Artist dies on remote track
CELEBRATED Aboriginal artist Nyakul Dawson, a traditional healer who grew up living nomadically in the desert with his parents, is feared to have perished on a remote track after an apparent car breakdown 325km east of Kalgoorlie.
The Pitjantjatjara artist, 69, and relative Jarman Woods, 45 — both of whom had been living in the West Australian Wingellina community near the borders of South Australia and the Northern Territory — had been reported missing for four days when a station hand found what was believed to be their vehicle and Dawson’s body on Dog Fence Road last Friday.
Searchers later that night found the body of another man, thought to be Mr Woods, about 3.5km south of their beige Land Cruiser. The bodies have been flown to Perth for identification and autopsies.
News of the tragic finds spread quickly through the communities of the sprawling Ngaanyatjarra lands and was met with grief, disbelief and confusion by some.
Daily air searches began last week when community members told police the pair had not arrived at the Tjuntjuntjarra community 650km north of Kalgoorlie as expected.
It is believed they may have been missing for more than a week when the alarm was raised.
Hetty Perkins, curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of NSW, described Dawson as a man of immense wit and wisdom and a master craftsman.
She said Dawson’s work, which hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria, brought people from his Ngaanyatjarra area to national attention.
“At the opening of the Musee du quai Branly in Paris (last June), he was an incredible ambassador for Australia and our people. He was at ease amongst the international milieu of dignitaries.”
Some of Dawson’s work depicts the places he went as a boy with his mother and father in the western desert region of central Australia.
A traditional healer, Dawson is known among the Irrunytju people as a highly respected law man and traditional healer.
Dawson’s biography on the Agathon Gallery website tells how he lived in the desert with his extended family where he learnt about the country, the tjukurpa of cultural law associated with it, and how to survive in the desert.
“Working beside his grandfather, he began to train as an ngangkari when he was still a boy. He learnt to use traditional tools and techniques, combined with spiritual knowledge and tjukurpa. He used mapanpa (sharp stone blades) to find splinters in the flesh and removed sickness by sucking out bad blood, touching, kneading and massaging the body,” the biography states.
He worked with prospectors and his memories of this time include the “terrible smell of the fallout from the nuclear testing at Maralinga” and being removed from his country to the mission at Warburton by Native Patrol Officers in the 1950s.
Dawson’s wife is the painter Anmanari Brown.
“Artist Dawson ‘a man of enormous integrity,'” The Australian, January 15, 2007
“How a simple flat tyre killed artist and bushman,” by Paige Taylor and Victoria Laurie, The Australian, January 16, 2007.