Central Australia

I am here in Central Australia, in Alice Springs. Leaving today for the Top End. It’s been a truly magical mystery tour.

But first, a word for our sponsors. I am here as the guest of the Northern Territory Government with the assistance of Austrade, on a tour of Aboriginal art centres along with six others from the United States. I’ve already come to think of us as the American mob, even though we’re accompanied by some of Australia’s finest. Wayne Fan, from the NT Chief Minister’s office (that’s Fan with one “N”) is in charge of the arrangements–in charge of the mob, I guess I should say. He teaches us the protocols, gets our luggage from one place to the next, sees us off at the airports for our charter flights and meets us when we return. He’s a great bloke; that’s all there is to it. His sense of humor is unfailing, and helps to make us feel at home everywhere. That’s no mean feat given that we’re sometimes in three different communities in a day and two different time zones as we pop back and forth between the NT and WA. Joel Newman out of the Austrade office is Los Angeles is traveling with us all the time, and he’s a rock. Nothing fazes him, and we can rely on him for the truly local arrangements. He’s the glue that keeps the mob–a mix of East and West Coasters, with a Texan thrown in to keep the balance–together. 

Also along for this leg of the trip, and sadly taking us no farther than today’s last stops in Alice, has been John Oster of Desart. John acted as host on our first night together at Yulara, bringing the group together, effecting the introductions, helping our jigsaw puzzle of interests and backgrounds begin to lock into place. I’d never had the pleasure of his acquaintance before last Sunday, and now I can say that his enormous intelligence and his store of knowledge about Aboriginal communities is matched only by his modesty. He’s soft-spoken, authoritative, and generous. There have been many privileged moments on this trip that I will be writing about in the days to come as time permits, but the privilege of sharing John’s time and wisdom has been chief among them. We are moving fast across the landscape. We’ve been to Uluru, Amata, Warburton, Patjarr, Warakurna, Kintore, Yuendumu, and the Alice in the space of five days: as one of my mob said, time has become liquid. It might all feel glancing and superficial, but John has helped to make the experience rich and even more rewarding.

And so before I get down to the business of recording where we’ve been and who we’ve met, I wanted to begin by saying thank you to all who’ve been involved in bringing this trip about: to Chief Minister Clare Martin and her government, to her colleagues in the Western Australia government, to the folks at Austrade, to the other entities who’ve sponsored us (ANKAAA, Newmont, the Kimberley Development Commission, ERA, and Export Hub), to our pilot Patrick of DirectAir, and to the managers at the art centres who have been warm and generous and inviting. But most of all, as far as we’ve come, to Wayne and Joel and John for bringing the Dreaming to life.

Leaving Warakurna on a cold morning, the American Art Tour Mob: Sherry, Edwina from Warakurna Artists, Wolf, Kerry, pilot Patrick, Joel, Khadija, Margo, John, and Nana.

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