Tag Archives: Indigenous Culture

The Magic of Ochre: Australia and France

Text: Garry Benson
Photos: Garry Benson unless otherwise attributed.

Maslin’s Beach south of Adelaide is famous for two things – the nudist beach and the extensive ochre quarry. The southern end is where the caves and crevices of the ochre-coloured cliffs curve to form an idyllic cove of soft golden sand and azure blue sea. It was here that German artist Nikolaus Lang worked on a project intimately involved with the ochre cliffs – this image of Lang’s shows his working space at the cliff face.

Work in progress at sand quarry, Maslin Beach, Adelaide, February 1987. Photograph: Nikolaus Lang
Work in progress at sand quarry, Maslin Beach, Adelaide, February 1987. Photograph: Nikolaus Lang

German artist Nikolaus Lang’s Australian projects had to do with the perceptibility of colour. He set up complicated apparatus in Australian quarries to collect variously coloured sands that he then adheres to cotton fabric. The technical quality of these works is high with a poetic quality.

More enigmatic are those works that present isolated groups of pigments and colours as in one which featured 55 white porcelain plates filled to the edge with variously hued substances or as in ‘Ochre and Sand’ where he placed the conical mounds of ground pigment on a grid of white paper on the floor for the exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia called ‘Australian Imaginary Figurations 1986-1988.’

Through a complicated method of removing layers of sediment in sand quarries and ochre sites, Nikolaus revealed large tableaux that evoked Australian geology, landscape, the sky and sunsets but also the rock wall paintings of the Aborigines, their shields and signs. Lang dedicated the exhibition to the Kaurna Tribe (Adelaide area) and the Adnyamathanha of the Flinders Ranges.

Dedicated to the Vanished Adelaide Tribe, 1987, cross section of coloured-sands, polyvinyl acetate on calico on framework of sticks. 356 x 202cm. (No photographer credit)
Dedicated to the Vanished Adelaide Tribe, 1987, cross section of coloured-sands, polyvinyl acetate on calico on framework of sticks. 356 x 202cm. (No photographer credit)

I was involved in this project to the extent that the Art Gallery of South Australia commissioned me to design a brochure for the exhibition and I visited the site. The brilliant reds, browns, yellows and oranges of the ochre strata reminded me very much of the ochre quarries I filmed in the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands in Central Australia.

It was just a few months ago that I discovered an interesting connection to Maslin’s Beach and its ochre cliffs in the Luberon in Provencal France.

Ochre cliff
Ochre cliff

I have always been fascinated by the famous 35000 year old wall paintings on the walls of the Caves at Lascaux. Cro-Magnons sourced their range of ochres in the nearby Limestone hills of ‘Dark Perigord’, home now to the ‘modern’ villages of Montignac, Corréze, Les Eyzies and of course Roussillon.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

It’s a commune in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France and is famous for the rich deposits of ochre pigments found in the clay near the village. The large quarries of Roussillon were mined from the end of the 18th century until 1930.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

Thousands of people found work in the quarries and factories. Nowadays the mining of ochre is prohibited here, to protect the sites from degradation or even complete destruction. Ochres are pigments ranging from yellow and orange to red. One of the former ochre quarries can be visited via the ‘Sentier des Ocres’ (Ochre Path), a walk of either 30 or 60 minutes through the old workings.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

Because during the 18th century the demand rose for pigments to be used in the textile industry, the mining of ochres in Roussillon intensified. Numerous quarries and ochre factories, some of which can still be seen today, were situated near the village.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

One example of an ochre factory, the ‘Usine Mathieu’, is named for the family that owned it from 1870 to 1901. It has been formed into a ‘Conservatoire’: a workshop serving as a museum. The quarries and factories were established in the villages of Roussillon, Villars, Gargas, Rustrel (with its Colorado provençal) and Gignac.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

During the 20th century, mining techniques were modernized, which meant that more profitable ochre mines became exploitable. This resulted in a gradual closing-down of ochre mines in and around Roussillon. From the 1980s, tourism has replaced ochre industry as a source of income.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

Apart from tourism, agriculture is the commune’s principal activity. Fruit, including cherries, peaches and melons are grown. Much of this is used in crystallised fruit production in nearby Apt. Wine-making is very important and there are several wineries producing red, rosé, and white wines within the Ventoux AOC.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

So the similarities mirror my part of the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia that also has tourism, agriculture of the same type and wineries, gentle hills & a lifestyle to die for. Oh, did  I mention we also have a nudist beach?

