Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory and Art of the Top End

While looking back through art and travel books, struck again by the incredible conceptual art of the Tiwi. Back in September 2007 managed a one week escape, based in Darwin. Main reason for travelling north was to visit Kakadu National Park, Bathurst Island (part of the Tiwi Islands) and Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) plus art galleries in Darwin.

Some of the lasting impressions.
Aboriginal languages spoken in most places. A day trip, thirty minute flight in six seater plane across the Beagle Gulf to Bathurst Island. Multiplicity of dogs, including two great danes, asleep in the ashes of an old camp fire, grey apparitions when they stood to greet us. Meeting some of the Tiwi artists at the Tiwi Design Centre and the Ngaruwanajirri Art Centre, seeing their art in situ, their materials, and the artists in action. Came away with a gift of some white and yellow ochre (still in use) but the red was too precious to be given away.

Day trip to Kakadu National Park. Left early 6:30 am for the drive down the Arnhem Highway through Humpty Doo, and Adelaide River. Walk to Nourlangie Rock, and the famous rock art. Later that day a boat trip along the Yellow Water Billabong, extravagant abundance of bird life including magpie geese, black-necked storks (Jabiru), white bellied sea eagles, royal spoonbills, pacific black ducks, wandering whistling ducks, green pygmy geese to name a few, accompanied by the ubiquitous crocodiles. One hour flight over Kakadu, East Alligator River, the escarpment, then over the awesome stone country of Arnhem Land, and back to Jabiru airport.

Day trip to Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge). Another early 6:30 start and long drive to Adelaide River War Cemetery and Edith Falls and waterhole. Magnificent still, cool waterhole, some jumped in for a swim, and then almost instantaneously leapt out when they saw the (albeit empty) croc traps. Was it possible they asked for crocs to surf over the waterfall. The guide nodded but said none had been caught that year, yet, could be a problem during and after the wet season. Two hour spectacular boat trip through the gorges, Jawoyn country, red rock canyons, white sand beaches.

Back in Darwin for a round of gallery visits. However, it’s difficult to be a flâneur in late September in the build up to the wet season in Darwin when it feels like humidity is off the hygrometer scale. The only strategy, walk ten minutes, twenty minutes in an air conditioned shop or gallery, repeat for the rest of the day, only expense tonic water, but go easy on the gin until after 5pm.

The visit to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin, reignited a memory of time and place via the sound booth simulation of Cyclone Tracy. The sound booth gave an inkling of what was experienced in Australia’s worst weather event, Christmas 1974. Shrieking howling wind, difficult to withstand the sound for ten minutes not hours, how anyone survived is a miracle, but survive they did including a cousin, his wife and their infant daughter. All they had left was part of the bathroom wall and a door wedged over the bath tub, which they sheltered under for hours, and a crystal bowl (a wedding gift) which landed in mud in the right place at the right time. Emerging from the cyclone simulation I felt more than a little shaken. Remembering that anxious Christmas night in 1974 with intermittent radio reports of a direct hit on Darwin. We were in the backyard at my aunt’s place in the country town where we grew up. As was his way, to distract the young ones, Dad transformed himself into Nelson Eddy and sang ‘Tramp, tramp, tramp along the highway’.

In addition to the warning on the door to the Cyclone Tracy sound booth, about nausea and fainting, there should have been further warning: ‘those who enter may exit with memories of Christmas past’.

Art references
Contemporary art of northern Australia includes works from and about: the Kimberley, Tiwi Islands, Arnhem Land, Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York. See art references below and some comparisons.

Aboriginal art has a long history. Recent archaeological finds put human habitation at 65,000 years in the Madjedbebe rockshelter in Kakadu1. ‘The archaeologists found evidence of the mixing of ochre with reflective powders made from ground mica to make a vibrant paint’. In Arnhem Land the Aborigines left paintings chronicling 15,000 years of their history. In early 2017, ‘a group of Aboriginal rangers discovered hundreds of works of rock art while conducting dry season burn-offs in the remote West Arnhem region. The local people estimate there could be more than 30,000 pieces in one area alone’2

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Bathurst Island
Tiwi Design Centre
Kakadu National Park
Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge)

Sense of Place

P1000332 (2)
Across the Beagle Gulf to Bathurst Island, 21/9/2007

P1000315 (2)
Tiwi art gallery and studio, Bathurst Island, 21/9/2007

Croc habitat, one of the beaches, Bathurst Island, 21/9/2007

Part of Nourlangie Rock Art, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

East Alligator River, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

P1000368 (2)
Dry season, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

The Escarpment, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

Stone Country, Arnhem Land, 22/9/2007

‘There’s something down there’, black-necked stork (Jabiru), Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

Some of the locals, royal spoonbill, wandering whistling ducks, pacific black ducks, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

A sentinel, white bellied sea eagle, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

Smiling croc, Kakadu National Park, 22/9/2007

P1000386 (2)
Nitmiluk National Park, 23/9/2007

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) 23/9/2007

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) 23/9/2007

Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) 23/9/2007

Art References – relativities and differentials

Tiwi, Tutini (Pukumani grave posts) 1958 AGNSW 20170802_171257
Laurie Nelson Mungatopi , Bob One Apuatimi , Jack Yarunga , Don Burakmadjua , Charlie Quiet Kwangdini , Tutini (Pukumani grave posts), 1958, Tiwi, North region, AGNSW

Mathaman Marika, Wagilag Sisters' Story, 1959, AGNSW 20170802_171340
Mathaman Marika, Wagilag Sisters’ Story, 1959, Arnhem Region, AGNSW

Yunupingu (Munggurrawuy), Lany'tjung - Banaidja Story, 1960
Munggurrawuy Yunupingu, Lany’tjung – Banaidja Story, 1960, Gumatj, Arnhem region, AGNSW

Bedford (Paddy) Untitled (Emu) 1999
Paddy Bedford, Untitled (Emu), 1999, Gija, Kimberley region, AGNSW

Stevens (Keith and Tjampawa) Piltati 2014 AGNSW
Keith and Tjampawa Stevens, Piltati, 2014, Pitjantjatjara, Southern Desert region, AGNSW

Marawili (Nonggirrnga) Lightning and Sea Spray 2014 AGNSW
Nonggirrnga Marawili, Lightning and Sea Spray, 2014, Madarrpa, Arnhem region, AGNSW

Gabori (Sally) Dibirdibi country, 2010 AGNSW
Sally Gabori, Dibirdibi country, 2010, Dulka Warngiid (Bentinck) Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, AGNSW

Gabori (Sally) Dibirdibi Country 2012 QAGSally Gabori, Dibirdibi Country, 2012, Dulka Warngiid (Bentinck) Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, QAGOMA

Tjupurrula (Bobby West) Tingari sites around Kiwirrkura 2015
Bobby West Tjupurrula, Tingari sites around Kiwirrkura, 2015, Pintupi, Western Desert region, AGNSW

Cummings (Elizabeth) After the wet Elcho Island 2004
Elizabeth Cummings, After the wet Elcho Island, 2004

Sciberras (Luke) Buffalo country, Katherine, NT, 2016
Luke Sciberras, Buffalo country, Katherine, NT, 2016

Other references

1 Buried tools and pigments tell a new history of humans in Australia for 65,000 years, The Conversation, 20 July 2017

 Indigenous rock shelter in Top End pushes Australia’s human history back to 65,000 years, ABC 20 July 2017

2 Aboriginal rangers discover rock art sites while conducting burn-offs in Arnhem Land, ABC 30 July 2017

Our Way Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Lockhart River, Sally Butler 2007



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