Friday October 5
Our final day in Kununurra is spent exploring the Ord River and its tributaries courtesy of Dr Lars Moir the local dental surgeon. Lars has been living in the township for twenty years and knows the river intimately. Lars leads us to various lagoons and wetlands to record the song of the Pheasant Coucal, Jacana and Pied Cormorant. On the edge of town we encounter a colony of fruit bats resting after a night of foraging in surrounding orchards where ripening mangos grow in their tens of thousands. Towards the end of our trip we encounter Elephant Rock – a big rock formation on Lake Kununurra also known as Sleeping Buddha. At its base are rock painting of crocodile, bats and turtles, along with various carvings and scrapings – evidence of ceremony or ritual drawing on the spiritual energy of the roughly outlined animals. Nearby murmuring colonies of paper wasps and european bees are busy collecting pollen or aphids.
Safely ashore we visit Waringarri for one last time to thank Cathy Cummins manager of the art centre and her team of devoted staff for facilitating our residency. It is always a privilege to spend time with indigenous communities of The Kimberley and experience their country through their remarkable stories and artworks. The sounds and images that have enthralled us for the past five weeks will no doubt follow us to Melbourne to displace our sense of reality. One in which the din of traffic and commerce merges with the raucous noise of insect and bird song, and the uniform grey of the metropolis is saturated in an endless red glow.
Tuesday October 2
The dry has now given over to the wet with 50mm of rain falling overnight to transform the dehydrated settlement into a series of scattered pools of reddish water. Gusts of wind whipping through the township activating corrugated tin buildings, cyclone fences, signs and trees. The steadfast blue sky that has hovered overhead for the past month now an ominous grey – a harbinger of storms to come as we move into cyclone season.
Last Thursday evening Madelynne and I presented some outcomes of our fieldwork to the community at Waringarri Arts. A series of images revealing the processes underscoring our mysterious activities accompanied recordings of various localities introduced to us by members of the community. An excited group of forty assembling to enjoy the collection of images and sounds of a familiar environment rendered strange through the agency of arcane technologies. The convivial mood enhanced by a b-b-q that stretches deep into the night.
We are now into our final week of the remote residency. The expansive sense of time and space we have enjoyed now contracting as we desperately try and complete all the tasks we can before the end of the week. Yesterday we explored the topography of the landscape just outside town limits. There we discovered a solitary windmill bordered by nothingness – its blades sporadically spinning with the aid of a gentle breeze. Placing a pair of accelerometers onto the steel superstructure – a deeply sonorous sound emerges resembling church bells resounding through a web of conjoined wires and steel. An unexpected sound in a blackened landscape as threatening weather growls overhead.
Thursday September 27
Thelast few days have been spent with a group of painters from Waringarri Arts at Bubble Bubble – an abandoned settlement in the heart of Keep River National Park. Among the group of six painters is Minnie Lumai, who is keen to locate a key Dreaming site comprising a flat rock bordered by three sandstone sentinels, which she depicts in her painting. In this area there is a ridge where the Plains Kangaroo fought the Hill Kangaroo in the Dreamtime. The circles in Minnie’s paintings represent the areas in which the Dreamtime argument occurred that led to the demarcation of Miriwoong country and Gajirrabeng country. While we spend several hours searching decomposing ridgelines and fractured escarpments we could not find the spot that Minnie is seeking.
Near the settlement is a spring known as Bubble Bubble that provides this harsh area with much needed fresh water. The sound of the winding creek in the distance as we settle in for the night. The group soon gathers around a campfire singing songs from the Dreamtime to clap sticks. Their is great humour and playfulness as the artists recount stories of crocodiles, spirits, and station life. The song that strikes me most is the one about early aviation and the unusual sound of planes flying across the expansive Kimberley skyline.
In the middle of the night a strong wind blows activating various shards of metal, discarded objects, trees and shrubs. Each responds in particular ways to the gusts of hot air circulating through the settlement providing a chorus of light hissing, percussive strikes and grinding textures. The artists warned us to not be surprised in the event we heard the voices of their ancestors watching over us during our sound recording forays into the darkness. While our microphones failed to capture paranormal activity, the rustling of the old station certainly provided an otherworldly quality to the evenings activities. In the morning Phyllis Ningamara informs me that the call of the Curlew usually signifies that old people are around. Its mocking tone echoing across the baked and crumbling landscape as stray shafts of sunlight appear to pierce the stillness.
