Emily Kame Kngwarreye - A Poem by David Kirkby
Who died in hospital in Alice Springs
of pneumonia, and extreme old age,
and a sense perhaps,
of all the tiny threads in her life undone at last,
like canvas worn too thin,
like paint left peeling in the sun.
On the day I reached Utopia the wind was blowing,
raising curtains of dust across the stage of the sky
so that even the sun was dimmed,
a faint brown disc of light,
and vehicles approaching loomed up surprisingly,
close at hand, like actors appearing from the wings, then gone.
Even the engine seemed to choke,
rattling like a smoker’s cough
as I crossed the Sandover at Homestead,
where the huts and houses cluster
by the river red gums haphazardly, apologetically,
as if afraid to be seen together.
It was not a day for work – even I could see that,
though I’d come there anyway, as planned,
knowing no-one cared about my plans,
or should. Knowing it would make no difference,
to the people, if I came or not.
In the end, I came because I could.
Because the dust blowing over Alice Springs
made me think of where it comes from,
of all the empty lands so full of tracks,
and patterns, and people, and the history of people
and all the places people are,
or once have been.
So I headed out of town to see Utopia,
on a cold day of winter when the wind
stirred patterns in the sky
like all the dust clouds stirring in my life –
all brown and strange and made of the substance of life,
and all that living brings.
I had never met Kngwarreye
though I was curious about her
and passed her camp from time to time
and once just missed her shopping at the store.
I came to Utopia in search of other things
and never sought to hang it on my wall.
But when her niece at Homestead asked me for a lift
it was easy to agree. I was heading that way –
drove back across the river silently
as the sand whirled up around me.
Wondered, maybe, if this was what I’d come here for,
At her camp I stopped well back,
turned off the key,
looked up to see
a man I did not know –
European, middle aged,
climb quickly in a car and go.
And then I sat alone watching red sand
and dust blow horizontally at waist height,
so that Kngwarreye’s niece,
returning, looked like Mawson
in some red Antarctica,
in a blizzard struggling home.
“Old woman sick –
pneumonia might be.
that roadhouse man ’e run away –
’e was ’opin’ to buy a painting, maybe,
cheap, but she got nothing,
not even clothes.”
So we left her humpy set amongst the trees,
a feeble shack of old roofing iron,
flour drums and earth,
branches and leaves,
a tattered blue tarpaulin
flapping in the breeze.
And we stopped at the clinic
and they called the flying doctor
and they took her into town,
lifting high above the red brown land
stretched like a canvas far below,
like a painting put on show.
A few days later she was dead,
and as the word spread out across the land
I lost the thread of who she was, had been,
until in Adelaide months later I saw her paintings.
The day was warm, the gallery cool
and clean. There were fountains and glass,
no spinifex grass just
marble floors and music
and water in a pool.
No flour drums or tarp,
no smell of campfire and
nowhere to sit.
And the paintings did look good –
there was no denying it,
but I wanted to lift them off the walls
where they hung so straight,
and so at variance with tangled lines of paint.
I wanted to take them outside
into the sun where they were made,
into the wind which dried them.
I wanted to lie them on the ground haphazardly
where the people would have to bend over them,
as Kngwarreye did when painting,
looking down upon the land.
I wanted children with scabies
playing among them,
I wanted sand beneath them.
I wanted threadbare dogs
pissing on them.
I wanted dust in the air
and clogging my hair.
I wanted people to care
where they came from.
I didn’t want to stare at something
hung upon a wall –
I wanted dirt between my toes.
I wanted old billy cans and honesty
and kangaroo bones,
dusty swags and dirty blankets.
I wanted flies and perspiration
and the smoke of camp fires,
old corned beef tins full of paint and desperation.
I wanted heat and poverty
and the hesitation of knowing
this is not my land.
I wanted to see
her old hands
which tried to teach a nation.
And I thought of Kngwarreye,
whom I’d never met,
lying there with all of that and more,
and breathing in the dust upon the air,
and becoming at last a part of what she painted,
in her dusty swag, in her ragged camp,
on the earth near Utopia store.
Darren is currently a Ph.D candidate at the University of California Berkeley. He is re-examining the ways in which anthropologists and archaeologists draw cultural boundaries for indigenous populations and the implications these decisions have for the implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act 1990 (NAGPRA). read more.
