2014


Judith Crispin
Welcome to Nowhere
Coober Pedy SA, November 2014



I arrived in Coober Pedy the same week that dust storms tore the roof off the pub. This dugout, borrowed from friends in Alice Springs, was built from a disused shaft. I slept near the door separating their home from the remaining length of shaft, extending far into the rock. Strange sounds echoed behind that door – sounds of wind, or dogs howling. The door was nailed closed. When I first visited Coober Pedy, it was the farthest into the desert that I had ever ventured. Beyond it stretched the expanse of the Great Victoria Desert, Simpson Desert, Strzelecki Desert, Pedirka Desert, Tirari Desert, and Sturt Stony Desert. I was at the start of a journey that would follow Stuart Highway into nothingness and emerge in the huge Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Leaving the dugout, I stopped to photograph the words painted on its roof: “Welcome to Nowhere.” (pp. 22-23)


Judith Crispin. 'Karlu Karlu I' 2014


Judith Crispin
Karlu Karlu I
Near Ayleparrarntenhe NT, November 2014



Karlu Karlu, nicknamed “The Devil’s Marbles” by white people, was long considered too spiritually dangerous for anyone but Warumungu elders conducting ceremony. Between these giant stones, on a 48-degree day, the radiant heat is almost unimaginable. Near the skeleton of a burned office chair, I found patches of black glass. A Warumungu friend explained that the heat has, in recent years, become so intense at Karlu Karlu that the air itself ignites, fusing desert sand to glass. In Australia’s deserts the evidence of climate change is irrefutable. (p. 24)


Judith Crispin. 'Eemie at the UFO Roadhouse' 2015


Judith Crispin
Eemie at the UFO Roadhouse
Wycliffe Well Roadhouse and Van-park NT, December 2015



UFO enthusiast Arc Vanderzalm moved to the desert in 2004 to establish a UFO-themed van park. In the van park’s early years, Arc rescued an abandoned emu chick and raised him by hand. He named him Eemie. Travellers stopping for fuel at Wycliffe Well roadhouse are sometimes surprised by an adult emu staring in at them through the window. While a guest of the van park, I once startled Eemie by walking into the ladies’ shower block. He peered out at me through the shower curtain with an air of embarrassment, as though I’d intruded at a delicate moment. Later, as I drove toward Tennant Creek, I spotted Eemie chasing a farm dog down the highway, legs akimbo. (p. 29)


Judith Crispin. 'Sexy John' 2014


Judith Crispin
Sexy John
Alice Springs NT, November 2014



Sexy John was rescued as a small calf after his mother was culled as part of a government program to reduce feral camels. He was raised by artists in a collective on the outskirts of Alice Springs and befriended a wild blond-haired boy. More than 160 thousand camels were culled between 2009 and 2013, approximately one-fifth of the camel population of the central deserts. (p. 35)


Extract from Five Threnodies for Maralinga


At Woomera,
seventy-five identical graves
remember babies lost to the predation
of atomic clouds.

Their epitaphs are brief-

Michael Clarke Jones
died 24 August 1952,
aged eight and a half hours.

No one has been here for a long time.

Weeds struggle.
A military vehicle passes,
heading east toward the rocket range.

In the west, Woomera township
is a grid of air force housing.
Land Cruisers fill neat driveways,
lawns are trimmed,
blinds closed.

And no one ever steps out for milk,
no one walks a dog.

I photograph each headstone,
stooping sometimes to straighten a plastic posy,
a tilted ceramic bear.

Wind presses a faded greeting card
to the metal fence.
A matchbox car beside a small boy’s grave
is blue.

There are nineteen stones without toys or flowers,
for stillborns named only “baby”-

Baby Spencer,
Baby Dowling,
Baby Stone.

Don’t look at me

Baby Gower
Baby Roads

from a soldier’s gunny bag
with your eyes too white, too open
like the eyes of poisoned fish
in the Pilbara’s poisoned surf.


Judith Crispin. 'Warlpiri Family' 2015


Judith Crispin
Warlpiri Family
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



In 1948, Warlpiri people were forcibly relocated almost 600 kilometers from their spiritual homeland to Hooker Creek, now Lajamanu, in Gurindji country. Old people, afraid to live among Gurindji ancestors and spirits, tried to walk back to Yuendumu but were rounded up and returned. In the 1970s, Gurindji people held a series of unique ceremonies to hand over the area and its Wampana and Spectacled Hare Wallaby Dreaming stories to the residents of Lajamanu. While this gesture brought some relief to Warlpiri people, who viewed their involuntary occupation of Gurindji land as a breach of traditional Law, they continue to struggle with their relationship to the country. (p. 45)


Judith Crispin. 'Four Kurdu-kurdu [Kids] with Trampoline' 2015


Judith Crispin
Four Kurdu-kurdu [Kids] with Trampoline
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



Country [Gurindji country], hills… well, I put country first… hills, tree, don’t like you – even that water – and that is true. If you drink water from that, or if you not talking to that country because you don’t know, you got no songs with that area… and in the night, or during the day too, you got no language for to try to talk to that country.

When God bin put you there, in your country, that’s it. You got a right to live on there. You can get sick alright, but not too much. Yuwayi [yes], you know God? He say, “Yeah you get sick but you’ll be alright,” you know? “I’m with you there,” that God talking. And same thing for our ceremony too. You’re right to use your ceremony. You’re right to sing your own Dreaming song and talking to your country . . . and tell it true – real true.

Jerry Jangala (pp. 50-51)


Judith Crispin. 'Emu Roadkill and Portrait by Shemaiah Matthews' 2015


Judith Crispin
Emu Roadkill and Portrait by Shemaiah Matthews
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015


Judith Crispin. 'Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali Jurrah-Hargraves Painting' 2015


Judith Crispin
Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali Jurrah-Hargraves Painting
Warnayaka Arts Centre, Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



Without the connection between the land and the person, the individual is lost, empty inside, not connected to anyone or anything or the land. If the connection is lost, they won’t survive and their identity no longer exists. Jukurrpa is our life first. Jukurrpa connects us to our country. It is Law that makes it our right to our country. We can’t be sent away.

