The challenge of making music in remote communities

Posted November 12, 2017 09:00:00

It was no secret that Indigenous band Lonely Boys were playing on borrowed instruments when they supported Queens of the Stone Age earlier this year.

Although they were sharing a stage with one of contemporary rock music’s biggest acts, musicians from remote communities are for the most part used to sharing.

And the healthy local music scenes of these communities — where lyrics send positive messages and are often recorded in local languages — have begun to catch the ears of east coast tastemakers.

“It just feels like the Territory scene is on the up,” Mark Smith, executive director of peak body Music NT, said.

“Having 10 bands at Nannup [Music Festival] last year and four bands showcasing at BIGSOUND this year — that really hasn’t happened before.”

But when it comes to the challenges remote bands face, their issues are far removed from the east coast.

“I’m a drummer in Darwin, and even if you bust a skin, sometimes the shop here might not have it so you have to order from interstate,” Mr Smith said.

The wait and cost can be extensive for remote locations, so Music NT has been raising money to address the logistical headache of providing such areas with access to musical equipment.

“That’s the main issue — whether it’s a broken drum skin, it’s snapped sticks, it’s broken strings, then it can more often lead to those instruments getting put aside,” Mr Smith said.

“The opportunity to perform and get better just gets lost.”

The show must go on

At the Bush Bands Bash — an annual concert of Indigenous bands held in Alice Springs — groups are increasingly turning up with their own equipment.

But there are still occasions when they arrive with nothing and have to borrow.

“If they haven’t got a guitar that’s not going to stop them,” Mr Smith said.

The challenge of delivering new gear to these communities is a complex one.

In the lead-up to a recent concert in the Gibson Desert community of Kiwirrkurra, organisers had to hire equipment from Alice Springs.

“There was a special concert happening and the boys had been given some money to put on a really good show,” supplier Darren Rumbal said.

The dearest part wasn’t going to be hiring the equipment, but getting it freighted for long distances on unsealed roads.

“I think it worked out cheaper to just buy the gear,” Mr Rumbal said.

Councils, community stores stocking up

Some local councils have begun putting in large orders for shared equipment to reduce these large, once-off shipping costs.

“But if you’re a guitarist in a band and suddenly your D string snaps and you just want to get that, it’s a whole other story,” Mr Smith said.

For individual deliveries, bands have been known to call upon the ‘Bush Bus’.

The bus ferries people to and from remote communities surrounding Alice Springs, including to the APY Lands community of Wingellina, where Irrunytju Band is based.

The band supported Midnight Oil at its Darwin show last month.

Frontman Chris Reid said the band mostly used other instruments or gear while they waited for new bits and pieces to arrive.

Elsewhere, community stores have also begun purchasing supplies.

The big industry names that increasingly take part in Bush Bands Business — a skills development camp for remote bands that culminates with the Bush Bands Bash — are also looking to change things.

“We had Drew [Goddard] from Karnivool and Brian [Ritchie] from the Violent Femmes this year and they both said ‘We’ve got existing relationships with [music suppliers]’,” Mr Smith said.

The musicians are looking into whether these relationships could be used to leverage a direct supply model and make sure large-scale music events are well-equipped.

The turn to digital

Skinnyfish Music is getting ready for a zenith in streaming services expected in the next few years.

This could be good news for the record label that represents Lonely Boys alongside a swag of Indigenous music acts, because they are used to turning down potentially lucrative live music gigs.

Why? Flights are expensive, and groups often have up to five or six members.

Shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane come with a price tag upwards of $10,000.

“All of these guys work four or five times as hard as a mainstream band in Melbourne to be able to go on a basic tour,” label co-founder Michael Hohnen said.

This means streaming services are shaping up as a key tool to help bands grow their audience beyond the communities where support is already strong.

The future of music

The bands have been receptive to the idea.

Lonely Boys have their new EP and a handful of singles on Spotify, where each has garnered several thousand plays.

“Income is generating slowly,” Mr Hohnen said.

“It will still take a long time and, for some, it will still be impossible to make much money.”

