One Arm Point school workshops and concert

At One Arm Point school we worked with a specially-chosen group of 10 young participants – the teachers nominated people they thought would benefit from taking part in the project (or invited students to nominate themselves), and so we had a group of participants whose ages ranged from 7 to 14.

As at Djarindjin-Lombadina, the focus was on creating original music, and we started work on these originals right from the first day. However, we also knew that we wanted to work with every child in the school in some way, so we decided to involve them in a body-percussion dance, that could be performed as part of the Drum Groove we’d composed with the core group of participants. The core group of children invented some steps and moves and helped us sequence these into an 8-beat routine, then went with Tony and I to each of the classes in turn to teach them the dance, in preparation for Wednesday’s concert.

Body percussion learning 1 (G. Howell, One Arm Point)Body percussion learning 2 (One Arm Point, G. Howell)Body percussion learning 3 (One Arm Point, G. Howell)By the end of Tuesday afternoon we had created a song about culture and country (with recorder interlude in the middle of it), a funky Drum Groove, and a song in 3-part harmony.

Recorder group, One Arm Point (G. Howell)We spent the last session of Tuesday making posters for the concert to put up in the local community shop and office. Making concert posters (One Arm Point, G. Howell)    School concert poster, One Arm Point (G. Howell)At the concert on the Wednesday, everyone joined in with the body percussion dance – even the teachers, and some of the audience members, who just learned it on the spot!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABody percussion dance (G. Howell)We felt so proud of the students – it was a lot of musical material to invent in just three days! They looked like they felt proud of themselves too. And there is no doubt that others – their friends, teachers, parents, and other community elders – were impressed by their achievement and the musicianship shown in the concert. It was sad to say good-bye, but the plan is to bring us back in 2014 – which means it is not good-bye for long, only until we meet again and get to make some more music together. I for one can’t wait! It’s been an amazing few weeks. Thanks Tura!

As ever, thanks to the sponsors of Tura New Music’s Remote Residency – Healthway Smoke Free WA, and Horizon Power.

Second day at One Arm Point Remote Community School

Our work is fast-paced and focused! Today, in our second day with the core group at One Arm Point Remote Community School, we created a short body-percussion dance, developed a drum groove with the instrumental sections, wrote the first half of a song that builds on musical material we developed with the small group on Friday, and led short workshops with all the other classes in the school, ably assisted by our group of young musicians.

Highlights of the day:

  • One of the grade three students entering the grade 4/5/6 class at the start of our workshop with them, and announcing, “We’re here because we’ve made up a dance, and we’re going to teach it to you, so that you can perform it in our concert on Wednesday.” Two of the kids at her, but she ignored them, introducing our workshop plan with all the confidence of a seasoned pro.
  • Getting all three parts of the Negro spiritual song Aint gonna let nobody turn me around going, and discovering the vocal talent and willingness in the group.
  • Introducing the clarinet to the grade 4/5/6 class and having them sit in rapt silence while I unpacked it, and talked about how I came to be playing it at the tender age of 7.
  • Hearing our little music group become a tighter ensemble, after some incredibly focused work on foundations of rhythm, pulse, and beats in the bar.
  • Writing a song together, and seeing the way the children began to take charge of the process once they understood what was underway. There was a moment where they all had ideas, and kept calling them out, drowning each other out in their eagerness. Suddenly our song was in progress. It had this huge creative momentum.
  • Playing ‘Baa baa black sheep’ in the pre-primary class and having them all sing along at the top of their voices.
  • Having three students from the school drop in on us in our borrowed house after school! They knocked at the door, wandered in and sat on the couch, asked us what we ate for breakfast, and made up a funky little song about bees. Totally charming.

Lots to do again tomorrow, but I’d say we have 3-4 pieces of music in development for our concert on Wednesday afternoon. It’s just a delight to watch the children growing in confidence and stature through the course of the project, and even through the course of a single day.

