Catalogue Essay

by Sue Ford

Melbourne Contemporary Art Gallery

19 April - 9 May 1989


NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) is an Aboriginal and

Torres Straight Islanders organisation of volunteers drawn from the ten regional committees. It

is responsible for organising and co-ordination of the annual promotion of the Aboriginal and

Islanders cultural heritage and the positive contribution made by Aborigines.

NAIDOC is always held in the second week in September In Melbourne and is co-ordinated

from the Aborigines Advancement League in Northcote.

Some of the events during the week include a film festival, awards for Aborigine of the Year, Aborigine Artist, Sportsperson, Scholar,

Apprentice and Youth of the Year. Also, there are many events in the Koori community. The most public being the march on National

Aborigine Day from Fitzroy to the City Square followed by a Koori Flag raising ceremony, dancing and speeches.

N.B. The word Koori is used by Victorian and New South Wales Aborigines to identify themselves.


The Barunga Community is 400 kilometers south east of Darwin and near Katherine in the Northern Territory. The festival is an annual

gathering of Aboriginal people held on the Queen's birthday weekend 10 - 13 June 1988. The senior traditional owners the Barunga

Wugularr, Community Council and the Northern Central and Tiwi Land Councils invited the public to join them at the 1988 festival which

was described as 'a central part of a special year of ceremony to celebrate Aboriginal people's survival, the culture and the land, ‘the

mother of our culture'.

I was given permission from the Northern Land Council and the Barunga Festival to take photographs for the Land Rights News and the

Northern Land Council to show in this exhibition.

During the festival, several thousand Aborigines came from

all over Australia and it became the largest gathering ever

held of Aborigines in the Northern Territory. There were

sporting events, and art exhibitions and the main dancing

ceremony held on a specially prepared ground, called the

Bungkul ground. On the Sunday, media from all over

Australia were invited to be present at the visit to the festival

of Bob and Hazel Hawke and Gerry and Maree Hand. A

description of the event is quoted directly from the July Issue

of ‘land Rights News' a monthly publication of the Northern

Territory Land Councils.

When hundreds of senior Aboriginal men surrounded the

Prime Minister, Bob Hawke and Aboriginal Affairs Minister,

Gerry Hand, they held a meeting that accorded respect for

Aboriginal law and tradition.

The senior Aboriginal men invited the man who leads the Australian law making system to sit down on an Aboriginal ceremonial ground

to discuss Aboriginal Issues on their terms.

At the same time, Hazel Hawk and Maree Hand accepted an invitation from senior Aboriginal women to sit dawn In their midst and be

welcomed as important women from another culture.

During the meeting with Bob Hawk the Aboriginal law men presented him with five practical demands, which outlined a consultation

process and a need for an indication of the Government’s willingness to proceed.

These events at Barunga brought the Australian Government and people significantly closer to an agreement with Aboriginal people.

After two hundred years of official neglect, Australia - if public response is any guide - appears ready to face its most difficult task ever.

The Prime Minister's in principle acceptance of the demands of Aboriginal people shows that the Government at least has learned some

very important lessons.

While Mr. Hawke said Australia was ready, he made it

clear that what is to happen depends on the wishes of

Aboriginal people themselves and will only go ahead if

and when they are ready.

Mr. Hawke's pubic acceptance of the five demands

came at the end of an emotion—charged day. He had

bean greeted by members of the Berunga-Wugularr

community before visiting the sports field and the

annual arts and crafts display.

After being conducted to the Bungkul ground, he and

Mrs. Hawke, together with Gerry and Mrs. Hand and

thousands of spectators witnessed the reality of the

Aboriginal theme for 1988- ‘We have survived’ - as

hundreds of dancers from all over the Northern Territory

danced and sang the living proof of cultural survival.

The Prime Minister was presented with paintings from the Top End and the Centre, which expressed attachment to the land and held

confidential discussions with the senior men. As he emerged from this historic meeting, Mr. Hawke came forward to make his statement,

the Government's response to the demands.

