Posts Tagged ‘Tanami desert

30
Dec
18

Photographs: ‘Australia’ Part 1

December 2018

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

 

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Parlour, Broken Hill, New South Wales' 1895

 

Anonymous photographer
Parlour, Broken Hill, New South Wales
1895
Gelatin silver print

 

A German Rönisch piano with a copy of “A Country Girl” above the keyboard (I can’t find any reference online to this song?). To the right, a two-panel screen with Christmas cards, one with the words “Hearty Greetings” and another with the date “1895”.

 

 

The last posting for 2018 features a selection of Australian black and white photographs that belong to a friend of mine, who has kindly allowed me to scan and publish them. The images have been digitally cleaned after scanning. The titles of the photographs are annotated on the back of the images.

The photographs are mainly of pastoral, colonial, outback, station, homestead and mining life, and picture the remoteness of these properties and towns c. 1910s-1950s. They also evidence the nature of white, colonial, patriarchal society much in evidence on pastoral stations during this time period. Hardly a women appears in these photographs, and Indigenous Australians usually only appear as stockmen or trackers.

Of most interest to me are the photographs of Poolamacca Station, c. 1910.

In the first photograph, Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (below) what is going on in the photograph remains a bit of a mystery. A man lies, apparently comatose, on a mattress outside, on the ground, in the strong midday sun (note the short length of the shadows). The man to the right reaches forward to clasp his hand, while other men around clasp each other’s hands to form a circle around the body. Some men look down at the body on the mattress, others stare straight at the camera, smoking cigars. A handsome man with a moustache, on bended knee and wearing a waistcoat, third from left, smiles broadly at the camera. A man at the back of the group rests his head against the stone of the building, eyes closed, as though he is drunk. The length of the exposure can be judged by the several blurred figures, particularly of the man standing and the head of the man at right rear.

Several scenarios are possible: is the man lying on the mattress really ill? Is it some kind of religious play being performed on Christmas Day? Are they all drunk and mucking about? And/or is it some kind of game, a charade? The circle of hands suggests to me it is a type of friendship game for the person lying on the mattress, a bond between them all, a supposition reinforced by the handsome man smiling at the camera. If the situation were serious, he would not be smiling. The second photograph, taken at the same time (before or afterwards?), features the men now accompanied by women, piled high on a cart pulled by four horses. At left behind the front horses can be seen what I believe is the same corrugated iron and building that appears at left in the first image. We can only guess the narrative in the first photograph because we do not have enough clues. Nevertheless, the photograph and its story remain a fascinating mystery.

The third and fourth photographs also tell an enigmatic story. Again, they have both been taken at the same time, as can be seen by the same riveted water tank behind each group in the photographs. The same fair-haired child also appears at right in the first photograph and sitting in his mother’s lap in the second photograph. From the length of his white apron, the white man in the photograph is possibly a cook or butcher at Poolamacca Station. The photographs also put lie to George Dutton’s claim that “in 1910 there was only two boys left” at Poolamacca Station (see extract from The Mutawintji research project report below).

What we have here is, possibly, an interracial marriage or partnership, a frontier marriage? whose Australian

“… boundary-crossing lovers are still omitted from the historical memory of the nation. Despite their long-term, cross-generational legacies, these unions virtually became a secret of state. …

These lovers generated families at the core of the cultural and historical interface that became the Australian nation. However, the young coloniser state did not like it.

From the coming of Federation until the 1960s, love affairs between Aboriginal people and others were severely restricted across all of northern Australia. Queensland moved rapidly to curb courtship and marriage between white Australian men and Aboriginal women. Western Australia and the Northern Territory followed. That didn’t mean that relationships stopped. Love often prevailed. …

Police and missionary enforcers placed white working class men living with Aboriginal women under sexual surveillance, forcing them to either apply for permits or be arrested. Many were fined or jailed. The Chief Protectors, who had the power to decide who could marry whom, regularly refused their written requests to marry.