This art center [Warnayaka Arts Center] is for the young people to learn their culture and Law. It is important for our youth to learn the knowledge held by the Ngaliya and Warnayaka peoples. The art center is for the survival of culture from the grandfathers’ and grandmothers’ country. The children are getting lost, and there are not many old men left, some women but few men. Some of our important Dreaming sites are hundreds of kilometers from Lajamanu. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live in Lajamanu need to know their Jukurrpa; otherwise they will lose their inheritance to this really important country. They need to know the Warlpiri Ngalia Laws so they can go onto their great-grandfathers’ and ancestors’ land, especially where these important Dreaming sites are, like at Mina Mina, belonging to the Kana-kurlangu clan. This is why the art center is so important to the people of Lajamanu. At any time, children can see the works of the elders telling them the Kurdiji, the Law, and all that is tied into the Jukurrpa paintings.

Warnayaka Art elders, recorded by Arts Center manager Louisa Erglis (p. 55)


Judith Crispin. 'Sacred Object #1' Nd


Judith Crispin
Sacred Object #1
Muffler painted by Warlpiri artists


Judith Crispin. 'Sacred Object #2' Nd


Judith Crispin
Sacred Object #2
Abandoned doll found in Lajamanu Park


Judith Crispin. 'Beth Nungarrayi at Jdbrille Waterhole' 2015


Judith Crispin
Beth Nungarrayi at Jdbrille Waterhole
Jdbrille Waterhole, Tanami Desert NT, June 2015



This area here, no river. It’s the same deal in this country, and so – what do you call it? Soak? [A soakage, or soak, also called a native well, is a source of water in the Australian desert.] You know . . . I’m trying to get that word there. Soak, yeah, you take all right down to find that water, that water make. Sometimes no water, like this time when it’s dry. Look for the water tree. That’s what my father, my grandpa, my great-grandpa, grandmother, they all look for that water tree. Rock holes down. That’s in our country. We can say it today in a Kardiya way, you know? We can say “Lajamanu is my country.” But that not true. It’s not true . . . yuwayi, Nangala. My country is back there . . . my area is back there.

Jerry Jangala (pp. 68-69)


Judith Crispin. 'Wirntali-Jarra [Friends]' 2015


Judith Crispin
Wirntali-Jarra [Friends]
near Emu waterhole, Tanami Desert NT, December 2015


Henry Jackamarra and Jerry Jangala have known each other since they were small children. More than a decade his senior, Henry treats Jerry like a little brother – still lecturing him on what he eats and wears, although both men are now respected elders. (p. 72)


Judith Crispin. 'Jerry Jangala Oversees Kangaroo Ceremony' 2014


Judith Crispin
Jerry Jangala Oversees Kangaroo Ceremony
Tanami Desert Outpost NT, November 2014



The animal is honoured by sprinkling handfuls of dirt over its fur before it is prepared for cooking in the traditional way. Jerry explains that in the old days the punishment for getting this ceremony wrong was death. In modern times, the penalty for making mistakes in this ceremony is exile. Wanta Jampijinpa, Jerry’s son, reassured me that exile did not necessarily mean death in the Tanami desert. A person could earn his or her place back in the community by accomplishing a special task. The exile must find the way to catch a wedge-tailed eagle and bring its soft underbelly feathers back to Lajamanu as proof. Wanta explained to me how such a seemingly impossible task could be accomplished, but I do not have permission to reproduce that here. (p. 78)


Judith Crispin. 'Henry Jackamarra Cook, Last Kangaroo Dancer' 2015


Judith Crispin
Henry Jackamarra Cook, Last Kangaroo Dancer
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



Light Trails of Henry Jackamarra Cook

Law is a gray kangaroo dancing
the thin landscape of Henry Cook into being,
somewhere in the Tanami,
where knucklebone winds scrape bare rock
and Henry stands marsupial
in firelight’s weird.

In Lajamanu, tin houses edge the street.
No one is outside,
no one.

In the arts center, old ladies paint seed-dreaming.
Breeze lifts the hem of a curtain,
then stillness.
It is still.

Henry doesn’t paint anymore. He sits alone,
watching ceremony from the 1970s.
Everyone in the videos is dead now, except him.
And the dead are in the desert,
faceless as the desert is,
and as remote.

Ten years ago it seemed nothing to walk
three days to his sacred country,
granite country,
where great salt lakes exhale their thirst
over spinifex and sand,
the rattling sun.

But arthritis and cataracts have caged him.
Inside the arts center,
the lights are switched off.

We drag chairs across a concrete porch
to watch the Tanami darken, shelf clouds
seal the crater at Wolfe Creek.

Rain wakens on his tongue
the angular syllables of displacement.

And home is the desert breathing over itself by night,
erasing tracks of all who walk there –
night’s emu rising savage in the Milky Way,
and eyes, eyes in the granite mines.

One day, he tells me, I’ll walk out
to my country and never come back.

At town’s edge, a kangaroo left by poachers.
Red dust thickens its pelt, as the red dust lies thick
on Henry’s Ray-Bans, stiffening his white hair to wires.

I photograph him disemboweling the buck,
its intestines knotted to ritual marks –
Henry and his flayed brother, backlit
against chained ridges,
and the last sun rearing.

Law is an old man dancing
the gray kangaroo into being,
sewing him back into the desert’s body,
into his own body, ochre and growl,
a hunting boomerang beaten on the ground.

Night erases this landscape –
slow trees, sand,
the saltbush has gone.

Just Henry’s heels rising and falling
along a wind-scored track,
utterances of a language which belongs to him
and to which he belongs.

Tomorrow, the Catfish Waterhole
will stretch his white hair out elastic,
as telephone wires vanishing into the Tanami.

