Well I Left My Heart Behind in Fitzroy Crossing

Neil Murray said it best:

Well, I left my heart behind in Fitzroy Crossing
But I’ll be coming back again someday
If you see me on the track
Way out west of Rabbit Flat
You’ll know the town that I’ll be heading for

And not just Fitzroy. There’s pieces of me scattered all over the Territory. But I’m taking more than a few pieces of the Territory (and WA) away with me in compensation. That beautiful moonrise over Darwin Harbour. Eubena Nampitjin with her staff–an iron pipe that must have weighed nearly as much as she does–swatting dogs out of the way as she points out one of her paintings to me. Bai Bai Napangardi dragging (literally) a newly finished canvas in for Kerry to admire. Louise Mengil, the young woman at Waringarri Arts who’s making a reality out of the phrase “Aboriginal operated” and is the kind of success story that you sadly never read about in the newspapers. And Kim Griffiths, the grandson of Alan and Peggy, who seems to be the jack of all trades at Waringarri.

The hills at Turkey Creek. The rock art at Injalak: a beautiful creation mother that we arrived at after a long, arduous, and utterly magical climb up the hill. Five year old kids kicking a football like pros, or older children warming up for afterschool footy practice at Maningrida–game at four o’clock; come back and watch us! Hearing the Milky Way story from Paddy Sims on the verandah at Warlukurlangu, a surprise meeting with Paddy Stewart at Ngurratjuta in Alice. The old ladies crooning and giggling over a canvas from the Tjulyuru collection at Warburton, one they hadn’t seen in years, showing us the bush turkey looking for a little lost one, and everyone going away together, happy, reunited in their country.

Two weeks ago Wayne Fan told us we were embarking on a journey that would change our lives, and I thought, “Please, spare me the sales pitch.” I didn’t believe him either when he pointed out the Fan Arcade in Alice Springs and claimed it as his own. I was wrong on both counts. Wayne’s children are fourth generation Alice-born, his grandparents were among the first Centralians, and the Fan Arcade is indeed named after them. And this trip has changed my life. I think we did 21 art centres in 14 days. I came to understand how government can really work on behalf of these communities, and witnessed astonishing dedication to the people and their country. I made friendships that will last a lifetime.

This has been a rare privilege to travel the country so extensively and so intensively. There’s so many people to thank that I won’t even try to do it now, without having a few hours to consult my notes. But Wayne; and all the folks from Austrade, Joel, Bernie, Paul Good out of Carnarvon; and the folks from ANKAAA, Michelle and Anthea; Niru from the Tiwi Art Network; Linda from the Kimberley Development Commission; John from Desart; and all the art centre managers and all the artists who shared their time so generously, I can only struggle to find ways to say thank you. And to the rest of the mob I traveled with, my thanks as well for enriching the tour with your own experiences, perspectives, and delights. 

We had our final few hours together last night over dinner on the Esplanade here in Darwin: strong breezes made it the coolest night I’ve ever spent in the Top End over the course of seventeen years of visits. But it was the warmest table I’ve ever shared. I may have left my heart behind in Fitzroy Crossing, but I’m taking a new, bigger, and better one out of the Territory with me today. One that’s full of love for all you lot.

Addendum: Shortly after publishing this post, I received an email message from Martin Hardie, who was once the manager of the Warumpi Band, noting that the song quoted at the top was a group composition, and not just Murray’s. True enough, and as Hardie notes, it’s appropriate to acknowledge what the band gave to Murray. For me, though, this song is a chapter out of Murray’s autobiography, the record of falling in love and fathering a child in Fitzroy chronicled in Sing For Me, Countryman. And if you fast forward to the Warumpi’s last album, Too Much Humbug, you can hear the story of his reunion with his son movingly recorded in the song “Holdin You In My Arms.”

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