Posts Tagged ‘Maralinga


Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.



Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013


Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing



The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)



Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks


late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.



something that is not properly understood; a mystery



from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere



late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate



the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment


Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.


Many thankx to the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

Waanyi artist Judy Watson



Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006


Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan



Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)



Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952



At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018


Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016


Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas



The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018



Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country


Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010


Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier



An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia


Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007


Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke


Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012


Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw


Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010


Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton



Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.


'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974


Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042



British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)


Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website



Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.


Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015


Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre



This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)


Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010



Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014


Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage


Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area


Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)



Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it


Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection



Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018


Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996


Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate


Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013


Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill



Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)



Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.


Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015


Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist


Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002


Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists



Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976


Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust



In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)


Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57


Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
Oil on canvas



Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)


Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981


Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977


Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson



The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon


Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)


Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984


Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984


Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010


Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton



National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

Opening hours:
Daily 9am-5pm

Black Mist Burnt Country website

National Museum of Australia website


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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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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.

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

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