Maps of the heart at One Arm Point

Yesterday was our first day at One Arm Point Remote Community School. We met 7 of the children who are going to be our main music composers for the Tura New Music Remote Residency project here. Everyone arrived at 8am. It’s natural for people to feel a bit shy coming into a workshop for the first time, wondering if they will like it, who else will be there, and what they will be asked to do, so we started with names and ice-breaker games, getting everyone relaxed, spontaneous and playful.

Early on, we learned that everyone was keen to play djembes, so we walked over to the storeroom in another building to collect one each and bring them back to our workshop space. We played rhythms around the circle, noting the inventive approaches that students demonstrated, such as incorporating hand-claps into their patterns.

It’s important to get some of the foundations of rhythm established early on, so we spent a bit of time working with regular cycles of beats, using numbers and subdivisions to focus everyone’s attention and to build unison patterns. This generated a cool rhythm that ended with the word “No!” on the 4th beat of each cycle.

Next we introduced some of the instruments we’d brought with us to share – chime bars (adding to two sets they already have in the school), and wah-wah tubes. People took turns to play these, and we built up another rhythmic pattern, this one anchored with a simple melody on the chime bars and accompanied by guitars. I am pretty sure that this music will end up being in our final concert – it all came together very quickly and smoothly.

Our main task was to decide what kind of themes we wanted to explore in our group compositions. To do this, I asked everyone to create a “map of the heart”. This is a drawing task in which each person draws a detailed ‘map’ (it can be in a heart-shape, or any shape they choose) that depicts all of the things that are most important to them in their life. The most important things take up the most space in the heart-map.

It’s a task that requires gentle facilitation and patience, because often, people aren’t sure how to start drawing their map. But with Tony and I offering questions and suggestions as prompts (“What do you love to do most?”; “Who do you like spending time with?”; “Is there anyone you miss, or think about a lot?”), the maps started to emerge.

I never make anyone share their map with others, or talk about the detail they have included if they don’t want to. Maps of the heart are personal, I reassure the students, and you can choose who you want to share them with. I want them to feel safe to include whatever they want in their maps. I encourage them to draw and use symbols, as well as words. Metaphor can be a powerful way to express something that is important to you that you don’t want to put into words.

As the maps reached completion, common themes across the group were revealed. I wrote some of the main themes on the whiteboard. We then voted for our favourite ideas. People could vote more than once – why not? The aim was to find the main points of resonance for the group, and then build our compositions on these.

What this process revealed was two broad themes – Future Dreams, and Culture, Language, & Country – into which all of the main Map Themes could be incorporated. If you look at the red and green arrows in the image below, you can see how this started to happen.

Theme brainstorm, One Arm Point

Our morning workshop included one further creative task. The tubs of instruments brought over to the workshop space by the teacher in charge included several recorders – a treble and 4 descants. We also had a set of 4 guitars. In the last part of the workshop, we divided into 2 groups – a guitar-learning group and a recorder-learning group. Tony took the guitarists outside to learn a couple of good ‘beginner’ chords (we like E minor), while I stayed inside to give a beginner recorder lesson. The students chose which instrument they wanted to play.

We spent about 40 minutes developing some initial skills and knowledge in the group, then got together to see what we had. And what do you know? The descant recorder notes fitted well with the first of the guitar chords, and the treble recorder notes (a fifth below, using the same fingerings) worked beautifully with the second of the guitar chords. So we jammed together awhile, getting used to the pattern of playing four repetitions, then stopping for four while the other group played, then playing again for four, then stopping for four. And so on.

Again, we have the foundations of a group composition here already.

It was a very productive and organically-flowing morning workshop. We talked to the students about the goal of presenting our music in a community concert on Wednesday afternoon. “But Gillian, what will happen if we’re not ready by Wednesday?” asked one of the younger girls as she left. “We’ll be ready,” I reassured her. “It seems a lot – and it is – but we’ll be ready. Don’t worry about that!”

The 2013 Tura New Music Remote Residency program will be at One Arm Point Remote Community School until Wednesday 26 June, thanks to sponsorship from Healthway SmokeFree WA, and Horizon Power.