Nonetheless, he is optimistic these platforms have the potential to unearth unknown acts.

Mr Smith is also hopeful.

“Regardless of where you are in the NT, we’re a long way from the east coast industry,” he said.

“[Streaming] addresses the issue that these bands are quite large and touring isn’t always viable or practical.

“But they can still get the music out. And that helps feed this broader idea that there is good stuff happening here.”

Topics: indigenous-music, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, music, indigenous-culture, bands-and-artists, darwin-0800

Abandoned cars in desert turned into ‘ghostly’ works of art

Updated November 06, 2017 08:58:21

The roads of the remote APY lands, which straddle the Northern Territory–South Australian border, are strewn with abandoned and rusting cars, but one artist has turned these forgotten objects into a canvas.

Robert Fielding is also helping to redefine what Indigenous art looks like.

He has produced a series of long-exposure photographs of the old vehicles, which he has painted with reflective materials and lit up with tealight candles.

“I’m salvaging what belonged to the elders of our communities, throughout the APY Lands and from Indulkana and Mimili … and bringing these cars to life,” he said.

“[This car] belongs to somebody, and it belongs to the artist also, which is I, but it belongs to the family members who know who this vehicle is.”

Artist turns to new digital media to experiment

Mr Fielding is an established artist in the APY Lands, winning the work on paper category in the esteemed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards this year, and in 2015.

He has also held solo exhibitions in Adelaide and Melbourne, and has work in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

But now he is experimenting with digital mediums, in a way that many Australians would not associate with art from remote Indigenous communities.

“The reason I like new media is the camera is a tool that Indigenous people are very strong and proud to be in front and behind the lens,” he said.

He has painted about a dozen cars around his community of Mimili, on the eastern side of the APY Lands.

The photographs of the cars are all taken at night with exposures of around 30 seconds.

“I’m lighting them up with tealight candles and giving it another feeling and another ghostly effect with what’s going on,” Mr Fielding said.

“There’s a light within this vehicle that’s hidden in crevices throughout.”

Topics: contemporary-art, arts-and-entertainment, visual-art, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, alice-springs-0870, sa

First posted November 06, 2017 08:22:42

Historic photos reunited with Indigenous Australians

Posted October 26, 2017 08:48:54

A small group is gathered around a photo book in the remote north of Western Australia, Kimberley locals — young and old — were searching for familiar faces.

The images are from an archive of historic photographs from museums around the world, some going back to the mid 1800s.

Occasionally, there would be a shriek of delight from someone recognising an ancestor with a resemblance to a relative or friend.

WARNING: This story contains the images of Aboriginal people who have died.

Lorna Hudson, a senior Aboriginal elder, discovered a photo of her foster parents she had never seen before.

“They raised me when I was a child, I more or less looked to them as my parents,” she said.

“This was really the best day for me, looking at these old photos.”

Donna Oxenham, a Yamatji woman and University of Western Australia academic, travelled from Perth to the Kimberley with a selection of the photos and a goal of reuniting photographs with their families.

It was part of the Returning Photos Project, a UWA initiative that is repatriating photos of Aboriginal Australia with their communities around the country.

It is a global project, with museums from around the world working with UWA to identify and return photos to their families of origin.

“It’s always a rewarding moment when you see smiles on faces and they see people they know,” Ms Oxenham said.

“It’s even better when it’s a sister, a grandmother or a father, and they don’t have any images that they own.

“To be able to give them back these images, it’s a fantastic experience.”

Igniting memories and connection

The aim of returning images is to reconnect people with ancestors, places, and provide cultural information to Aboriginal people today.

For many Indigenous people it is not culturally appropriate to name a deceased person or look at their photographic image.

Ms Hudson and many others have made an exception for the repatriated photos.

“You know, we’re not suppose to be looking at deceased people’s photos. But it’s kind of different because it brings back the old memory and your connection with whoever is on the photo,” Ms Hudson said.

“It makes you feel really, really good.”

Phil McCarthy, a Bardi Jawi Ranger coordinator, found an image of the land he works to conserve.

“There are heaps of trees up here in this photo,” he said.