Governments should work together with Aboriginal communities rather than imposing ill-conceived views and rushed plans. If the agenda really is to improve Aboriginal people's lives then big social problems should be tackled from mutually agreeable perspectives arrived at through meaningful consultation. No other group within Australia would tolerate the current government approach if it was imposed on them. This approach may have been sparked by indigenous matriarchs and other women crying out. But they wanted real help, not to have their authority stripped away and theirs lives made miserable in new ways. Child abuse has been used as an excuse to grab land .. read more.
Griffith University, Queesland
The lack of adequate consultation and understanding shown by the Howard Government shows it is necessary that Indigenous communities must take every step to intervene in developments.
'Women for Wik' must be supported by everyone concerned about threats to the rights and welfare of the original landholders.
Richard Archer - Sydney
I support women for WIK! We males of the species have had long enough to show our worth in local to world affairs and I believe we've stuffed it up.
Has anyone else noticed how quiet it has gone for news from the Northern Territory after Martial Law was declared on Indigenous communities? I've been waiting to see all the indigenous child sex offenders being displayed connected by neck chains in a long line, and liberation being celebrated with clean unmolested children waving a thankful goodbye to "Howards" white knights in their army and police uniforms marching out of the communities receiving the thanks and good wishes from the whole communities, with little Johnny taking the salute.
Is this how I would instigate enquiries into delicate sexual assault allegations within a indigenous community? I'm bloody sure it's not !
In support Women For WIK,
Bruce Fisher (retired Sergt. of Police)
Having worked with Aboriginal people and communities in New South Wales
in the employment and training arena over a number of years, I deplore
the current heavy handed approach to intervention in Aboriginal
communites. In my view government support and services for Aboriginal
people and communities has diminished over the last ten years and seems
only now to be
coming back into focus as we approach an election. I strongly support the re-emergence of "Women for Wik" as a way raising the public awareness of what is happening in communities.
Russell Read, NSW
I take a stand should to shoulder with the Women for Wik. As a
lighthouse warns of lethal dangers, Women for Wik illuminates the
darkness of spirit and consciousness that threatens to complete their
genocidal objectives. I too must post additional lookouts, for
having a lighthouse does not remove my personal responsibility.
Magnus Mansie, Victoria
The indecent haste with which the invasion of Aboriginal Communities was launched, deliberately avoiding consultation with the Aboriginal people and the professionals on the ground, was an arrogant act of racist discrimination that rekindled fears amongst many mothers that their children were to be 'stolen' again.
Brian T. Manning
The Howard Government, supported by the opposition has made some sweeping statements concerning the health and welfare of the children and gone to the extreme of forcibly resuming land titles in order to resolve the disgraceful shortage of decent housing.
The decision of prominent women to revive 'Women for Wik' is most appropriate at this time to monitor the developments and to demand from whichever party becomes the Government, that the improvements to remote communities quality of life is raised to a level no less than that of other Australians. You have my absolute support and endorsement. Congratulations.
Brian T. Manning, Darwin, N.T.
If the Government was genuine about protecting children it would implement the recommendations of the Little Children are Sacred report. The provisions of the Bill are explicitly racist and will further disempower the poorest people in Australia.The Government has failed to rise to a minimal level of moral integrity in the achievement of human rights for Aboriginal people.
"Those who have put out the people's eyes reproach them for their blindness" Milton.
Read Bentley's Viewpoint
Bentley James, anthropologist, Arnhem Land NT
Race-based legislation is definitely not the way to go. In South Africa this formed the basis of Apartheid. The language of law is mostly conflictual and a last resort. Acknowledging difference and different needs requires far more than a legal approach.
Mario Mahongo, Sven Ouzman
& Benny Khoatsane
Dr Sven Ouzman, University of Pretoria, Cape Town, South Africa
I think that all Australian women must continue to act in their territories. I'm very happy to see Australian women fighting for their rights and Aboriginal rights over their land. Those who lose their cultural origins lose their identity!! Please, fight until the end for your culture and your rights.
From the Catalan countries we will always support you.
Didac Roman, Catalan Countries
Peter & Jacko