Mud returns to him,
the cool slow memories of country
before the missions, before diabetes and grog
shrank his ancestors down so small
he holds them in a single cupped hand
like fireflies, tiny comets
crossing in the black.

Tomorrow he’ll thread gumleaves
through the hole in his nose,
and say, photo me like this Nangala
I am a beautiful man.

Judith Crispin (pp. 81-83)


Judith Crispin. 'Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali' 2014


Judith Crispin
Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali
Tanami Desert NT, November 2014



I was told Lily, when she was young, was in love with a Karadji man but couldn’t be with him because she didn’t want to leave her community. Her arms reveal the parallel ritual marks of someone on a “sacred path.” Now, despite caring relationships with her family, friends, and fourteen adopted dogs, somehow Lily is always alone. When, together with Molly and Rosie, Lily took me to see Catfish Waterhole, she explained that we were going to see her “mother.” I carried Lily, too frail to descend the bank, to the edge of the water. There she turned water over her palms, the traditional way of greeting the waterhole and avoiding surprising any Warnayarra who might be there. The deep love that Warlpiri people have for the landscape, its mountains and waterholes, is almost incomprehensible for white people. Here Lily sings quietly to Catfish Waterhole – not for any ceremonial or traditional reason, I’m told, but just because it makes the waterhole feel loved. (p. 95)


Judith Crispin. 'Molly's Flame-Tree Seed-pods' 2014


Judith Crispin
Molly’s Flame-Tree Seed-pods
Tanami Desert NT, November 2014


Judith Crispin. 'Molly Napurrula Sifts Wattleseed' 2014


Judith Crispin
Molly Napurrula Sifts Wattleseed
Tanami Desert NT, November 2014



Warlpiri people still supplement their diet with bush food. Ground wattleseed is mixed with oil and baked into a kind of flat bread. The older ladies took me out “hunting” for wattleseed and kurrajong seedpods. In a township with only one shop, where a head of broccoli costs more than a takeaway meal for a family, it is vitally important to supplement the community’s diet with “bush food.” White Australians have almost no idea of the variety of native fruits and vegetables that grow in the apparent desert – bush potatoes, bush tomatoes, bush bananas, honey ants, land crabs, wattleseeds, etc., can be gathered throughout the Tanami. (p. 104)



Buy Judith Crispin’s The Lumen Seed on the Daylight Books website


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Review: ‘Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne 

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 5th July 2015

Curator: Helen Carroll



Gorgeous catalogue with luscious plates, insightful text by Bill Henson (below) and evocative poetry by John Kinsella. Stars on the front cover and silver edged pages. No expense spared in production, with money literally thrown at the project, or so it would seem.

The curator, Helen Carroll, talks about ‘wonder’: “It is a capacity for wonder that makes us human”. Henson talking about ‘wonder’ and ‘love’ – about moments that change your life when looking at and breathing in great art. Then why does this exhibition feel so… well, needless? Despite some fascinating individual works of art, collectively there is little wonder on show here.

Perhaps it is because this exhibition looks to be a cut down version of the one first shown at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 2012, with many works missing from what are listed in the catalogue. Or perhaps it is the hang which at the Ian Potter Museum of Art consists of two rooms on the ground floor of the museum, one housing lighter works, the other dark works. Too dichotomous for my tastes. Nothing is ever so cut and dried.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the concept of the exhibition – light in its many guises – seems to have been tagged onto a groups of art works which are anything but about light. Or are about light in a roundabout, merry-go-round kind of way. The wall text states, “Rather than a chronological or stylistically ordered presentation, the exhibition follows a loosely intuitive flow of ideas and imagery, moving through night to day. The artists in this exhibition explore light from the perspective of the optical experience, the connection between the starts and the cycles of life on earth; and from diverse cultural, mythic and spiritual points of departure.” Apparently the works are more about the phenomena of light than about light itself.

While the art works are interesting in their own right they don’t really work together cohesively as a group to investigate the theme of the exhibition. Trying to burden a collection of art bought for investment purposes with a concept not “natural” to the work, or just a curator’s idea of what seems implicit in the work but is just a cerebral construction, simply does not work in this case. As I looked around the exhibition, I felt the works were more about the physicality of time and space (of history and place), about links in the existential chain, than they were about light. For me, this evinced Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the ‘chronotype’ – meaning ‘the connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed’ (in literature). Perhaps the intuitive flow of ideas and imagery and the multiple points of departure work against the very idea the exhibition seeks to investigate. This is so broadly thematic (the effects of light on the world) that it needed to be more focused in its conceptualisation.

It’s also a real worry when text panels in the exhibition quote Richard Goyder, Managing Director, Wesfarmers Limited, as saying that this is the first time that Wesfarmers has showcased the contemporary art of the collection, “and the works selected for Luminous World illustrate some of the ways in which the collection has grown in recent years. For instance, the inclusion of art from New Zealand, where Wesfarmers has a significant business presence, and the heightened emphasis on representing the great diversity of contemporary Indigenous art.”

The inclusion of New Zealand art because Wesfarmers has a significant business presence – not the quality or wonder of the art work – but a business presence. And only now are they collecting contemporary Indigenous art, after the collection has been in existence for more than three decades, 1977 being the first acquisition date. At least he is being refreshingly honest about why the art work has been added to the collection, but it does not give you confidence in the choice of the art work being displayed here. Goyder, Carroll and Kinsella also proselytize about the benefits of employee’s living with this art in their daily working lives and that may be the case. But for the casual visitor to the gallery this collection of art left me feeling cold and clammy – like a fish out of water.

As the add for Reflex copy paper says with more humour than any of this work can muster, I didn’t find “enwhitenment”, or wonder, within the gallery walls. Oh, the luminosity of it all.


Many thankx to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



What is the Night?