“And as part of the ranger program we’re trying to draw those trees back up again.”

A lot of memories fade away until these pictures bring them back, Mr McCarthy said.

He pointed to another photo.

“When you look at this one here we know when we moved back to the beach, our mob travelled down from Sunday Island.”

Photos tell a story of survival

During the 19th and 20th centuries, photos of Australian Aboriginal people were taken for a range of purposes.

Many were sent to international museums, often without consent.

Ms Oxenham said white photographers often exploited Indigenous subjects, whether that was for commercial gain, government surveillance or scientific investigation.

“Many early researchers saw their Aboriginal subjects as cultural curiosities and some believed that the Aboriginal people and their culture was a dying race that could not exist in a western world, so they recorded as much possible,” she said.

Some of the images depict people in neck chains or working in slave-like conditions.

But Ms Oxenham tells people to look at these images as a story of survival.

“It reinforces that our culture is still strong, we’ve survived through so much adversity throughout history with colonisation, the stolen generations, the mission era and assimilation politics,” she said.

Museums, she said, are happy to be involved as they recognise photographic records hold significance for Aboriginal Australians today.

The Returning Photos Project involves Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, and Musee du Quai Branly in Paris.

Part of the photographic collection is stored on a website, accessible to Aboriginal communities seeking information on their heritage.

Ms Oxenham has been working with archival Aboriginal photos for over ten years.

She said the most rewarding part of the job has been returning photos to their families and communities.

“I’m hoping that if I can make a difference and give a photo back to one ancestor, then it’s all been worthwhile,” she said.

Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, library-museum-and-gallery, perth-6000, dampier-peninsula-6725, broome-6725

Brazilian design meets Aboriginal art for National Gallery of Victoria’s first international Triennial

By Alex Barwick

Posted October 22, 2017 12:13:56

In the middle of the Australian desert, a gigantic soft sculpture is beginning to take shape.

The work is a collaboration between internationally acclaimed furniture designers from Brazil, artists from Larapinta Valley Town Camp, and Alice Springs-based designer Elliat Rich.

Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), the piece will welcome visitors to the Gallery’s first international Triennial of contemporary art and design, opening in December.

“You’ll be presented with a seven-metre-wide dome structure; it’s a steel structure which is clad in embroidered panels,” said Ewan McEoin, a senior curator at the gallery.

“People will be able to walk in and lie down on furniture that’s been designed by the Campana brothers’ studio and look at this universe of embroidery and the shared stories of the artists and designers.”

Brazilian furniture designers, the Campana brothers, were keen to collaborate with Aboriginal artists.

Humberto Campana travelled from Sao Paolo to Alice Springs, where he visited the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists in Larapinta Valley Town Camp. He was immediately captivated by their use of materials, as he has previously integrated soft toys and characters in his work.

“Humberto saw the creatures that the artists were making with embroidery, and it really spoke to him because he’s included material like that in his furniture design over the years,” said McEoin

“There was this nice kind of synergy … there was just an instant dialogue.”

Art creating social inclusion

Studio Campana has a history of working with indigenous communities, but this is their first collaboration with Indigenous Australian artists.

“I see my work, me and my brother’s work, today heading in the direction of working with the communities,” said Humberto Campana.

“When you work with the communities you bring social inclusion, when you include fragile communities in the work you create labour for them. I think this is important.”

The Brazilian designers introduced a “water” theme to the project, but have encouraged the town camp artists to interpret that how they wish.

“Humberto was looking at the Amazon River and the waterways of Central Australia and really what is the shared dialogue across these places,” said McEoin.

Art centre a ‘safe place’ for community

Large balls of brightly coloured wool tumble across the tables of the art centre. The Yarrenyty Altere Artists of Larapinta Valley Town Camp have been busy embroidering 40 panels with careful needlework to create waterholes, falling rain and windmills in their vibrant designs.

The art centre provides more than just a creative space for the town camp residents; set up in 2000 as a response to chronic social issues in the town camp, it’s played an important role in rebuilding strength in the community and creating economic opportunities.

