As foreshadowed in my previous post, I learnt a lot about the Wave Hill walk-off, a major event in modern Australian history, when Maggie and I viewed the Still in my mind exhibition in Alice Springs. In this post, I will tell you more about the painting that added wow factor to my educational experience.
(Note: I am grateful for permission from karungkarni Art & Culture Centre to share the information below, as well as assistance from Artback NT.)
The painting is called Aerial view of Jinparrak (Old Wave Hill Station). It is quite large, about 1.5 metres by 1 metre. You can see an image of the painting in full colour on page 7 of the document that is here.
If you are interested to see this through, I suggest that you keep the image open in one window, so you can hop from here to there, as we go along.
The work was painted in 2015 by two senior Gurindji artists, one female, one male, who lived at Jinparrak at the time of the walk-off in 1966. The woman’s name is Biddy Wavehill Yamawurr Nangala, and the man is Jimmy Wavehill Ngawanyja Nangala.
The exhibition’s catalogue includes a conversation that the two artists had, to explain what they were trying to do and why. Most of what they said was in their own language. Those words are reproduced in their entirety in the catalogue alongside English words that convey their meaning. Here, in English, is what they had to say, including some additional notes [in square brackets] from the catalogue.
Jimmy: This is the history – what I’ve seen with my own eyes – what it looked like at Wave Hill Station. I just improvised. It’s not a Dreamtime story or anything like that. It’s history from old people who used to tell me all kinds of things. I kept it all in my head.
I’d seen it from the old days so I thought, ‘I’ll have to put down [represent] that station.’ I just did it so people can be reminded when they listen to the stories.
[Describing the painting] I put down this bore here, and over here is where the babies were born. And over here is where the women went after they knocked off for the day – under the wanyarri (native bauhinia trees). We [the men]never used to go near there; we’d go round the long way. And from this bore, you see the boy-house. [Aboriginal stock workers were referred to as ‘boys’]. The stock boys used to get water from here. And from the big camp they came too. And on the other side of the boy-house, the river’s somewhere there. This is where people used to sleep in windbreaks [humpies made of branches and leaves] in the cold season.
Biddy: This was the ceremony place for the women. We used to go up there.
Jimmy: This is the boy-house and the big camp, and the yard from where people walked off. They followed the fenceline and came this way [the direction of Kalkaringi].
Biddy: There was only one bore for the whole camp. You had to fetch water with a yoke and bucket. Kartiya (white people) didn’t help us with taps.
Jimmy: One old lady used to go all the time with a bucket and [so did] the men from the boy-house. Kartiya didn’t live like that; they had taps and everything at the station at Wave Hill.
We thought about it and we decided to make the painting of the station so that people can see what it was like in the old days, because when people walked off, the station people went over everything with a bulldozer. They only left their buildings – maybe for history. They must’ve been angry and destroyed our camp. [Note: The camp was, in all likelihood, razed to destroy evidence of the poor conditions.]
I feel happy that I’ve created this piece of history so people can know something about Jinparrak where we’d lived all our lives.
Biddy: It’s nice and big, so you can see it properly.
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Looking at the painting, you will see not only that it is quite magnificent but also how much detail it contains. The catalogue provides a key to the painting, identifying 37 different details. Here is that key. (If you click on it, you’ll be able to read it more readily.)
To me, Aerial view of Jinparrak is quite a treasure, for both its historical and cultural values. And, take this in. I am reliably informed that, 53 years after the walk-off, Biddy still recalls the name of every Aboriginal person who lived there – about 200 in all – and in which humpy they lived. Amazing!
Cheers for now!