‘What is the night?’ Macbeth enquires in the banquet scene, once the ghost of Banquo has departed and his wide has dismissed their mystified guests. Deprived of sleep, and half-psychotic, he urgently needs to know the time. But this is also, implicitly, a philosophical question that hints at the ontological meaning of the night…

Macbeth, Shakespeare’s most elaborate meditation on the night, is a sustained, if not obsessive, exploration of the nocturnal as a realm of alternative values – ones that contradict and threaten to undermine those of the diurnal regime that is ostensibly the domain of politics in the early modern period. In this violent, vengeful tragedy, the language and culture of the medieval night, incarnated above all in the witches, irrupts into the more enlightened languages and culture of a purportedly post-medieval epoch. An apocalyptic night, in Macbeth’s barbaric court, is one of the forces that shape realpolitik. In the Renaissance, a period in which daily life encroaches more and more on the night, especially in public settings, in the form of elaborately lit masques at court, Macbeth thus stages the limits of enlightenment.

At a time when more systematic, socially centralized modes of illumination are increasingly disrupting older patterns of rest, including biphasic sleep – so that, for the early modern ruling class at least, night starts to feel like an extension of the day, its observe rather than its inverse – Shakespeare dramatizes the tyrannical attraction, the absolutism, of darkness. Macbeth describes a process of nocturnalization whereby the night irresistibly colonizes the day, fatally infiltrating both the state and the protagonist’s consciousness. To use a word that has some currency in the seventeenth century, but has long since fallen out of use, Shakespeare’s drama is a study of ‘benightment’.”

Matthew Beaumont. “What is the Night?” in Matthew Beaumont. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, Chaucer to Dickens. London and New York: Verso, 2015, pp. 86-87.


Luminous World brings together a selection of contemporary paintings, objects and photographs from the Wesfarmers Collection in a conversation about light. Through works of scale and conceptual invention that chart the range and depth of the collection, this exhibition presents significant contemporary paintings, photographs and objects by leading Australian and New Zealand artists acquired by Wesfarmers over three decades and shared together for the first time with the Australian public.

The Potter is the fifth venue for this touring exhibition which to date has travelled to Charles Darwin University Art Gallery, Darwin; National Library of Australia, Canberra; Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide; and The Academy Gallery, University of Tasmania.



Brook Andrew. 'Replicant series: Owl' 2005 


Brook Andrew
Replicant series: Owl
Ilfochrome print
130 x 195 cm
© Brook Andrew, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art



Brook Andrew (1970- ) is a Sydney born/Melbourne based interdisciplinary artist of Wiradjuri and Scottish heritage. Andrew’s conceptual based practice incorporates, sculpture, photography, installation, video and performance. The Replicant 2006 series reflects (literally) upon the act of looking, and consequent interchanges between nature and culture, subject and object, real and represented. These dualities fit broadly within the artist’s addressing of Australian identity, polemics and the politics of difference.

For the Replicant 2006 series Andrew borrowed taxidermied specimens from the education department at the Australian Museum, Sydney. These included native species of indigenous significance such as an owl, possum, flying fox and parrot. He shot each animal – artificially propped in their natural poses – and digitally manipulated each image so as to appear duplicated, a process that evolved out of the Kalar midday 2004 series.


Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 2009-10 


Bill Henson
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art



” … And yet certain things – particular experiences that we have are excpetional. They stand apart from the rest of the general activity.

What causes this apprehension of significance – of something in face powerfully apprehended yet not always fully understood?

And why is it that all of us, at some time or other, with have this ‘epiphany’ – Christian or otherwise – in the presence of some work of art, in the experiencing of a performance piece or some unexpected encounter with the true magic of a particular piece of sculpture?

When it happens, I always think of it as being as if one’s life – and everything that it contains – had just been ever so slightly changed, forever. Nothing, if you will, is ever quite the same again.

What happens, I think, is simply that we fall in love – and it’s the apprehension of unexpected beauty that causes us to fall in love.

The sheer force of such beauty can affect us as if it were an act of nature – and of course it is, for despite the arrogance of some theoreticians, culture is never outside nature.

I think that it is this intense, if often quite subtle, love for the subject, and the resultant emotional and intellectual interdependence within that relationship – be it in musical form, something in the visual arts, theatre of dance – that is responsible for – and in fact makes possible at all – these great and fortunate encounters in the arts.

Stare back into time and all kinds of very ‘personal’ things return your gaze. This has always, to me, seemed to a large extent to be what art is about. Sure, it’s personal, but it’s also millennial.

The best art always heightens our sense of mortality. This is not morbidity that I am talking about – rather, we feel more alive in the presence of great art and this is because of a profound sense of continuity – our sense of being inside nature – is expanded.

If you like, art suggests the immortal in all of us.

When we listen to Michelangeli – or, say, Jörg Demus playing Kinderszenen – and we sense that simultaneously proximate and intimate yet utterly abstract presence (was that someone? Schumann perhaps?) and at the same time sense the unbridgeable gulf that exists between ourselves and that distant past – we know that we are in the presence of something magical.

In the end I think that it is love that fuels this activity – that animates the speculative capacity in all of us – and heightens this sense of wonder.

Excerpts from Bill Henson’s speech “Reflections,” in Luminous World catalogue. Perth: Wesfarmers Limited, 2012, pp. 23-24.


Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne


Installation views of the exhibition Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne


David Stephenson. 'Star Drawing 1996/402' 1996


David Stephenson
Star Drawing 1996/402
40 x 40″
Cibachrome Print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Courtesy of the artist



While the subject of my photographs has shifted from the landscape of the American Southwest and Tasmania, and the minimal horizons of the Southern ocean, and the icy wastes of Antarctica, to sacred architecture and the sky at both day and night, my art has remained essentially spiritual – for more than two decades I have been exploring a contemporary expression of the sublime – a transcendental experience of awe with the vast space and time of existence. (David Stephenson, 1998)


Bill Henson. 'Untitled 39/139' 1990-91


Bill Henson
Untitled 39/139
Paris Opera Project
Type C photograph
127 × 127 cm
Series of 50
Edition of 10 + 2 A/Ps


Stieg Persson. 'Offret' 1998 


Stieg Persson
Oil on canvas
183 x 167 cm
© Stieg Persson, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art



“Works focusing on light and darkness, and how light creates and reveals our world, from one of Australia’s pre-eminent corporate art collections compiled by Wesfarmers over the past 30 years, will be exhibited at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at The University of Melbourne.

