Darwin Days

We’re out of the Centre and on to the Top End with a relatively restful couple of days in Darwin. We arrived on Friday to be whisked away to Parliament House and a brief courtesy call on Chief Minister Clare Martin before receiving a tour of the famous art collection of the Supreme Court, led by Anita and David Angel. (I’ll save the details on that for a separate, longer post at a later time.) The evening ended at Northern Editions, the printmakers at Charles Darwin University who have produced stunning work in cooperation with indigenous communities from across the region, as well as with individual artists like Judy Watson.

My plan of action for chronicling this trip is to begin by posting mostly photographic entries to provide a feel for the country we’ve traveled through and some of the people we’ve met, and I hope that when the rest of my mob gets a chance to view these entries, they’ll chime in with their comments and observations–and maybe even photos of their own. I doubt I’ll even be able to catch up on our travels through the Desert in the little time I have in the coming days. There’s much to think about and process, many essays coming forth at a later time, but for now, just let me show you a few photos.

And once again, to stop and thank the people who make this all possible–Austrade and the Northern Territory Government. Yesterday Tourism NT joined the list of sponsors to make the day a miracle. Before the photos of where we’ve been, let me just give you some idea of what a day on this tour is like: a day spent not out in the communities, but given over to easy, relaxing events designed to allow us to catch our breath before heading off to Arnhem Land.

Our hard working guides and friends, Wayne Fan of the NT Chief Minister’s Office, Bernie Eggington, Austrade Darwin, and Joel Newman, Austrade Los Angeles

The day began with gallery visits to Karen Brown and Raft Artspace, with a chance to check out the Parap Markets if you were so inclined. At Raft, I had the honor of being introduced to Australia’s premier expert on Aboriginal rock art, George Chaloupka, and the privilege of a few moments’ conversation with Nicholas Rothwell, whose writing for the Australian on Aboriginal art and the problems facing indigenous communities today were in large part the inspiration I needed to start writing myself.

We then headed off to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where we had a tour of the indigenous art exhibit, beautifully rehung since I was last here, guided by Franchesca Cubillo, curator of the indigenous collections and linchpin of the annual Art Awards now. Lunch followed with a long table of guests. I was lucky enough to share conversation at the table with Stephanie Hawkins of Arts NT (and formerly of ANKAAA and Munupi Arts on Melville Island); Chips Mackinolty, Ministerial Advisor in the office of Marion Scrymgour, the Minster for the Arts in the Northern Territory, and an artist in his own right; and Karen Mills, an artist and curator whom I had the chance to meet last year at the conclusion of her residency in the United States. Karen’s new work from that trip is on display at Karen Brown’s gallery, and the “Manhattan” series has taken its thematic unity from the use of the color blue. Karen says that blue came to represent Manhattan for her, as it was the color of the sky and the harbor, the places in the city where she felt some connection to the natural world and a respite from the granite canyons of midtown. That will certainly change my appreciation of New York on my next visit.

Our American art mob at MAGNT, with friends

And finally, Kate Schilling of Tourism NT hosted us on the Darwin Harbour Sunset Tour. Being out on the harbour in the warm afternoon breeze left everyone on board relaxed and very happy. 

Darwin CBD from the Harbour, with Parliament House front and center, and the Supreme Court to the right

As the sun dropped into the sea, a kind of stillness settled over us, soft Brazilian jazz playing somewhere nearby. The sky darkened, Jupiter blazed high above the horizon, the Southern Cross emerged from the twilight, and finally the Milky Way, just discernible, eased its way into view. When we spoke, it was only to repeat our mantra, “Right here, right now.” And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, fireworks exploded in the night over the city skyline, heralding our return. No one knew why they were being set off last night, unless it was just for us. We docked in silence, unmoving, unwilling to step off the boat and back onto solid ground and away from the sublime peace of night on the water. But as we did, almost as a final blessing, the full, golden moon popped into view above the marina, and we laughed, knowing once more that we’d been proven wrong to think it couldn’t get any better than this.

Shantih, shantih, shantih: the peace that surpasses understanding
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