Although largely untouched by the new laws, magistrates, pastoralists, police and missionaries also fell in love with Aboriginal women. It was not uncommon for cattle station owners and managers to practice a form of cross-frontier polygamy, sustaining relationships with both a white wife and an Aboriginal woman. …

Australian lovers who were willing to cross these punitive marriage bars showed an uncommon courage. Out of this “illicit love” came new generations who carry on the battles for their ancestors and their communities. Some are the very same people who are required today to justify their Aboriginality because of mixed descent. They have to keep explaining who they are and why they are speaking out.1

.
What these rare photographs speak of is a love, an intimacy, and affection within a family unit. Just look at the gentleness as the man holds the child’s hands and the smile on the mother’s face. It is just a gorgeous photograph of love and happiness between white and black, of a smiling women with her children. Passed down through time, it is a privilege to be able to look, to understand, to feel the power of this relationship all of these years later.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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All of these photographs have been digitally cleaned. Many thankx to my friend Daniel for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Professor Ann McGrath. “Celebrating white men and their black lovers,” on The Sydney Morning Herald website [Online] Cited 30/12/2018

 

 

1910s Australia

Anonymous photographer. 'Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Christmas Day, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Christmas guests, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Christmas guests, Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Poolamacca Station

It is situated about 50 kilometres (31 mi) north of Broken Hill and 174 kilometres (108 mi) north east of Mannahill at the eastern end of the Barrier Range adjoining Sturts Meadows. The station currently occupies an area of 40,000 acres (16,187 ha). The abandoned township of Tarrawingee is situated within the boundaries of the station.

The property was established in the 1860s with the first owners of the run being Messrs Jones and Goode. In 1867 a shepherd staged a hoax with a white quartz gold find that lead to an aborted gold rush to the area. The first property in the area was Mount Gipps Station In 1865 with Corona, Mundi Mundi and Poolamacca being established shortly afterward. Sidney Kidman worked at Poolamacca during the 1870s as a boundary rider and stockman.

In 1877 the property was put up for auction by the trustees of the estate of Messrs E. M. Bagot and G. Bennett. At this stage the property was approximately 900 square miles (2,331 km2) in size along with a flock of 34,906 sheep. The property comprised ten separate runs including the 64,000 acre Bijerkerno run to the 25,000 acre Torrowangee run.

John Brougham acquired a half share in Poolamacca in 1889 and later secured the lease outright. Brougham remained at Poolamacca until 1915 when he moved to Adelaide. In 1892 approximately 50 Aboriginal people, were moved to Poolamacca station which under the regime of the late owner, Mr J. Brougham, constituted a sanctuary for the last remaining Aboriginal inhabitants of the Barrier Ranges and adjacent areas.

The lease was later split into two properties: Poolamacca and Wilangee in the 1920s. Moss Smith sold the property in 1927 to the Pastoral company of Adelaide following the death of his daughter whose body was found buried in a warren in Poolamacca late the year before after she had gone missing for four months.

In 2002 the property was acquired by the Indigenous Land Corporation with the title holders being the Wilyakali Aboriginal Corporation when the property occupied an area of 507 square kilometres (196 sq mi).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sydney Poolamacca map

 

Sydney to Poolamacca map, New South Wales, Australia

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Poolamacca Station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Extracts from The Mutawintji research project

Keith Brougham, the son of John Brougham, the owner of Poolamacca (and brother of John Brougham Jnr of Gnalta station, now part of Mutawintji National Park), describes how the first pastoralists mapped out their original station boundaries by including the best waterholes:

The wild aborigines were a help by following their tracks, as they knew of any existing water away from the river… One old aborigine who claims to be from one of the wild tribes told me the walkabout was a good sign to watch for – at that time a mob were having a hunt for a new hunting ground and had camped about midday. While they were stopped a pregnant woman had a baby there. Next day they were off again, mother and child and went straight to a waterhole, which the white people found by following their tracks (Brougham, K.W.C. 1920, West of the Darling, MS, State Library of South Australia, p. 14)

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… In 1862, the area north-west of Mt Murchison on the Darling River near present day Wilcannia was still frontier country. Mt Gipps station7, set up in 1865 (Kearns 1982), was the first station in the Broken Hill area. It included the country to the north of Broken Hill and the hill that was to become the Broken Hill mine and city. Mt Gipps was followed soon after by Poolamacca, Corona and Mundi Mundi.

No actual descriptions of the annexation of Mutawintji by pastoralists have been found so far, but as permanent waterholes are few to the north-west of the Darling River, descriptions of the annexure of other important water sources such as Yancannia in the mid 1860s suggest that there was likely to have been conflict. Yancannia station, to the north of Mutawintji, had been established by 1865 and contemporary accounts describe conflict with the local Aboriginal people. By 1872 the Aboriginal people of Yancannia gave the owners “very little trouble” and “a few of them [were] very useful” (Reid in Shaw, M.T. 1987, Yancannia Creek, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, p. 104).