The exhibition, Luminous World: Contemporary art from the Wesfarmers Collection, presents a diverse selection of contemporary paintings, photography and works of sculpture. The works traverse a diversity of cultural, aesthetic and philosophical perspectives, with the curatorial premise of how contemporary artists explore the phenomenon of light in their work.

Some 50 artists from Australia and New Zealand are featured in the exhibition including: Susan Norrie, Rosemary Laing, Howard Taylor, Dale Frank, Paddy Bedford, Bill Henson, Fiona Pardington (NZ), Brian Blanchflower, Brook Andrew, Timothy Cook and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Included alongside the art is a major new body of poetry by John Kinsella, written in response to works in the exhibition. These are published for the first time under the imprint of Fremantle Press in the book Luminous World, with new writing by artist Bill Henson and composer Richard Mills.

Ian Potter Museum of Art Director, Ms Kelly Gellatly said, “Luminous World highlights the strengths ofthe Wesfarmers Collection, which has generously been shared, through the tour of the exhibition, with the wider community.

“In bringing together works across a range of media by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, Luminous World successfully showcases both the depth and continuing resonance of contemporary Australian practice in a rich, open-ended and exploratory conversation about light.

“To know and experience light and its effects however, one must equally understand its other – darkness. Together, these concerns create an exhibition experience that is at once intellectual, emotional and experiential,” Ms Gellatly said.

The Wesfarmers Collection was started in 1977, and is housed in the Wesfarmers offices around Australia and shared with the community through a loan and exhibition program. A Wesfarmers and Art Gallery of Western Australia touring exhibition.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website


Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne


Installation views of the exhibition Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne



“For more than three decades Wesfarmers has been collecting Australian art. From General Manager John Bennison’s first acquisition in 1977 of a pastoral scene by the Australian impressionist Elioth Gruner, Wesfarmers’ purpose was to accentuate the value of art in the workplace and encourage and understanding of the importance to society of supporting creative thinking and artistic vision. The company has always been committed to sharing its collection with the community through exhibitions and loans and by opening our workplaces for groups to view the art in our offices.

This is the first time Wesfarmers has showcased the contemporary art in the collection, and the works selected for Luminous World illustrate some of the ways in which the collection has grown in recent years. For instance, the inclusion of art from New Zealand, where Wesfarmers now has a significant business presence, and the heightened emphasis on representing the great diversity of contemporary indigenous art.

We thank the artists whose resonant and timeless works form part of Australia’s rich cultural heritage and hope that the Australian public will enjoy these works and marvel at the ingenuity and artistic vision they represent, as Wesfarmers does, surround by inspirational art in our daily lives.”

Richard Goyder
Managing Director, Wesfarmers Limited


The visual world is defined by light; everything we see is processed by the eye as patterns of brightness and colour. Monumental formations in the landscape as well as the most subtle nuances of atmosphere are made real to us by the action of light, transmitted in wavelengths as an infinitely varied register of colour that combine within the eye to shape our sense of space and form.

It is the action of light reflecting off, refracting through and being absorbed by the substance of the world that enables the eye to perceive contours, hues, and textures and mark the passing of time from day to night and season to season.

Luminous World presents a diverse selection of contemporary paintings, photography and works of sculpture, acquired by the Wesfarmers Collection over thirty years and considered through the lens of how contemporary artists variously utilise the phenomenon of light in their work.

Rather than a chronological or stylistically ordered presentation, it follows a loosely intuitive flow of ideas and imagery moving through night to day. The artists in this exhibition explore light from the perspective of the optical experience, the connection between the stars and the cycles of life on earth; and from diverse cultural, mythic and spiritual point of departure.

Published for the first time in the Luminous World catalogue are recent poems by John Kinsella, written in response to selected works in the exhibition, together with new writing by artist Bill Henson and composer Richard Mills that extend an artistic dialogue in which all can share.


Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Hung fire' 1995


Rosalie Gascoigne
Hung fire
Retro-reflective road-sign on wood
209 x 176 cm
© Rosalie Gascoigne, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art


Elizabeth Nyumi. 'Parwalla' 2010 


Elizabeth Nyumi
Acrylic on canvas
120 x 180 cm
© Elizabeth Nyumi, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art



About Parwalla

This painting depicts the country known as Parwalla, which is Nyumi’s father’s country. This country is far to the south of Balgo in the Great Sandy Desert, west of Kiwirrkurra, and is dominated by tali (sand hills). Parwalla is a large swampy area, which fills with water after the wet season rain and consequently produces an abundance of bush foods. The majority of Nyumi’s painting shows the different bush foods, including kantjilyi (bush raisin), pura (bush tomato) and minyili (seed). The whiteish colours, which dominate the painting, represent the spinifex that grows strong and seeds after the wet season rains. These seeds are white in colour, and grow so thickly they obscure the ground and other plants below.


When Nyumi was only a very young child her mother died at Kanari soakwater close to Jupiter Well. As a young girl, Nyumi lived with her family group in their country. As a teenager she walked along the Canning Stock Route into the old mission with her father and family group. There she was given clothes and taken to Billiluna Station to be trained as a domestic worker and to work for the wives of the station managers around the region.

Nyumi commenced painting in 1987 and emerged as a leading artist in the late 1990s. She is married to the artist Palmer Gordon and has four daughters, three of whom are still living and beginning to paint with strong encouragement from Nyumi. Her elder brothers Brandy Tjungurrayi and Patrick Olodoodi are both senior lawmen and recognised artists. Nyumi is a very strong culture woman and dancer and an enthusiastic teacher of culture to children, ensuring the traditional dances and songs are kept alive.