Monday September 24
We have spent the last few days in the field between Kununurra and Wyndham documenting various sites including lagoons, ruins, relics and a cattle station. The intention was to record wildlife without the intrusive noise of Kununurra and its abundant traffic of assorted road trains, camper vans and four-wheel drives thundering down the Victoria Highway that connects these remote townships to Darwin. The highway is spectacular, with escarpment ranges, unique boab trees and the mighty Victoria River that runs into deep valleys and spectacular gorges.
Our first destination was the fabulous Marlgu Billabong – Marlgu is an Aboriginal name for wild bird. Many species of waterbirds, migratory waders and predators can be sighted here including swamp hens, brolga, ibis and cormorant. Of particular note is the whistling kite and its remarkable call piercing the din of the morning chorus. Overlooking Marlgu Billabong is Telegraph Hill, which was used as a signaling repeater station up to the 1920s. All that now remains of this station are the cement stumps of some dwellings, rusted scraps of metal and a steel framed telegraph tower sitting precipitously on the edge of an escarpment.
Afterwards we traveled to Diggers Rest Station located 40 kilometres from Wyndham along the picturesque King River Road. The ruggedly majestic Cockburn Ranges to the West and the Erskine Ranges to the East provide a stunning backdrop to the station. Near the station is the infamous Boab Prison Tree used in the 1890s by the local police to lock up Aboriginal prisoners overnight, on their way to Derby for sentencing. The tree has a circumference of 14 metres and is estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 years old. Further down the road is Moochalabra Dam where a series of aboriginal rock art paintings are located of Wandjina spirit ancestors and animals done in natural ochre. The brittle rustling of dried Pandanus gently sweeping through the stratified ravine of cracked and broken sandstone to accompany these uncanny images.
Tuesday September 18
Today we visited Alan and Peggy Griffiths at Victoria River Downs located right on the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, 50 kilometers east of Kununurra. The property comprises a large part of Keep River National Park encompassing a rugged and dissected terrain of sandstone formations and woodlands of eucalypts. The Park falls within the Aboriginal tribal area of the Mirriuwoong and Gadjerong people.
The Griffiths are senior members of the Waringarri Art Centre with significant and diverse art practices. Alan generally paints dense grouping of dancing figures, or topographical features of Victoria River Downs. Peggy tends to paint delicately rendered landscapes, and flora such as spinifex and bush cucumber. Peggy and Alan often paint together and are key performers and teachers of corroboree and traditional dances for their community.
While at Victoria River Downs Madelynne tutored some of the younger members of the Waringarri Art Centre on landscape photography focusing on the small details that make the environment so unique. I used the time to investigate the various structures and objects strewn throughout the area. After a while a hot breeze began to blow across the arid landscape causing various bits of metal and tin to creak and groan. I used the opportunity to record the sound of branches and spinifex brushing against corrugated tin and fencing wire. The range of percussive and textural sounds providing an eerie soundtrack to this spectacular yet desolate place.
Friday September 14
Madelynne and I arrived in Kununurra 12 days ago greeted by scorching heat, clouds of dust and a thick haze of smoke hovering over the township. It has only become more intense since then with an outbreak of bush fires burning on the outskirts of town over the last few days. The smell of acrid smoke hanging heavily in the air as flames engulf the surrounding landscape leaving a blackened residue of burnt out scrub. Temperatures continue to hover in the high 30s as we inch ever so slowly towards the wet season.
While we are in Kununurra we are working with artists from the Waringarri Aboriginal Art Centre who have welcomed us with great warmth and enthusiasm. Senior artists of the east Kimberley established the Arts Centre in the early 1980s. seo competition discovery It is the first indigenous owned art Centre established in the Kimberley region, and one of the oldest continuously operating art centres in Australia supporting economic independence for artists and their community.
Kununurra is situated within the Ord River Scheme that is used to irrigate various crops comprising Sandalwood, Mango, Paw Paw, Bananas and various vegetables. The incursion of farming within such a spectacular and arid locale creates a strange juxtaposition between the natural and built environment where waterholes are populated by crocodiles, and flocks of Brolga feed on fields of corn. It is this collision of tradition and industrialisation that makes Kununurra such as fascinating place to explore and understand.