“It’s a place where people can come in, sit around or just play with their kids,” said artist Marlene Rubuntja.

“It is a safe place for people, we care what problems we have, we sort things out.”

Marlene says the project has been a great opportunity to demonstrate both the strength of their art and the community.

“And doing this big thing, the world can see, I’m so proud of myself, what I’m doing in my life and to show my grandchildren I’m strong.”

Taking Central Australian creativity to the world

Winner of the 2017 Australian Furniture Design Award, Alice Springs-based designer Elliat Rich is responsible for managing the project in Central Australia.

“What makes me really excited about this project is bringing other artists and makers into this fantastic opportunity,” she said.

“Working with Studio Campana is an honour for me, but equally it is working with the artists from Yarrenyty Arltere.

“It feels great to really build on the amazing creative strengths of Central Australia and deliver that to the world.”

Ms Rich runs a studio-cum-workshop with partner and bespoke shoemaker James Young.

He and his team are tasked with upholstering over a kilometre of fabric that provides the canvas for the artists to embroider.

“I’ve approached this upholstery work as a shoemaker,” he said.

“There’s a lot with regards to the upholstery work … that speaks directly to lasting leather over the ‘last’, which is the form a pair of shoes is made on.”

Men of steel

Sparks fly at the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) where a team more familiar with making hot water tanks are welding together a surprisingly ornate but gigantic steel structure.

Traditionally this not-for-profit company that employs Indigenous people has focused on remote communities, but a cut in Government funding has led the organisation to diversify, taking up work in Alice Springs.

CAT and Elliat Rich have had previous success working together, producing the Anerle-aneme chair (which means “sit a little while” in the local Arrernte language), which featured at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.

With the dome almost complete, all that’s left is to pack it up and ship it to Melbourne in the next few weeks ahead of the exhibition opening in December.

Workshop Manager Aaron Bolger says it’s been a process of trial and error, but he’s enjoyed the current challenge.

“I’m just a basic boilermaker … so to come out here and be given the opportunity to work with people with such high profiles in different industries, it’s great,” he said.

Topics: contemporary-art, visual-art, art-and-design, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, alice-springs-0870, nt, melbourne-3000, vic

Artist hopes new stamps will inspire Australians to learn of Tiwi culture

Posted October 18, 2017 15:34:51

A Northern Territory artist whose work will be celebrated on a new stamp says he hopes it will inspire other Australians to learn about his culture.

The works of two NT artists — Bede Tungutalum and Banduk Marika — have been chosen to appear on new stamps that will be put into circulation next week.

Bede Tungutalum, 65, lives on Bathurst Island and helped pioneer Tiwi Islands art sales.

“It is exciting for me,” he said after news of the new stamps was released.

He said he thought his success would encourage people to learn more about his culture.

“Yes it does,” he said, adding that he also hoped his success would inspire school children in the Tiwi Islands.

“They do [see my success] at school, they learn these things,” he said.

He praised the choices Australia Post made for the stamps.

“It was their choice, and they chose the right ones, the best ones, which meant a lot to us,” he said.

Both of Tungutalum’s works concern death

Two of his works were selected, including one showing Pukumani poles, which represent carved poles that play an important role in Tiwi burial rites.

The other also concerns death, and tells the dreamtime story of Purrukapali, his wife Bima and son Jinani.

In the story Purrukapali learns his son has died due to the actions of Bima, and takes him to the water to declare that everyone eventually dies.

Banduk Marika comes from north-east Arnhem Land and works in linocut, screen prints and on bar.

Two of her works feature on the new stamps.

One of them, titled Guyamala, is a linocut and screen print and relates to her dreamtime stories, Australia Post said in a statement.

The other is titled Waterlili and Gaya and was produced in 1983.

The new stamps will be available from participating post offices, via mail order or online from October 24.

Australia Post philatelic manager Michael Zsolt said he believed the stamp issue highlighted the “richness and beauty inherent in the artworks” and also the creative spirit of the artists.

Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, arts-and-entertainment, people, wurrimiyanga-0822, yirrkala-0880

APY Lands artists use ancient techniques to create new rock art

Posted October 15, 2017 09:43:57

A group of Indigenous artists from the remote APY Lands in the far north of South Australia have been using ancient techniques to create brand new work.

They are using ochre to paint stories on rocks, then taking photos of it which they can sell.

It is a marked difference from artworks painted on canvas in art centres, for which the APY Lands have become internationally renowned.

It allows artists to get out onto their country, teach the next generations their stories, and make money from the process.

One artist, Keith Stevens, has painted a story of two sisters spearing a rainbow serpent at a waterhole.

He and senior elder Ginger Wikilyiri took the ABC to the waterhole near their community of Nyapari, after checking first that it was OK with the spirit by shouting out to it.

“My father told me this story, that this was the place of the Rainbow Serpent Piltatinya,” he said in Pitjantjatjara.

It involves two women who end up spearing a rainbow serpent.

Mr Stevens painted the story using ochre straight onto the rock of the waterhole.

But while the painting has now been washed away, he can still sell stunning images of it.

The art centre at Nyapari, Tjungu Palya has teamed up with a professional photographer to take photos of the temporary paintings.

They have produced limited prints which have already almost sold out.

“Pictures are good because everybody might be sharing that picture,” Mr Stevens said.

“White people, women, children, sharing picture make everybody happy.

“Everything here is good, the dreaming story is good.”

Topics: aboriginal, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, visual-art, nt

Generous teacher makes Aladdin wish come true for remote students

Updated October 14, 2017 01:13:50

A group of Indigenous students from a remote part of the Northern Territory has had a close encounter with the bright lights of Melbourne’s theatre scene, and it is due to the generosity of their teacher, and her friends.

Sue Davidson paid over $3,500 out of her own pocket to take her students to a performance of the Disney musical, Aladdin, before using crowd funding to recover most of the costs.

“It was a bit of a risk, pushing that button was a bit nerve-wracking because it was going to be the most expensive night out in Melbourne that I would have ever been to, but anyway, it came good. I had a feeling that I would get support,” she told AM.

My friends, bless them all, and people I didn’t even know heard about it, and it went a little bit viral and we got the money for it, and so here we are.”

Ms Davidson teaches the year 7, 8 and 9 students in the community of Ampilatwatja, which is halfway between Alice Springs and Mt Isa in Queensland.

Each year students who have shown a good behaviour and attendance record go on a trip to visit other schools in Victoria, but this is the first time a theatre performance has been included in the program.

“[It is] giving them a sample of life and a taste of what’s going on out there, because they really live in a very secluded world,” Ms Davidson said.

“Just to even experience the fact that there’s this world where they might be able to become actors themselves or get involved with the music or the production, or the art side of it, they’re very good artists, a lot of them, and they’re very capable, they just lack confidence.”

When the producers of the show heard the students would be attending they invited them backstage to meet the cast and crew, pose for photographs and learn more about the production.

One of the show’s stars, American actor Michael James Scott, who plays the Genie, asked for his own photo with the group.

Ms Davidson said they will continue to study the story of Aladdin, once they return to Ampilatwatja.

“The basic theme of the whole show is about being trapped in the world that you’re trapped in; Aladdin is trapped in poverty, the Genie is trapped in the lamp, the Princess is trapped in the fact that she has to marry a prince and not for love, and the Sultan’s trapped in the fact that he has to make his daughter unhappy.

“So I just thought that I might be able to expand that and use that for the children to start thinking about the world that they live in as Indigenous students in the remote NT, and the world they could be trapped in,” she said.

But there is a sting to the happy tale.

Ms Davidson, and her generous friends, had to pay so much for the tickets because she unknowingly bought them through the reseller Viagogo, which is being taken to court by the consumer affairs watchdog.

“When I actually printed them [the tickets] off and realised they were less than half the price of what I paid, I realised that I had been scammed and I’d asked my friends to support that unwittingly, and that makes me very upset.”

Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, community-and-society, opera-and-musical-theatre, arts-and-entertainment, education, melbourne-3000, vic, nt, australia

First posted October 14, 2017 01:10:32