.
Dr Jeremy Beckett, Dr Luise Hercus, Dr Sarah Martin (edited by Claire Colyer). The Mutawintji research project report. MUTAWINTJI: Aboriginal Cultural Association with Mutawintji National Park. Published in 2008 by the Office of the Registrar, Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW), pp. 9-10.

 

It is clear from the Bonney records that people moved backwards and forwards between Yancannia, Momba, Tarella, Wonnaminta, Poolamacca and Gnalta/Mootwingee stations from the 1860s and through the 1880s. Bonney lists about 44 people as living at Momba and Tarella around 1881; some of the people from Momba have been traced and the descendents of some of the people Bonney described are Aboriginal owners of Mutawintji National Park. …

In 1892 about 50 Aboriginal people, including Outalpa George, were camped near Olary. At about this time they moved to Poolamacca station which “under the regime of the late owner, Mr J. Brougham, constituted a sanctuary for the last remaining Aboriginal inhabitants of the Barrier Ranges and adjacent areas” (Mawson, D. and Hossfeld, P.S. 1926, ‘Relics of Aboriginal Occupation in the Olary District’, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 50, pp. 17-25).

Keith Brougham, the son of John Brougham, writes about the 1890s:

[in] 1892 [at] Poolamacca … we were amazed by the number of Aboriginals that were there…. I had a boy mate staying with me and about two hundred blacks were camped in a sort of inlet in the hills of Silverton Hill, as it was called west of the homestead … The Aboriginals were practically in their wild state and did not speak our language (Brougham MS n.d, p.1)

… cotton dresses, high coloured and a great favourite of the [women] went as soon as they were landed, and olive oil for the [women’s] hair, always in demand (Brougham MS n.d, p.2).

[the Aboriginal people] were very handy in the woolshed at shearing time. The [women] did all the piece picking and men on the tables and picking up. The pickers were excellent at their job and all had a good eye, male and female (Brougham MS n.d, p.3)

… At Poolamacca my mother … employed a … girl who was neat and tidy, an extra good worker, and in 1896 she was really good (Brougham MS n.d, p.12)

… [at] Euriowie we had a lot of aboriginals working in the creeks surrounding this country picking up slugs of pure tin and bagging it (Brougham MS n.d, p.23).

.
The APB [Aboriginal Protection Board] minutes recorded between 1890 and 1901 seldom mention the Mutawintji area. The only stations in the far north-west that received help from the APB were Poolamacca, occasionally Sturts Meadows, and the fringe camps at Milparinka, Tibooburra, Wanaaring and Wilcannia. The only station that consistently received rations throughout 1890-1901 was Poolamacca. Sturts Meadows (just to the west of Mutawintji) received rations in 1893, 1897 and 1898. Most stations either managed to fully employ the Aboriginal people living there or provided food and clothing of some sort without asking for compensation. …

During John Brougham’s time at Poolamacca during the 1890s and early 1900s, the station was something of a sanctuary for Aboriginal people but many had moved on by the time the Brougham family left. Some followed the Broughams to Gnalta station (now part of Mutawintji National Park) while others went to stations like Yancannia, where a large number of Aboriginal people lived and worked (Shaw, M.T. 1987, Yancannia Creek, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne). …

According to George Dutton, who was born on Yancannia station, there was a sizeable Aboriginal population at Poolamacca until about 1910, but almost none thereafter. George Dutton told Jeremy Beckett:

“At Poolamacca in 1901 there was a big mob of blackfellas, two hundred men without the women and kids. When I went back in 1910 there was only two boys left and graves all round” (Beckett, J. 1978, ‘George Dutton’s Country: Portrait of an Aboriginal Drover’, Aboriginal History, vol. 2 (1), pp. 19).

.
Dr Jeremy Beckett, Dr Luise Hercus, Dr Sarah Martin (edited by Claire Colyer). The Mutawintji research project report. MUTAWINTJI: Aboriginal Cultural Association with Mutawintji National Park. Published in 2008 by the Office of the Registrar, Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW), pp. 14-16.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales' c. 1910-20

 

Anonymous photographer
Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales
c. 1910-20
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales' c. 1910-20 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910-20
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales' c. 1910-20 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Banjo playing in the garden, Broken Hill, far west of outback New South Wales (detail)
c. 1910-20
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales' c. 1900-1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
c. 1900-1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales' c. 1900-1910 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Dr Tham?, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales (detail)
c. 1900-1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Horse and trap, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Horse and trap, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Largs Pier Hotel, North-western suburb of Adelaide, South Australia' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Largs Pier Hotel, North-western suburb of Adelaide, South Australia
c. 1910
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Largs Pier Hotel

Largs Pier Hotel is located on the corner of The Esplanade and Jetty Road in Largs Bay, South Australia.