Nyumi’s paintings are mainly concerned with the abundant bush food in the country belonging to her family. Initially, she worked with a thick brush, covering the canvas with fluent lines in tones of yellow, green and red. She has now developed a strong personal style of thick impasto dotting, to build up fields of texture heavily laden with white, in which motifs of camp sites, coolamons, digging sticks and bush tucker stand out.


Gretchen Albrecht. 'Pink and orange sherbet sky' 1975  


Gretchen Albrecht
Pink and orange sherbet sky
Acrylic on canvas
166 x 177 cm
© Gretchen Albrecht, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australia


Rosemary Laing. 'Brumby mound #5' from the series 'One dozen unnatural disasters in the landscape' 2003


Rosemary Laing
Brumby mound #5 from the series One dozen unnatural disasters in the landscape
C Type photograph
110 x 222 cm
© Rosemary Laing, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art



Brumby mound #5 2003 is one of a series of photographs by Rosemary Laing that explores the way European culture has often been uncomfortably imposed on an ancient land. Laing chooses a desert-scape that many identify as quintessentially Australian as the setting for her interventions. The location is the Wirrimanu community lands around Balgo in north-east Western Australia. Onto these traditional lands Laing has incongruously placed items of mass-produced furniture painted to mimic the surroundings.

The words ‘brumby mound’ in her title are a reference to the introduced horses (or brumbies) that are feral and roam uncontrolled, much like the spread of furniture. The seductive beauty of these panoramic images shows the vast spectacle of the Australian bush and makes the disjunction of the natural and the unnatural all the more apparent. (Text from the NGV website)


Howard Taylor. 'Bushfire sun' 1996 


Howard Taylor
Bushfire sun
Oil on canvas
122 x 152 cm
© Howard Taylor, courtesy of the artist’s estate and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art


Michael Riley. 'Untitled' from the series 'Cloud [Feather]' 2000


Michael Riley
Untitled from the series Cloud [Feather]
Inkjet print on banner paper
86 x 120 cm
© Michael Riley Foundation, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art



“Feathers float – so do clouds – and dreams.

Feather – a Wiradjuri word for feather and wing are the same, Gawuurra. Probably Cowra, the name of a town to the south, comes from this. In contemporary Aboriginal practices of other groups, feather-appendage is extended in meaning to string tassel, sacred string marking a journey, connecting landscapes, people, family lineages, and, importantly, the embryo cord linking child and mother.

A wing of the eagle hawk, Malyan, a skin name, a scary dream-being overhead. Is it guardian angel or assassin? In the south-east, a feather left behind is often evidence of such a spiritual visit.

At the funeral of actor and activist Bob Maza in 2000, his son held his father’s Bible and recollected his words, ‘to dare to dream your dreams’. It’s interesting that Michael Riley chose to avoid the word ‘dream’ in naming his final photographic work cloud (2000), avoiding glib connections to ‘Dreamtime’. What rolls past our eyes and through our senses is the culmination of self-examination. In a series of poetic photographic texts made increasingly poignant through events in his personal life, these are dreams of childhood memories in Dubbo, New South Wales: dreams of floating, of release…

cloud appears as more personal and free. A floating feather; a sweeping wing; a vigilant angel; the cows from ‘the mission’ farm; a single Australian Plague Locust in flight, referring to the cyclical swarms of locusts; a comforting Bible; and a graceful emblematic returning boomerang. The boomerang is really the only overtly Aboriginal image in the series and the locust is one of the few native species left that is visible and cannot be swept aside. It persists…

Through the large, simply superimposed images of cloud, Michael was trying to minimalise things, to distil his ideas about physical reality and spirit. All are dichotomously connected to Dubbo and Riley and are also universal. They are not about a place but a state, the surrealistic cow with mud and manure on its hoofs floating by. In contrast to Empire’s scenes of a decayed, overworked and desolated landscape, there is no physical land in the cloud imagery.

Aboriginal creation stories begin with a sunrise and follow the journeys of an original being across a physical, seasonal and emotional landscape – seeing, experiencing, and naming this and that plant, animal, climatic occurrence and emotional feelings. Religious song cycles follow this progression. Michael’s set of large, single-subject memories can almost be thought of as a Wiradjuri song cycle of his land and his life.”

Extract from Djon Mundine. Wungguli – Shadow : Photographing the spirit and Michael Riley” on the Michael Riley: sights unseen National Gallery of Australia website.


Paddy Bedford. 'Merrmerrji–Queensland creek' 2005 


Paddy Bedford
Merrmerrji-Queensland creek
Ochre and synthetic binder on composition board
80 x 100 cm
© Paddy Bedford, reproduced courtesy of the artist’s estate and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art



“Paddy Bedford was a senior Gija lawman born at Bedford Downs Station in the East Kimberly region. Like many indigenous artists, he lived a long life as a stockman before he looked upon the Turkey Creek elders – Rover Thomas and Paddy Jiminji – to begin painting. Bedford’s first works were made with the inception of the Jirrawun Aboriginal Art Cooperative in 1997.

The distinctive minimalist style of his work is but a mask to the multifarious layers of meaning. Bedford’s paintings are inspired by the distinctive landscape and stories of his country in the East Kimberly region of Western Australia, as he depicts from an aerial perspective the traditional dreamings of the Cockatoo, Emu and Turkey; the massacres of local Aboriginal people during the colonial period; as well as episodes from his own life as a stockman and as a senior elder of his community.

