Around the Traps

This has been an unusually good week for news and features about Aboriginal matters from a wide variety of sources around the ‘Net, so without further introduction, here are some of the best bits I’ve picked up this week.

First of all, very good news reported by Robbo at Biting the Dust about Western Desert Dialysis. Late last year ABC news reported that Kiwirrkura-based Pintupi artist Patrick Olodoodi Tjungurrayi was unable to travel to Alice Springs for dialysis because the Northern Territory had closed its borders to new dialysis patients. The terrible irony, of course, was that Papunya Tula Artists has raised, and continues to raise, substantial funding for the treatment of renal disease and the provisioning of dialysis clinics in Alice Springs and Kintore–both located in the Territory, while Tjungurrayi resides at Kiwirrkura in WA. Tjungurrayi would have to travel to Perth for dialysis, and he refused to do so, stating that he would prefer to die at home that be exiled to Perth.

Now comes the good news that an agreement has been reached, in part in response to Tjungurrayi’s stand, at the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting, to allow patients from the border regions of South Australia and Western Australia to travel to Alice Springs for treatment. The agreements have yet to be signed, money is still to be transferred, but at least it now looks like songlines will take precedence over state lines and seriously ill people can be treated nearer to home.

Artists from Kiwirrkura were among those who traveled to the United States last year for the opening of the Icons of the Desert exhibition at Cornell University featuring the collection of John and Barbara Wilkerson. The current issue of the US publication ARTnews carries an article entitled “Collecting the Dots,” by Carly Beswick that reports on the Wilkerson’s collection of early Papunya boards.

If you haven’t already seen the catalog for Icons of the Desert, you’re really missing quite an opportunity to revel in fine art and fascinating scholarship. Among the delights reproduced in the catalog are a series of photographs taken in July 1972 of a group of the original painters working in the men’s painting shed at Papunya. Johnny Warungkula’s famous Water Dreaming at Kalipinypa can be seen half-completed; Timmy Payungka, Mick Namarari, and Charlie Tjaruru pose with new works. Now the National Library of Australia has posted fifteen of these historic photographs for all the world to see. Don’t miss them.

And speaking of history, the latest issue of The Monthly has more. Almost every issue closes with a short column by novelist Shane Maloney featuring a brief description of an unlikely meeting between two celebrities, and this month Maloney regales us with the encounter between two great songment of the Sixties: Wandjuk Marika and Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg was en route from the Adelaide Arts Festival to India in April 1972 and was looking to experience Aboriginal music in context. As fate would have it, he arrived in Yirrkala during a funeral, to which Marika graciously invited him. According to Maloney, Ginsberg chanted the Hare Krishna and sang a Pitjantjatjara song he’d memorized. “He made no mention of Kaddish,” notes Maloney.

For reflections on a different kind of Aboriginal song and dance, check out the podcast from German radio’s Deutsche Welle broadcast Inspired Minds: One-to-One with the World’s Great Artists. This week’s fifteen-minute interview (May 3, 2010) is with director Rachel Perkins, on the occasion of the Berlin debut of her film of Bran Nue Dae . There may not be a great deal of new information for Australian audiences here, but North American and Europeans less familiar with either the musical itself or Perkins’ career may find it an interesting introduction.

Missions and miracles featured in another news story I ran across this week. Paul Toohey reports in the Daily Telegraph that water from a tap next to the old church building at Hermannsburg is being asserted to have miraculous curative powers, à la Lourdes. It’s a fascinating piece of cultural history, in that a spring at the Catholic mission of Santa Teresa has been claimed to possess the power to heal since its “discovery” fifteen years ago. The claims for Hermannsburg have put the Lutherans there in a quandary, as their church is not much on miracles. It’s hard to deny hope, however.

Hope? With the Crime and Misconduct Commission’s report on the investigations into Cameron “Mulrunji” Doomadgee’s death being leaked to the press, is there finally any hope that justice will be served? There is talk about disciplinary action against the four investigating officers, and against two senior officers who oversaw their activities. But somehow I suspect that whatever the outcome, it will be too late. Doomadgee’s death will never be settled and peace will be a long time coming to Palm Island.

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