Flow of Voices is a unique two-part exhibition on contemporary art, settler colonialism and mining in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory of Australia. Garawa and Yanyuwa artists, Jacky Green, Stewart Hoosan and Nancy McDinny, compare the brutality of the colonial frontier with ongoing settler colonialism and large-scale developments such as mining. Without proper respect for people and country, racial heirarchies and 'imperial' attitudes persist. The artists have collaborated to show what happens when the voices and authority of traditional owners (Minggirringi) and managers (Junggayi), who manage and maintain the lands travelled by ancestral beings creating and singing the kujka (song-lines) and the environment, are not heard.
|Stewart Hoosan, Mayawagu — Freedom Fighter, 2013.
Acrylic on linen, 88 x 120 cm
|Stewart Hoosan, Story of Mayawagu, 2013.
Acrylic on Linen, 125 x 120 cm
|Nancy McDinny, Story of Mayawagu, 2013. Acrylic on linen, 108 x 122 cm
'This painting is about Mayawagu who was my great grandfather. He was a Garrawa man who resisted the white pastoralists in the early 1900’s. The painting shows the time Mayawagu escaped from the policeman and trackers who came to capture him. Mayawagu was strong; he was fighting for his land and fighting for his people.
In Mayawagu’s country, called Karlarlarkinda, there is a river called the ‘Foelsche River’. Inspector Paul Foelsche was in charge of policing in the northern half of the Northern Territory from 1870 to 1904. He was responsible for masterminding the massacres of hundreds of Aboriginal men, women and children, including Garrawa. We would like to change the name of the river and call it the Mayawagu River.'
Nancy McDinny, 2013.
Nancy McDinny, Destruction of our Bush Tucker, 2013.
'The Mining Company is ruining our land and our bush tuckers and causes argument amongst families. The animals like the kangaroos, emus, goanna and blue tongue lizard aren’t here anymore. And our food from the ocean is not plentiful this time. Even our bush medicine is not growing close to our community anymore.
They argue for the recognition of their peoples’ authority over all of their ancestral land and sea country and their right to free, prior and informed consent to all development projects that occur within their country. They challenge settler colonisers to see their ancestral country as something far greater than a collection of natural resources to be dug up and sold. They demand that their lands and seas be valued as a sentient place, a cultural landscape imbued with the powers of ancestral beings that rest within it. They speak of an intimate kinship between people and country.
The name of the two-part exhibition project Flow of Voices comes from Jacky Green’s work. Green, a senior cultural man of the Garrwa people, tries to make sense of his people’s dealings with the state, in all its manifestations. How does the flow of voices between Indigenous peoples, their representative organisations and state agencies work?
Flow of Voices 1 presented a significant body of Green’s recent work which explores his relationship to country. His works draw on the kin relations between the Garawa, Gudanji, Mara and Yanyuwa peoples and their country. He traces the arrival of settler colonisers and illustrates their destruction of his beloved country. He challenges the way settler colonisers value land; how they use their power to impose mining projects against the will of Indigenous people; and how they show complete disregard for the cultural degradation and environmental destruction that many of their projects create.
In Flow of Voices 1, Jacky Green maps the changes from good to bad when government approves controversial plans by GlencoreXtrata to expand Macarthur River Mine (MRM) from an underground mine to open cut and divert a major river 6 kilometres (2007); a second expansion is approved in 2011, once again against the wishes of the owners, Northern Land Council, environmental voices and the justice system. Green's powerful and moving paintings reveal the power imbalance between mining companies and Aboriginal peoples on whose country the minerals are extracted and shipped away, while they remain in poverty. Green's paintings are accompanied by his careful words as told to anthropologist Seán Kerins. (Flow of Voices 1: 12 April to 17 May 2014 and Flow of Voices 2: 22 May to 28 June 2014.)
Flow of Voices 2 presented the artworks of Stewart Hoosan and Nancy McDinny, as well as Green. Hoosan's and McDinny’s works challenge the myth of Terra Nullius, and the History Wars of conservative thinkers. Their work shows the brutality of the colonial violence that occurred across the Gulf country where native police, prospectors and settlers cleared the lands with their guns killing hundreds of men, women, children and babies.
Hoosan's and McDinny’s works are an extremely important part of Australian history. They tell the story of conquest from the perspective of those who went through it. They tell the story of their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. What they present is not a story of defeat but one of resistance and resilience. These paintings show 'frontier relations' including the colonial killings and massacres and resistance fighters as a continuum of the past into the present emotional experience of seeing their country and sacred sites damaged.
Nancy McDinny: 'The Mining Company is ruining our land and our bush tuckers and causes argument amongst families. They come into our Community promising this and that making deals where we have to wait for years and years to get our royalty; some of our people have died just waiting. There are Traditional Owners who negotiates with the Directors of the mining company without involving other Traditional Owners and they start up an argument between the family groups. They promise them money if they agree to their deal. We are worried about our bush tucker and animals.'
Together the artists’ work clearly demonstrates that settler colonialism is as much a thing of the present as it is a thing of the past.
Source of quotes: Dr Seán Kerins, Art Monthly (December 2013) and artist statements (Togart exhibition catalogue, 2013).
|Stewart Hoosan, Jo Flick, First Shooting at Burketown Hotel, 2014. Acrylic on linen, 60 x 60 cm
||Stewart Hoosan, Jo Flick, 2013. Acrylic on linen, 60 x 60 cm||Nancy McDinny, War at Blackfella Spring, 2014. Acrylic on linen, 51 x 51 cm
Joe Flick's remarkable story inspires Stewart Hoosan and Jacky Green paintings. This young man of mixed parentage worked on Lawn Hill station with his European father in an age when settlers and police in the Gulf Country were infamous for the shooting of Aboriginal people and the abduction and rape of Aboriginal girls and young women. Flick’s father sent him to rescue an abducted Aboriginal woman taken to a hotel near Burketown. Joe Flick set out to help and ended up falsely described as an ‘outlaw’, a ‘bushranger’.