Merrmerrji- Queensland Creek, 2005 is characteristically sparse in composition with bold forms, a rhythmic application of dotted fluid lines and a powerfully imposing colour palate, which is gained from a wet-on-wet mixture of white and ochre pigments suspended in a fast drying acrylic medium. The effect is a pearly radiant luminosity, an ambience of the sacred.” (Text from the Annette Larkin Fine Art website)



The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website


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Exhibition: ‘NGV 150th Felton Bequest Gift – Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th May 2011 – 28th May 2012


Tommy Mitchell (Ngaanyatjarra born c. 1943) 'Kurlilypurru' 2009


Tommy Mitchell (Ngaanyatjarra born c. 1943-2013)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152.0 x 212.0 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Tommy Mitchell, courtesy Warakurna Artists Aboriginal Corporation



“This is me: this is mine. The whole lot is me. I been walking all around, I know him proper way, he is always with me…”

Weaver Jack



Someone keyed my car the other day and it sent me into a bit of a downward spiral. Who knows why people do these things – stupidity, boredom, sheer bloody mindedness. This exhibition brought me back from that space to a rejoicing in human creativity and connection. It helped me leave my troubles behind. The stories in these paintings ground you, bring you back to earth through the experience and feeling of colour, movement and stillness.

I, we, cannot understand this ancient culture for it is foreign to us. We are not of it. But we can feel the stories in our own way. While we can’t understand every nuance of symbology and traditional narrative that the paintings contain they can speak to us all as human; we all come from this earth and must return to it. I felt the place from which they emanate, an intimacy with earth, self and soul.

I might not know much about anything, about understanding the vagaries of human beings, but I do know what is honest and truthful, has feeling for the piquancy of life. These paintings let my troubles and vicissitudes drop away and uplifted my spirit. Surrounded by love, by colour, by belonging to earth, sky, water, spirit. A wonderful gift to any human being and a wonderful gift from the Felton Bequest to the National Gallery of Victoria and to all the people of Australia. Go and experience their embrace.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Various artists. 'Ngayarta Kujarra' 2009


Yikartu Bumba Manyjilyjarra born (1940s)
Jakayu Biljabu Manyjilyjarra born (c. 1937)
Nyanjilpayi Nancy Chapman Manyjilyjarra born (c. 1941)
May Chapman Manyjilyjarra born (1940s)
Doreen Chapman Manyjilyjarra born (1970s)
Linda James Manyjilyjarra born 1984
Mulyatingki Marney Manyjilyjarra born 1941
Reena Roger Manyjilyjarra born (1950s)
Beatrice Simpson Manyjilyjarra born (c. 1966)
Ronelle Simpson Manyjilyjarra born 1988
Muntararr Rosie Williams Manyjilyjarra born (c. 1943)
Ngayarta Kujarra
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
300.0 x 500.1 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011



Ngayartu Kujarra

The artists who collaborated on this work (above) live at Punmu community, on the shore of a vast salt lake, (Lake Dora), which is surrounded by a scattered array of water sources.

The artists from this region are profoundly affectionate and respectful towards the salt lake and the fresh waters hat have sustained htem and their families for as long as memory can stretch.

The women have reproduced the feeling of the salt lake viscerally: their work conveys its immense scale, fine texture, extreme whiteness and shimmering light.


Nyumitja Laidlaw (Ngaanyatjarra born c. 1938) 'Kuriella' 2009


Nyumitja Laidlaw (Ngaanyatjarra born c. 1938)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
142.3 x 175.0 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Nyumitja Laidlaw/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia


Kalaju Alma Webou (Yulparija c. 1920-2009) 'Pinkalarta' 2006


Kalaju Alma Webou (Yulparija c. 1920-2009)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152.0 x 152.0 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Kalaju Alma Webou, courtesy Short Street Gallery/Yulparija Artists from Bidyadanga



Today, 24 May 2011, the National Gallery of Victoria celebrates its 150th birthday.

To honour this tremendous milestone, the NGV today unveiled an exceptional gift of 173 important Indigenous works of art including three by contemporary artists Vernon Ah Kee, Brook Andrew and Jonathan Jones who were commissioned to create works that pay homage to the highly celebrated Wurundjeri artist, William Barak. These pieces have been gifted by the Felton Bequest, established in 1904 by the NGV’s greatest benefactor, Alfred Felton.

The Honourable Alex Chernov, AO, QC, Governor of Victoria and Mrs Elizabeth Chernov were present at the NGV’s unveiling ceremony.

Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said: “This is the most significant gift of Indigenous art to the NGV since the Gallery opened its doors for the first time on this date 150 years ago in country of the Kulin nation. It is appropriate on this date both to honour the memory of Alfred Felton and also celebrate the Indigenous art of our country, the world’s oldest continuous visual tradition.”

The gift of 173 works encompasses two exceptional collections: the first comprises 63 nineteenth and early twentieth century shields on display as part of the Australian Art collection, and the second 107 twenty-first century paintings from the Far Western Desert, forming the new exhibition Living Water.

Dr Vaughan said: “This outstanding gift adds tremendous strength to the NGV’s collection of Indigenous Art. Since the NGV first collected Indigenous art, the collection has grown to hold over 3,000 works representing cultures across Australia.

These exciting and dynamic acquisitions will enable the NGV to continue to educate visitors of all ages about the visual art of Indigenous Australians. This gift is a highlight of the NGV’s 150th anniversary year, reminding us of the crucial and continuing role the NGV has played in collecting and displaying the finest art works that can be acquired.

The Barak Commissions pay tribute to one of the most important figures of nineteenth century Australian Indigenous art, acknowledging Barak’s central place in the history of Victoria and the NGV,” said Dr Vaughan.

William Barak was born in country of the Wurundjeri people and became a leading Indigenous artist and figure in Melbourne during the 19th century. He is said to have witnessed John Batman ‘purchase’ Melbourne in 1835.

The multi-media installation by Vernon Ah Kee presents conversations between prominent Indigenous people as they reflect on how Barak has inspired them. Brook Andrew, renowned for his multi-disciplinary works, has created a powerful installation which adorns the entrance atrium at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Jonathan Jones, who works with fluid and dancing light as a metaphor of living culture, has created five light boxes that map important cultural designs belonging to Barak as a way of honouring Barak’s life.

The collection of 63 rare and stunningly beautiful 19th and early 20th century shields is largely contemporary with Barak’s life. The shields serve to remind us of the time when the plains of Southeast Australia contained carved trees bearing elegant inscriptions, with people dressed in possum-skin cloaks and carrying elaborate shields living extraordinary living in harmony with country and ancient beliefs.