The Largs Pier Hotel opened in 1882 on the same day as the Largs Bay Railway and Pier. Believed to be 23rd of December according to The Port Adelaide Historical Society. From 1882 till around 1892 the Largs Pier was the primary port of call for New Australians travelling from Europe. Many of these immigrants spent their first nights in Australia at the hotel. (Wikipedia)

 

Largs Pier Hotel, South Australia

 

Largs Pier Hotel, South Australia today

 

 

1930s Australia

Anonymous photographer. 'Alice Springs' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Alice Springs
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Alice Springs' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Alice Springs (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Police camels' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Police camels
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Police camels' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Police camels (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Note the Aboriginal police tracker second from left. This could be in the Northern Territory.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'At the Granites' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
At the Granites
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

 

This photograph is possibly from around the Granites gold mine in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory of Australia. You can make out the word “gold” on the truck behind the men.

Gold was discovered in the Tanami Desert by Alan Davidson. He arrived in the area in 1898 prospecting until 1901. He took the name Tanami for the region from local Aboriginal people who visited his camp. “On inquiry [he] learned that the native name of the rockholes (from [which the party obtained water] was Tanami, and that they “never died,” he said. Davidson showed the gold specimens to these Aboriginal people, who recognised it and described “mobs of similar stone to the east, together with a large creek containing plenty of water and fish. This they said was “two days’ sleep to the south of east”. (Wikipedia)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'At the Granites' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
At the Granites (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Note the man crouching at left holding a Kodak box camera, and the folding camera (most probably a Kodak as well) at the feet of the man third from right.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'At the Granites' c. 1930 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
At the Granites (detail)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print

 

 

1950s Australia

Anonymous photographer. 'Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Roy Hill Homestead, Pilbara region of Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Roy Hill Homestead

Statement of significance

Roy Hill Station has strong heritage significance as it has aesthetic, historical, scientific, and social values. It represents more than a hundred years of life on a Pilbara station, and its buildings and structures, reflect an evolutionary pattern of development. Roy Hill Station was the home of Alexander Langdon (Alex) Spring who made an enormous contribution to local government in the region between 1940-70. He was a Councillor for 31 years, and was the first President of the East Pilbara Shire in 1972. He was made a Freeman of the Shire of East Pilbara in 1973. becoming the 13th Freeman in Western Australia.
Roy Hill continues to have significance as a large pastoral station, representing some of the other stations which owners did not want included in the Shire of East Pilbara Heritage Inventory.

 

History

Physical description

Roy Hill Homestead is situated 1km off the main road halfway between Newman and Nullagine. Roy Hill Station consists of a large number of buildings which demonstrate the dynamic process of running a pastoral station over a period of more than a century. There are a number of corrugated iron sheds built at different times for mechanical work and storage of station equipment. Close by is the aircraft directional beacon available for the nearby airstrip if a plane was lost. The original airstrip was approx. 6 miles from the homestead. Part of the very old cattle stockyards still stand next to a disused cattle killing hoist, reflecting a time when pastoralists regularly butchered cattle for their home consumption. The yards were the main trucking yards and general handling yards.

The large main house is one of a number of buildings that have been erected on the station since the turn of the century. It has cement block walls with a corrugated iron roof. Surrounding the large and once gracious home is a wide verandah. The house originally consisted of three bedrooms, a living room, guest room, dining room and school room. Nearby the house is a cluster of older buildings including a ‘Nissan hut’ shaped kitchen and dining room for workers and the old Post Office. Office and General Store.

The Post Office, Office and General Store has corrugated iron walls and a gabled tin roof. Inside the Post Office are the pigeon holes and other associated post office fittings. The service hatch for the Post Office is still visible from the outside. The General Store (to the rear of the Post Office) still has its shelves in place and much of the old equipment that has been collected there over the years gives a feeling of stepping back into another time. In the immediate vicinity of the homestead property are other remnants from the past.

Concrete pads found amongst the grass are the remains of Aboriginal stockmens quarters and the many rainwater tanks are reminders of the need to collect and store all water needed for consumption. A light aircraft parked near the airstrip is an important vehicle for transport and for mustering.
Today the house stands unoccupied and the owner and any employees live in transportable homes near the old house.

