It was during the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008, at Fregon, APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands in Central Australia, that I first tasted Kangaroo tails.
I’ve worked on the Ara Irititja database since 1989, but this shoot was different – a major exhibition of work of these artists was due to open in Adelaide and they needed a documentary and book. My work as cinematographer and photojournalist got me the gig – it helped that I have been initiated into some Watiku (men only) and Tjilpi (elders) Tjurkupa (dreamings).
You may have heard of kangaroo tail stew, but chances are you have never eaten it. It’s a shame, as it is the most delectable part of the animal.
The only places I have seen it sold have been in the Northern Territory and South Australia, in both cases near Aboriginal communities – where people have very well-informed preferences when it comes to kangaroo cuts (and buy tails with the skin on so that they can better cook them in the coals of a fire).
Rather than hunt for the kangaroos, the Anangu of Central Australia prefer frozen kangaroo tails, skin and all. These shots were taken during the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008.
A kangaroo is in effect pentapedal (five-legged), using the tail like a limb while walking and a counterbalance while running – it is no meagre appendage. The alternative to buying a kangaroo tail is of course to go out and get one from a kangaroo yourself.
But you are not allowed. If you own land you can probably get a permit to shoot some as a culling exercise and ‘pest control’, but these cannot be eaten and must be tagged and left to rot in the field. If you accidentally hit one with your car (as I did recently), you are not allowed to later cut the tail off and be ‘in possession of it’ – something that applies to all native fauna.
And you cannot (except for some wallabies in Tasmania) hunt one.
Alongside the government supported shooting of some one and a half million kangaroos a year, the world’s largest terrestrial wildlife harvest, it is illegal to take one for your own pot.
But frozen kangaroo tails continue to be a major delicacy for the Anangu of the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands in Central Australia. I must admit I’d prefer a nice grass-fed Angus steak with all the trimmings – hard to find 500kms from *The Alice…
Today, I am again reflecting on a place I would like to go – Papanya, Central Australia.
The image above is an aerial landscape of Papunya, created from a Google Map, which I digitally enhanced for the banner of Remote Connections.
Papunya is located around 240 kilometres from Alice Springs and has a population of just under 300 people. Garry wrote in an earlier post about the lifestyles of the Anangu people, which reminded me of my long-standing interest to go to Papunya.
It is a place that is famous for the central and western desert dot painting style characterised by the Papunya Tula Artists. On their website it says:
The Papunya Tula Art Movement began in 1971 when a school teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, encouraged some of the men to paint a blank school wall. The murals sparked off tremendous interest in the community and soon many men started painting. In 1972 the artists successfully established their own company.
Papunya Tula Artists is entirely owned and directed by traditional Aboriginal people from the Western Desert. The aim of the company is to promote individual artists, to provide economic development for the communities to which they belong, and assist in the maintenance of a rich cultural heritage.
When we were recently in Paris, we went to an excellent exhibition at the Australian Embassy, which featured a number of Papunya Tula Artists, making me realise the impact this style has had internationally. Papunya is a place where creativity has thrived and continues to have a significant influence on contemporary Aboriginal painting in Australia.
I understand that Papunya is a place that has its fair share of social challenges, but this fact does not lessen my fascination for this small remote community and its beautiful art.
This article focuses on many aspects of the Anangu (the Aboriginal people of Central Australia) lifestyle.
Honey ants mosaic
Tjala (Pitjantjatjara) or Honey Ants are ants which are gorged with food by worker ants, to the point that their abdomens swell enormously, a condition called plerergate. They function as living larders. The mosaic Honey Ant is part of the Kondoli Sculpture, a beautiful Whale mosaic in Victor Harbor South Australia. The Ngarrindjeri and Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal people and the local community all contributed to the project as a part of the reconciliation process.
It tells the story of Kondoli (the Ngarrindjeri whale story) as well as the Pitjantjatjara story of the seven sisters. The seven sisters story is relevant to Aboriginal people throughout Australia, as it is a dreaming story universal to most tribal groups. Other artwork is depictions of animals and plants native to Ngarrindjeri and Pitjantjatjara homelands.