The Living Water exhibition unveils the Felton Bequest gift paintings: 107 adventurous works by male and female artists from newly established art centres in the Far Western Desert, an area stretching across far flung parts of Western Australia and South Australia.

This exhibition of 21st century art highlights today’s momentous art movement which originated at Papunya in 1971 when senior men decoded their archival narratives and laws, forging a new form shared by many Indigenous peoples across the Western Desert.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website


Roy Underwood (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1937) 'Mulaya' 2008


Roy Underwood (Pitjantjatjara born c.1937 – 2018)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.0 x 135.0 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Roy Underwood, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project


Simon Hogan (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1930) 'Ilkurlka' 2004


Simon Hogan (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1930)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
134.5 x 176.6 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Simon Hogan, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project



Spinifex People

The country of the Spinifex people, who speak a southern dialect of Pitjantjatjara language, consists of vast plains of deep red sand, salt lakes and Spinifex.

In 1998 the community produced a series of ten large paintings that were bequeathed to the people of Western Australia in a symbolic reciprocal exchange of paintings for land. Most Spinifex works, subsequently produced on infrequent painting trips back to country operate as complex maps as well as religious landscapes that detail sources of spiritual power in country belonging to individual artists.


Milatjari Pumani (Yankunytjatjara, b. 1928) 'Ngura Walytja, Antara' 2010


Milatjari Pumani (Yankunytjatjara, b. 1928)
Ngura Walytja, Antara
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
168.6 x 137.4 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Milatjari Pumani, courtesy Mimili Maku Arts & Crafts



Living Water: Exhibition Background Information

Living Water, an exhibition showcasing 107 contemporary Indigenous paintings by 94 artists from the Felton Bequest Gift, displays works by male and female artists from the Far Western Desert, an area stretching across parts of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

A modern art movement originated at Papunya in 1971, which has since transformed the way we see the land and the history of art in Australia. Almost forty years after the genesis of the Western Desert art movement, its epicentre has dramatically shifted from Papunya in the Northern Territory to the Pintupi homelands of Kintore and Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert, and to communities that lie hundreds of kilometres to the south and west in far-flung reaches of South Australia and Western Australia (the Far Western Desert).

During the first decade of the 21st century, Pintupi, Spinifex, Anangu, Yulparija and Martu artists have developed a dynamic and fresh expression of Western Desert Art. The male and female artists not only share close kinship, social, linguistic and ritual interconnections and lived experience of desert country built up during pujiman (nomadic, bush) days but also have parallel experiences of making art with introduced materials for the commercial market. Their paintings – bearers of sanctity – resonate with the shock of the ancient made new and tell tjukurrpa (stories) associated with special places in their ngurra (country).This dramatic new wave of acrylic painting is the focus of Living Water, comprising the NGV’s 150th anniversary gift from the Felton Bequest of 107 paintings.

Aboriginal people from across the Western Desert use the term ‘living water’ to describe water sources, including rock holes and soakage waters that are fed by underground springs. The path of these springs was created by the ancestral beings of the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) as they themselves journeyed underground, their entry into the earth often marking the site of current day water sources. ‘Living water’ is revered also because it does not seem to be affected by the harsh conditions above the ground that the people themselves have to endure.

This exhibition has been curated by Judith Ryan, Indigenous Art Curator, NGV. The following groups of people are represented in this spectacular exhibition.


Pintupi people

Pintupi is the name of a Western Desert language spoken by Aboriginal people who belong to a large stretch of country in the Gibson Desert of Western Australia and the western edge of the Northern Territory. When the Pintupi arrived in the government settlements east of their traditional lands between the 1930s and the 1950s, they adopted the term ‘Pintupi’ to distinguish themselves amongst the surrounding Aboriginal inhabitants as the ‘people from the west’.

The Pintupi’s complex relationship to the land of their ancestors is expressed through stories, songs and ritual practice that are also depicted in the acrylic paintings of the artists from the Pintupi communities of Walungurru and Kiwirrkura.


Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjara People

The Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjara people of the tri-state region of the Western Desert constantly interact and are related by kinship, language and genealogy.

Here they specialised in making walka (drawings), batik, punu (wood carvings) and tjanpi weavings, avoiding painting on canvas for the art market until the 21st century because of their suspicion of earlier forms of Western Desert art and their reluctance to disclose sacred elements of men’s and women’s law.


Yulparija People

The Yulparija people originally come from the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia, which runs from Telfer in the south to Walungurru in the east and close to Fitzroy Crossing in the north.

Their work contains deep threads of cultural memory and is daring in its vigour of application and iridescent palette. The Yulparija have forged a painting style that combines their cultural memory of desert birth country with the rich blues and greens of saltwater terrain.


Martu People

Martu means ‘one of us’, or ‘person’ and is the word chosen to represent a number of different language groups from country across the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Martu are interconnected to other surrounding peoples from the Great Sandy Desert through their shared country of birth and associated Dreaming stories.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website


Dadda Samson (Kartujarra born c. 1933) 'Puntuwarri' 2009


Dadda Samson (Kartujarra born c. 1933)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
124.5 x 293.4 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Dadda Samson, courtesy Martumili Artists


Lawrence Pennington (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1940) 'Kurparu (Magpie)' 2005


Lawrence Pennington (Pitjantjatjara born c. 1940)
Kurparu (Magpie)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
138.6 x 92.7 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Lawrence Pennington, courtesy Spinifex Arts Project


Wingu Tingima (Pitjantjatjara c.1917–2010) 'Kungkarakalpa (Seven Sisters)' 2007-09


Wingu Tingima (Pitjantjatjara c. 1917-2010)
Kungkarakalpa (Seven Sisters)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
140.0 x 210.0 cm
Felton Bequest, 2011
© Wingu Tingima, courtesy Tjungu Palya



The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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