[Note: I've fallen far behind in my chronicles of our adventures, but Darwin at the opening of the Festival and the NATSIAA will do that to a blogger. Much more to follow in the days ahead.]
On Wednesday night, August 13, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory’s Foundation sponsored a dinner at the Darwin Convention Center to honor George Chaloupka for his contributions to the study and preservation of Aboriginal rock art. Energy Resources of Australia has funded a Research Fellowship in Chaloupka’s honor, offering a $25,000 stipend for each of the next three years to a scholar who engages in exploration or documentation of rock art sites, consultation with Indigenous owners, or further study based on materials of Chaloupka’s already in the collections of MAGNT.
Wendy James, president of the MAGNT Foundation presided, and her husband Earl served as Master of Ceremonies, introducing the several speakers, including, via DVD, The Hon. Tom Pauling, Administrator of the Northern Territory, who reminisced about expeditions through Arnhem Land with Chaloupka, and commended his contributions to the scholarship of rock art. Anita Angel introduced the great man himself, and gave a lucid and moving summary of his career and his achievements.
Chaloupka himself spoke of the critical need to preserve what he called the largest and most important rock art assemblage in the world. Older and more extensive than the more famous galleries of France and Spain, Indigenous rock art galleries document a long, continuous tradition, spanning prehistoric hunting, contact with Macassans in the last five centuries, and the arrival of Europeans on the Antipodean shores. Chaloupka stressed the human element that is so important and unique to Australian sites, and ended with an impassioned plea for more work in the area of conservation and preservation. His final remarks noted that there is no one better positions and equipped to construct such work than the youngest generation of the Indigenous landowners: they are in place, have the cultural background appropriate to the task, and need only to be trained in methods of conservation.
On a personal level, I had the honor and the enjoyment of being at the Deputy Chief Minster’s table. Marion Scrymgour turned out to have a wickedly funny sense of humor, a sharp memory, and an equally incisive intellect. For the most part, though, the talk at the table was casual and light-hearted, politics being swept aside for a respite after the days following the election. Chips Mackinolty was there as well, and shared the advance news that MAGNT will be receiving $300,000 for conversation and documentation of their collection of Papunya Tula boards, in advance of a national and international tour. Minister Scrymgour officially announced this news two days later, on Friday night at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
We left after the raffle in which four prints of rock art and autographed copies of Chaloupka’s Journey in Time were distributed, well fed, well entertained, and inspired: in short, ready for the opening of the Darwin Festival, the NATSIAA, and the “art tsunami,” as Anita Angel described it.