Accounts of Joe Flick's death by police shooting in 1899 come from old people together with a dramatic account by the owner of Lawn Hill station, Frank Hann, told to a reporter from the Melbourne Argus newspaper where he was described as 'murdering Joe'. A confrontation with the hotel owner, a Mr. Cashman, became heated and guns were pulled. Cashman fired at Flick. During a dramatic chase Flick shot two men dead, escaped twice from gaol and numerous times from police, stole a number of horses, and was hunted and shot at as he hid in huts on stations. During the Lawn Hill Station shoot-out, Flick killed a police sergeant, seriously wounded Hann and made a Houdini-like escape in the night. Next morning his blood-stained tracks were followed to a river by a large party. In the gunfight that followed, an Aboriginal stockman was killed. The others were too afraid to approach. Daylight revealed that Flick, too, was dead, having been shot nine times.
Had he been captured, the police would have shot him dead 'while attempting to escape'.
|Jacky Green, Expansion of Open Cut Mining at McArthur River Mine, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 117 x 198 cm|
Nancy McDinny was born in a canoe in 1958 on Fetrel Island, between Managoora Station and Vanderlin Island. She is Garrwa and Yanyuwa. Nancy’s art career spans fifteen years; she is also a linguist. She paints about the rich traditional life that she, her parents and grandparents lived including hunting, harvesting bush tucker and travelling. Her artwork also recounts her family’s direct experiences of European settlement in the Gulf region, and the ongoing issues confronting the community today with mines impacting on the natural environment and people’s way of life.
Stewart Hoosan was born in 1951 at Old Doomadgee Mission. He is a Garrwa man on his mother's side. He grew up on Calvert Hills station with his grandfather Yarriyarri. At nine years of age he went to work in stock camps and spent time droving throughout the Top End. Stewart started painting in early 2000 and paints his country and its history
Jacky Green is a Garawa man. He was born in 1953 under a coolabah tree in one of the creek beds at Soudan Station in the Northern Territory. After his days as a stockman, Jacky worked for the Northern Land Council and is now a director of the Carpenteria Land Council. He started the Garawa rangers and Waanya/Garawa Rangers in 2005 and continues this work today. Jacky has spent over 30 years fighting for the protection of his country and its sacred sites. He began to paint in 2008 to get his voice heard, to show others what is happening to his country and people.
Miriam Charlie (b 1965) is a Garawa, Yanyuwa woman from Borroloola, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. She works as Gallery Coordinator officer at Waralungku Art Centre. In 2012 she undertook a photography training program and competition for Indigenous Artists through Desart, the peak body for Central Australian Indigenous Art Centres. Her photographic subjects are community people, events, waterholes, lagoons, bush plants, birds, hills and rivers.
The artists and Waralungku Arts are proud to announce their plan to found a Yanyuwa, Garawa, Marra and Gudanji People's Keeping Place and Knowledge Centre at Borroloola. The old people who set up Waralungku art centre wanted to make history paintings to account for their peoples' agency and overwhelming belief in their just claim on their land. Works from this part of the vast Gulf Country are renowned for their colour and realism made familiar to many by the pioneering work of the late Ginger Riley (from Ngukkur). The artists have pursued this curatorial directive and many paintings from the Gulf are unique conceptual and analytic documents about history and contemporary issues.
|Left to right: Jacky Green, Stewart Hoosan and Nancy McDinny at Macarthur River. Photo by Miriam Charlie
|Nancy McDinny, War at Blackfella Spring, 2014.
Acrylic on linen, 122 x 178 cm
|Miriam Charlie, Mining-Keep-out!, Digital Photograph, 2014.
'Bing Bong used to be a place our families went camping, hunting and fishing. Now it is a port facility with a sign that says KEEP OUT! It would be better if mining companies could think about the people who were here before and how it changes our life forever.'
References and Recent Publications
Seán Kerins, 'Challenging Conspiracies of Silence with Art', Art Monthly, Summer 2013/14. > Download pdf
John Bradley with Yanyuwa families, Singing Saltwater Country. Journey to the Songlines of Carpenteria (Alen & Unwin, 2010)
Tony Roberts, Frontier Justice, A History of the Gulf Country to 1900 (UQP, 2005). > Download pdf
Tony Roberts, 'The Brutal Truth. What happened in the Gulf Country' (The Monthly, 2009.) > http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2009/november/1330478364/tony-roberts/brutal-truth
New Vision: Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Marra and Gudanji People's Keeping Place and Knowledge Centre
The artists and Waralungku Arts are proud to introduce their plan to found a Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Marra and Gudanji People's Keeping Place and Knowledge Centre at Borroloola.
Special thanks to St Ignatius College for Hoosan's and McDinny's artist residencies: St Ignatius College Principal Dr Paul Hine and the College Council and St Ignatius College's First Nations Unit; in particular thanks to Anthony Reilly, Jo Kenderes, Malarndirri McCarthy and John Gilles.
Thanks to the artists, Jessie Boylan, Arena Magazine. Waralungku Arts, Borroloola and Madeleine Challender, Miriam Charlie, Ceinwen Hall, Peter Callinan. Thanks to historians Seán Kerins, John Bradley with Yanyuwa families and Tony Roberts.