Garry Benson

[The writer Samuel Beckett went into hiding from the Germans in Roussillon during the years 1942–1945. His novel ‘Watt’ was written there, and Beckett mentioned the village in his famous theatre play ‘Waiting for Godot’ (En attendant Godot, 1955).

Film director Henri Colpi shot this movie ‘Heureux qui comme Ulysse’ (1970) with Fernandel as the leading character in Roussillon; George Brassens wrote a chanson for the film.

Under the name of Peyrane, Roussillon is the subject of Laurence Wylie’s ‘Village in the Vaucluse’ (first edition 1957.)]

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365 Places: Papunya

Day 5: Papunya, Central Australia

Today, I am again reflecting on a place I would like to go – Papanya, Central Australia.

Papunya
Papunya

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.

References

Papunya – Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papunya, (accessed 23 April 2014)

365 Places: Redcliffe

Day 1: Redcliffe, Queensland
Australia

Woody Point, Moreton Bay, Queensland, ca. 1906, Photographer: Unidentified
Woody Point, Moreton Bay, Queensland, ca. 1906, Photographer: Unidentified

This lovely hand coloured photograph was taken at Woody Point around 60 years before I was born. Woody Point is one of the hamlets on the Redcliffe Peninsula, situated about 30 kilometres north of Brisbane. Redcliffe, in the early days of European settlement, was a place for day trippers and holiday makers, who would spend their time swimming, fishing and picnicking at the seaside, under the shade of huge Moreton Bay Fig trees.

Not much has changed since those days, Redcliffe is still very popular with day trippers, who bring their families , eskys, fold up chairs and food for barbeques.

Redcliffe was my first home. As a child and a teenager, I also spent a lot of time there with my family and my Godparents, who lived there until they passed away. In many ways, Redcliffe had a big influence on my love of the coast and the ocean, which I mention in this post from January 2013, titled SCANZ2013: Crossing borders – identity, culture and place.

The site of Redcliffe has a very interesting history. It was the original site of the colony of Brisbane, which was later disbanded for the current site of the city. Mr Wikipedia says:

Before European settlement, the Redcliffe Peninsula was occupied by the indigenous Ningy Ningy people. The native name is Kau-in-Kau-in, which means Blood-Blood (red-like blood).

Redcliffe holds the distinction of being the first European settlement in Queensland, first visited by Matthew Flinders on 17 July 1799. Explorer John Oxley recommended “Red Cliff Point” – named after the red-coloured cliffs visible from Moreton Bay – to the Governor Thomas Brisbane for the new colony, reporting that ships could land at any tide and easily get close to the shore. The party settled in Redcliffe on 13 September 1824, under the command of Lieutenant Henry Miller with 14 soldiers, some with wives and children, and 29 convicts. However, this settlement was abandoned after one year and the colony was moved south to a site on the Brisbane River at North Quay, 28 km (17 mi) south, that offered a more reliable water supply. For more information on Redcliffe’s history see http://www.redcliffehistoricalsociety.com

Redcliffe became a pastoral district in the 1860s and in the 1880s boomed as a seaside resort town with the paddlesteamer Koopa making regular trips to its jetty from 1911.

This image is of the steamer Boko not the Koopa, but still gives a great idea of what those times would have been like for the tourists visiting the area.

Christmas greetings featuring passengers boarding a Steamer at Redcliffe,  Photographer: Murray, J.
Christmas greetings featuring passengers boarding a Steamer at Redcliffe, Photographer: Murray, J.

When I go back to South East Queensland to see family and friends, there is usually a trip back to Redcliffe, to walk along the boardwalk, check out the markets or swim in the lagoon. It is a place that brings back many happy memories of all different stages of my life – as a child, a teenager, an adult and as a parent. One of my happiest memories was when I took my son there when he was around five. To see his delight in climbing the old Moreton Bay Figs took me straight back to my childhood and my own enjoyment of climbing these magnificent trees. I remember his face shining with delight when I joined him up in the branches to sit, chat and look out to the bay.

The Magic of Mudbrick

Text: Garry Benson

Namaste - mud brick home
Image 1: Namaste – mud brick home

I built my own mudbrick house 20 years ago on 10 acres and as an artist have added mosaics, sculpture & murals. I’ve also delighted the Welcome Swallows & Paper Wasps who build their nests with gunk from the mud walls. But why mudbrick? I was inspired by two events – reading the large format book ‘Shelter’ and my trip to West Africa in the 1970s…

In the south of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, near the border with Ghana lies a small, circular village of about 1.2 hectares, called Tiébélé.