He announced that he had given the Government's guarantee that any formal agreement with Aboriginal people - whether in Treaty or

other form – had be initiated and crafted by them.

'The Government will negotiate a Treaty’, he said, ‘but you, the Aboriginal people, should decide what it is you want to see in that treaty.'

Mr. Hawke also committed the Government to assisting in the establishment of a process of consultation. The aim, he said, was to

arrive at the end of the process with the organisation of a national convention to discuss the outcomes of the consultation process.

As the meeting had insisted on some form of timetable Mr. Hawke agreed to consider the results of early consultations and release

funds for the nation-wide process before, the end of this year.

‘We would expect and hope and work for the conclusion of a Treaty before the end of the life of this Parliament’, he said.

Mr. Hawke's undertakings have opened the way for Aboriginal people to meet together with some hope of recognition as the original

owners end occupiers of this land. Underlining the context of the consultations and future discussions with the Australian Government

the Chairman of the Northern Territory and Central Lands Councils - Galarrwuy Yunupinngu and Western Rubuntje - then presented Mr.

Hawke with a petition framed by Top End fine Centre paintings, which were painted by senior elders during the festival ..........


Bathurst and neighboring Melville Island lie 100 kilometers north of Darwin. They are the second largest Australian Islands (Tasmania

being the largest). Together they comprise 8,000 square kilometers. They are separated by Apsley Strait, which is less than a kilometer

in width.

The first European settlement on Bathurst Island was the Catholic mission established in 1911 by Bishop Gsell at Ngulu that has since

become the main township. These Islands are the home of the Tiwi people (a term that means human beings - a title given to them by

Europeans. They were known before that as the Aragidawununi.

In 1913 Herbert Basedou and In 1914 Baldwin Spencer visited the Islands and through there research the traditions and art of the Tiwi

became well known. More recently Tiwi art and their artists have become known through the work of contemporary artists especially

Declan Arakiki-apualiml a famous Sculptor and painter who died in 1985.

Nowadays Tiwi Pima Art has been established to encourage the continuation of the art of the Tiwis which encompasses bird carvings,

pukumanl poles (for the funeral ceremony) which are unique to the Islands, bark and canvas painting, carvings of human figures from

Tiwi mythology. As well on Bathurst there is the thriving Bema wear pottery that produces hand printed material and clothing that are now

designed and printed by the Tiwi women. The largest business is Tiwi Designs. A large range of materials is designed and printed by the

men and the material is sold throughout Australia and overseas.

Adult Education on Bathurst runs many different workshops including Batik,

printmaking, woodwork and carpentry. In 1988 a photography workshop was

suggested. It was thought that photography would be a valuable tool in respect to

making a record of people and activities on the Island. The photos taken from a

Tiwi point of view would be useful to record artwork before it was sold.

The workshop in which I was asked to assist ran for a month and was organized

by Emmie Tipiloura. Four younger women who had expressed an Interest in

learning photography joined the workshop. They were Sandra Kantilla, Theordore

Tipiloura, Andrine Kantilla and Nina Puruntatameri. Black and white photos were

taken as well as colour slides and Super 9 film. A slide night was held at the end

of the workshop. The photographs taken by the women included portraits of friends

and relatives. The hospital, Bema Wear, the Pottery, Church and school were also


The black and white photographs were printed by the women in a darkroom at the

school and mounted into a book. Due to enthusiastic response to the workshop a

permanent darkroom was set up at Adult Education and a 35 mm camera was

purchased so that photography could continue there. A further workshop will be

held this year with the specific purpose of mounting an exhibition of the

photography of the Tiwi women. The proceeds from the sale of the photographs in

this exhibition will be used for the purpose of enabling me to assist in the mounting

and organising of this exhibition, as well as the production of a video made by the

women from Bathurst Island.

The title of this exhibition ‘A Different Landscape' comes from my experiencing the Australian Landscape in a totally new way. During the

hunting and bush education trips that the women took me on, the landscape became alive with their history and meaning.