August Reflections

This blog post was written by David Leece.

A third trip occurred in the late dry of August. Warm days and very cool mornings. The floodplain in the early morning, from our vantage point at Djinkarr, is a vast white ocean of mist, all features lost, the extent unknown and hidden, to be revealed in the latent heat of the day. Dawn is the best time of day, the chorus of everything awakening in a cacophony of excitement. The northern Kookaburra sounds like a Brolga to the uninitiated. The curlew is distinctive though slightly mournful. The Gouldian finches are absent – chasing food elsewhere. And the red tailed black cockatoos are ubiquitous. The parade is repeated at dusk, the great restitution of community as all the birds discuss their travails of the day. This fades to a great sky of extraordinary illumination – and a moon which at this time of the month is described by one of the team (a class romantic who shall remain nameless) as a ‘beautiful little toenail’.

Morning mist over Djinkarr, photo by Hugo Sharp.

Sitting waiting
Looking
Waiting sitting
Sitting
Looking
Ma

Another floodplain – vast. Great flocks of brolgas dance, churning the recently burnt earth, leaving the surface desiccated. What are they looking for? What is the relation between Brolgas and fire? The floodplain is broken by great craters that become impossible to miss or even traverse, formed by the wallowing of pig and buffalo. Now – with the surface dry – they are riven by cracks and are broken. Green pick is a curious bright filament against the grey of earth and black of ash.

We arrive at the river. We are on guard for the potential crocodile. We unpack and begin drawing or painting. Dave Taylor assumes the role of croc watcher, large stick in hand. I turn to get some water and jump several feet at the thrashing of the bush behind me – ‘Its ok Dave I’ve got him’ shouts Dave Taylor as everyone else laughs at my distress. ‘Bastard’ I mutter and resume drawing.

The stillness is short lived. The beast arrived silently – how long it had lain there looking at us none of us could say. It stared at us as we began to hurriedly pack. Then it was as silently gone. We picked out a pair of eyes in the water, then they too were gone – and so were we!

(from above: first 3 images David Leece, remainder Hugo Sharp)

The family paint – Jennifer Wurrkidj and Deborah Wurrkidj, daughters of the renowned John Mawurndjul, with Hamish Garrgarrku, Jennifer’s husband, an artist in his own right with recent exhibitions in Perth. We work together at Djinkarr for most of the day. Then in the late afternoon a car arrives with Deborah’s husband and several children and grandchildren. Three generations are now painting and general mayhem breaks loose. Small squares of black paper are produced and more brushes and paint brought out. Bandanas are passed around and soon everyone is engaged in making work – mainly of long neck turtles! Then when paint and paper are exhausted the face paints come out and another cultural icon takes over – Spiderman comes alive!

(above Wurrkidj and Garrgarrku family members. Photos David Leece) 

We walk down the hill to an open savannah woodland dotted with enormous termite mounds – each waist to chest height, tall straight plains aligned in a north south axis. They appear as quiet sentinels – waiting, or bearing witness or just being – fragments seemingly from another time. Grey – the colour of the earth that becomes golden in the reflected evening light. The grasslands are open with low height savannah trees. Even here there are the tracks of buffalo – deep hollows that break the meadow. And perhaps incongruously the tracks of a vehicle. Then again maybe not. We have seen numerous vehicles heading down onto the floodplain which at this time of year is accessible. Cars packed with different families and different generations that are all engaged in traditional hunting of some form or other. And if not hunting then family business, or just having fun.

Paperbark swamp and long neck turtles. A Sunday afternoon and families arrive. Fires are lit to clean country. Long sticks selected and a strange parade of children and adults prodding the earth along the edge of the swamp. Waiting hoping for the hollow thud of stick against shell that will deliver the prize – the long neck turtle!

(from above: left image David Leece, right image Hugo Sharp)

Telstra pre-paid. I thought this meant that you bought a phone, paid for credit and could phone anyone until that credit ran out. Paying in advance, no need for contracts or credit ratings or anything – unless you’re the government. It seems that you now need to be on a government database somewhere to be able to activate a phone. And not just any database - you need a license, medicare card, or passport. I was trying to help a local activate her phone - she didn’t drive so no license. She didn’t have a passport. Her medicare card had expired – she dropped into the clinic and retrieved her number – but they also wanted the colour of the card and the expiry date. What is this about? And why just those elements of identification? Virtually everyone here is paid through Centrelink for one reason or another – but the Centrelink Card is not accepted. If it’s good enough for the government to give people money using this database, why not a simple prepaid phone?

Another day and a journey through the new suburb to pick up the family, then working –

Hamish and Jennifer. Photo David Leece.

We are now working in town and Jennifer and Deborah are working on large 75 x 75cm canvases. By special arrangement Hamish is allowed to join them with his own canvas and story. Both of the women are painting about food – dilly bags and what may fill them. Turtle, goanna, bush plums, yams and bush potatoes. Hamish paints of the waterhole and the emergence of the Rainbow Serpent surrounded by waterlilies. The works utilise traditional rarrk technique on new canvas with new pigments. Each line is applied skilfully, deliberately. The complex compositions seemingly emerge from nowhere, though of course they are probably well known and understood stories.

Painting new works
Colour
Fluorescent
Old stories
New ways
Rarrk old
Canvas new,
No bark
Old stories.

Deborah. Photo David Leece.