Text from the State Heritage Office, Government of Western Australia website

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Mundiwindi

Mundiwindi just off the Jigalong Mission Road in Western Australia is a locality about 1000km north-northeast of Perth. Mundiwindi is at an altitude of about 575m above sea level. The nearest ocean is the Indian Ocean about 410km north-northwest of Mundiwindi. The nearest more populous place is the town of Newman which is 71km away with a population of around 3,500.

Mundiwindi is a ghost town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The town is around 1,150 kilometres (710 mi) north east of Perth and 124 kilometres (77 mi) south east of Newman, along the Jigalong Mission road. The town was established in 1914 as a telegraph station. The station was closed in 1977. The telegraph station was a link on the Australian Overland Telegraph Line linking the settled regions of Australia to the submarine cable at Broome. A weather station operated at the site between 1915 and 1981. (Wikipedia)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Mundiwindi Station, Pilbara region of Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Cardawan Station, central Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Cardawan Station, central Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Stockman (Australia)

In Australia a stockman (plural stockmen) is a person who looks after the livestock on a large property known as a station, which is owned by a grazier or a grazing company. A stockman may also be employed at an abattoir, feedlot, on a livestock export ship, or with a stock and station agency. …

 

History

The role of the mounted stockmen came into being early in the 19th century, when in 1813 the Blue Mountains separating the coastal plain of the Sydney region from the interior of the continent was crossed. The town of Bathurst was founded shortly after, and potential farmers moved westward, and settled on the land, many of them as squatters. The rolling country, ideal for sheep and the large, often unfenced, properties necessitated the role of the shepherd to tend the flocks.

Early stockmen were specially selected, highly regarded men owing to the high value and importance of early livestock. All stockmen need to be interested in animals, able to handle them with confidence and patience, able to make accurate observations about them and enjoy working outdoors.

Australian Aborigines were good stockmen who played a large part in the successful running of many stations. With their intimate bonds to their tribal places, and local knowledge they also took considerable pride in their work. After the gold rushes white labour was expensive and difficult to retain. Aboriginal women also worked with cattle on the northern stations after this practice developed in northern Queensland during the 1880s. A Native administration Act later stopped the employment of women in the cattle camps. Aborigines and their families received the regular provision of food and clothing to retain their labour, but were paid only a small wage.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

For more information on the role and conditions of Aboriginal stockmen, please see the book Aborigines in the Northern Territory Cattle Industry by Dr Frank Stevens, Australian National University Press, 1974.

“Perhaps nowhere in Australia have working and living conditions for Aborigines been so bad as on Northern Territory cattle stations. Though the Aborigines’ skill in handling cattle is acknowledged by their white employers, rarely have they gained recognition in any material way. None were paid full wages, many were fortunate if they received any cash wages at all, almost all lived in appalling conditions, and many were subjected to physical violence.

These facts emerge clearly from Dr Stevens’s thorough research into the conditions obtaining on Territory pastoral properties in the 1960s. During surveys in 1965 followed up in 1967, Dr Stevens questioned employers and both black and white workers in the industry, eliciting some revealing replies. It was apparent that the Aboriginal workers were fully aware of their degraded position and the way in which they were exploited.

Where possible Dr Stevens visited the Aboriginal station ‘camps’, though he met with opposition from some station owners, reluctant to allow him free access. In almost all of them the living conditions were primitive, the best of accommodation being little more than a corrugated iron hut. Few camps had running water or cooking facilities.

In the growing awareness of the Aborigines’ plight in Australia, this book is an important testimony of the conditions in which many lived and worked, conditions that must no longer be allowed to exist.” (Book jacket)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Cardawan Station, central Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Cardawan Station, central Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia' c. 1950

 

Anonymous photographer
Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Austin, Western Australia

Austin is an abandoned town in the Murchison region of Western Australia. The town is located south of Cue on an island in Lake Austin and for this reason was also known as Lake Austin and The Island Lake Austin.

The lake and the town are both named after surveyor Robert Austin, who was the first European to explore and chart the area. Austin initially named the lake the Great Inland Marsh but the name was later changed to Lake Austin. The townsite was gazetted in 1895. When Austin travelled through the area he described it as very indifferent but also added the geological features indicate rich goldfields. (Wikipedia)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia' c. 1950 (detail)

 

Anonymous photographer
Railway Hotel, Lake Austin township, Murchison region of Western Australia (detail)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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16
Jan
18

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.

 

Introduction

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

V

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
tumbling
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
Nd
Muffler painted by Warlpiri artists

 

Judith Crispin. 'Sacred Object #2' Nd

 

Judith Crispin
Sacred Object #2
Nd
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 work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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