Kessena-People
Image 2: Kessena People ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

 

This is home of the Kassena people, one of the oldest ethnic groups that had settled in the territory of Burkina Faso in the 15th century. Tiébélé is known for their amazing traditional Gourounsi architecture and elaborately decorated walls of their homes.

Image 3: Mural ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Image 3: Mural ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Burkina Faso is a poor country, even by West African standards, and possibly the poorest in the world. But they are culturally rich, and decorating the walls of their buildings is an important part of their culture as a very ancient practice that dates from the sixteenth century AD.

Image 4: Kessena People ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Image 4: Kessena People ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

The Kassena people build their houses entirely of local materials: earth, wood and straw. Soil mixed with straw and cow dung is moistened to a state of perfect plasticity, to shape almost vertical surfaces.

Image 5: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Image 5: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Today this technique is replaced by the use of mud brick moulding walls with foundations resting on large stone. Tiébélé’s houses are built with defense in mind, whether that be against the climate or potential enemies.

Image 6: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Image 6: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Walls are over a foot thick and the homes are designed without windows except for a small opening or two to let just enough light in to see. Front doors are only about two feet tall, which keeps the sun out and makes enemies difficult to strike. Roofs are protected with wood ladders that are easily retracted and the local beer (dolo) is brewed at home.

After construction, the woman makes murals on the walls using colored mud and white chalk. The motifs and symbols are either taken from everyday life, or from religion and belief. The finished wall is then carefully burnished with stones, each colour burnished separately so that the colours don’t blur together.

Image 7: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Image 7: Painting murals ©1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Finally, the entire surface is coated with a natural varnish made by boiling pods of néré, the African locust bean tree. The designs also serve to protect the walls themselves.

 

Image 8: The Great Mosque of Djénné ©2012 Meyoko Illustrations
Image 8: The Great Mosque of Djénné ©2012 Meyoko Illustrations

There are many examples of mud brick construction in Africa, most notably The Great Mosque of Djénné, a large banco or adobe building that is considered by many architects to be one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style.

Image credits
Image 1 © 2014 Garry Benson, Dragon Design
Images 2-7 © 1990 Margaret Courtney-Clarke
Image 8 © 2012 Meyoko Illustrations

 

Aspects of the Anangu Lifestyle

Text: Garry Benson
Photos: ©2008 Garry Benson Dragon Design

This article focuses on many aspects of the Anangu (the Aboriginal people of Central Australia) lifestyle.

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
Matjangka (Nyukana) Norris

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
Robin Kankapakantja

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
Tali Tali Pompey

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
Imitjala Curley is nguraritja (custodian) for Ngunyma

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, 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.

Wiltja
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.

 


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
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) 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.

All Photos ©2008 Garry Benson Dragon Design


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.

50th Anniversary of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

We were not able to attend the 50th Anniversary of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, but thought our readers would appreciate this post. Thanks for posting this article Andrew!

Transventure

Listening to a speaker Gathering in Reconciliation Place

It’s a cool Canberra evening. The famous tee-pee shape of Parliament House dominates the skyline to the south-west and the Australian War Memorial’s red parade ground expands out to the north-east. Here, in Reconciliation Place, we gather on the grass and sand to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

As a delegate to the 2014 National Indigenous Studies Conference, I was treated to an evening of high tea consisting of warm scones with jam and cream, kangaroo meat with baby boccaceli, lamb and chutney on a fancy bread thing, cheese and crackers, sandwiches, mini deserts and the most delicious fancy teas I’ve ever tasted.

But the highlight was most certainly the opportunity to share some unique cultural experiences.

We all dance on the same earth We all dance on the same earth

Members of the Yolngu and Bininj lands have traveled from the far north of our country to share with us…

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Nudgee Waterholes

Post from Geokult

Geokult

Yesterday we went for a lovely wander around the Nudgee Waterholes, located on the northside of Brisbane, close to Nudgee Beach on Moreton Bay. We went with good friend, fellow walker and placemaker Linda Carroli. Aside from being an area rich in vegetation and bird life, it is well known historically as a significant food and gathering place for local Aboriginal people. Located at the waterholes is a Bora Ring, which was specifically a men’s meeting place.

It was evident that there has been a lot of rain, some of the paths were flooded, it was swarming with mosquitos and a number of the paper barks keeled over because the shallow tree roots were waterlogged.

When we had enough of having our blood sucked we headed over to a picnic area near Kedron Brook Floodway, a popular spot for recreational fishermen. Linda had brought along a bevy of yummy…

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