Honey ants are edible and form an occasional part of the diet of various Australian Aboriginal peoples. Papunya, in Australia’s Northern Territory is named after a honey ant creation story, or Dreaming, which belongs to the people there. The name of Western Desert Art Movement, Papunya Tula, means “honey ant dreaming”.
Their nests are found in a variety of arid or semi-arid environments. This species lives in extremely hot deserts.
These images shot by me during the 3 week ‘Painting the Song’ expedition in August 2008. This resulted in a book ‘Painting the Song’ & documentary that I filmed & directed on the Kaltjiti artists in the Sand Dune country of the Western Desert.
Matjangka (Nyukana) Norris dancing the Minyma Mamu (female devil) Inma or corroboree for which she is famous at Tjilpil nr Fregon, APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands in Central Australia. From the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008.
Robin Kankapakantja is the senior nguraritja or traditional owner for Walalkara. He started painting in July 2004 & he creates maps of his country with a sense of space & openness, as his mind’s eye recreates the bright pinks of wild flowers and the vivid blues of creeks brimming with water after rain. From the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008.
Antjala Tjayangka (and Robin Kankapakantja) – her art reflects her absorption with managing the ecology of the land near Fregon & Walalkara and she has an amazing knowledge of plants & animals of the region.
From the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008.
Tali Tali Pompey started painting in 2000 & is very highly regarded as an artist based at the Kaltjiti Arts Centre. Her Paintings evoke the wide expanse of sand dunes stretching on the horizon. From the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008.
Imitjala Curley is nguraritja (custodian) for Ngunyma as it is her father Peter Wara’s country. Her mother’s country is Walyrjitjara. She & her husband David Curley often work on paintings together. From the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008.
Painting in the desert dunes near Wattaru
Painting in the desert dunes near Wattaru
Painting in the desert dunes near Wattaru, in the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands. This still image was shot during a 3 week expedition in August 2008, resulting in a book ‘Painting the Song’ & documentary that I filmed & directed on the Kaltjiti artists in the Sand Dune country of the Western Desert.
Wiltjas – Shelters
Wiltjas – Shelters
Wiltjas – Shelters
Wiltjas are shelters made by the Anangu (Australian Aboriginal) people of the Central Desert region of South Australia such as the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara groups. They are temporary dwellings, and are abandoned and rebuilt rather than maintained. Open and semi-circular, wiltjas are meant primarily as a defense against the heat of the sun, and are not an effective shelter from rain.
These images shot by me during the 3 week ‘Painting the Song’ expedition in August 2008. This resulted in a book ‘Painting the Song’ & documentary that I filmed and directed on the Kaltjiti artists in the Sand Dune country of the Western Desert.
Impacts from feral camels
Feral camel skull
People don’t always appreciate the damage feral camels are causing in South Australia, chiefly on the APY lands, ranging from land degradation, through to damage to infrastructure and buildings, and fouling waterholes used by native fauna.
On my recent filming expedition to the desert I shot many waterholes fouled by dead camels. These waterholes are the traditional stopping points for Aboriginal people on ‘walkabout’. Much vegetation is also destroyed as camels strip branches off trees & bushes in their search for food. There are literally millions of feral camels in the desert regions of Australia.
Tjukurpa is the foundation of Anangu life and society. The word has many complex but complementary meanings as displays in the above montage of paintings of different Dreamings or Tjukurpa that refers to the creation period when ancestral beings, or Tjukuritja, created the world as Anangu know it. As well as describing the past, Tjukurpa also describes the present and the future. It is the religious, legal and ethical system through which Anangu live, and have lived, in harmony with their harsh and delicate environment for many thousands of years.
Minymaku (mother) and tjitji (child)
Minymaku (mother) and tjitji (child) at an Inma (corroboree) near Fregon. From the video shoot for ‘Painting the Song’, a documentary on the Kaltjiti (Pitjantjatjara) Artists of the Sand Dune Country in 2008.
Publication details National Library of Australia listing: Painting the song : Kaltjiti artists of the sand dune country / Diana James. James, Diana. 2009, English, Book, Illustrated edition. Bookmark: http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/44700181 Edition 1st ed. Physical Description: 172 p. : ill. (some col.), maps, ports. ; 28 cm. Published: Fitzroy, Vic. McCulloch & McCulloch Australian Art Books in partnership with Kaltjiti Arts, 2009.