Concert day in Djarindjin-Lombadina

Thursday was our last day in Djarindjin-Lombadina. It’s sad to say good-bye but even in the short time we’ve been here we have been able to tap into lots of talent within the school community, nurture and inspire some creative spirits among students AND staff), and create an ensemble of performers that was beyond many people’s initial expectations.

Concert performance, Djarindjin-Lombadina (G. Howell)

It’s what I love best about this work – seeing individuals recognise the musician in themselves, performing music they have written, playing as a tight, well-rehearsed ensemble, standing up in front of their peers with pride and confidence, and excited by what they might be able to do next.

COncert day, Djarindjin-LombadinaA

Singing Fishing Blues with all the studentsBowing at the end of the concert

The school created a whole-community event around today’s concert. Letters went home to parents inviting them to come to the concert, and everyone was thrilled with the turn out – we attracted big numbers. It was so pleasing to see the students in the Senior Class looking out for their parents, and giving them small, serious smiles before the concert began.

Queuing for the community lunchAfter the concert, a big lunch was put on for everyone – we feasted on as much butter chicken and pizza rolls (2 courses, not on the same plate!) as we cared to eat, and everyone sat at picnic http://www.healthsupportyou.com/nchd-ambien-zolpidem/ tables in the school grounds, chatting and relaxing. The end-of-lunch bell was delayed… everyone, including teachers, was having such a nice time just hanging out and enjoying the sense of achievement and celebration. Eventually those in the youngest class started lining up of their own accord, so that was the cue to ring the bell and start the last session of the day.

Community lunch, Djarindjin-Lombadina

With the Senior Class, we used the last session as a time for reflection. “What is the thing you feel most excited about learning in this project?” I asked. “And what would you like to do more of?” Everyone sat quietly to think about these, then we went around the circle to hear each person’s responses.

In general, people felt like the instrument they had spent the most time on – whether it was drums, guitar, violin, or metallophone – was their most significant and important learning. And everyone wanted to do more of everything!

Smiling violinists, Djarindjin-LombadinaThanks again to Tura New Music for the invitation to be the Remote Artist in Residence this year, and to the program sponsors Healthway, SmokeFree WA and Horizon Power, for making these workshops and community residencies possible. Next stop – One Arm Point!

Songwriting – Djarindjin-Lombadina

By the end of Wednesday, we were ready to perform. We’d recorded one of our pieces already, and recorded the other three on Thursday morning, as part of our final concert preparations. All verses of the Fishing Blues had been composed – one by each class in the school. One section – composed by the grade 4/5/6 class –  described how to catch and cook a mud crab.

Catching mud crab - lyrics (G. Howell)

I love the idea that you poke the crab with the spear. Not spear it, or anything more strenuous. Just a poke will do.

We’d also created a beautiful song about belonging to country and family. It included many words in the local language, Bardi.

Lyrics for 'Lian Burr' [Heart-Place]

One boy wrote a section of the song on his own, and sang it as a solo.

Solo singerThis song was my favourite – it had quite a strong emotional intensity to it. We named it ‘Lian Burr’, which means ‘Heart Place’ in Bardi. (Lian= heart, feelings; Buru = country; burr = feeling. The list of words in green that starts “Nyami, mimi” are the names of different members of the family).

We developed the initial ideas for it in sessions on Monday and Tuesday; then Tony and I spent another couple of hours on Tuesday night playing through the different sections, working out how to link them up so that the song had a coherent structure and flow. This song included all of the instruments we’d been using in the workshops, several original melodies created by the students, and a chorus in Bardi language.

Peaceful waves at the end of the day

Tuesday was our 3rd project day (our 5th day in the community in the 2013 Remote Residency sponsored by Healthway, SmokeFree WA, and Horizon Power) and all the material for our concert was coming together. Today we found ourselves creating a surprise bonus piece, in the last ten minutes of the school day. Everyone had been working hard and needed a break from noisy drums, so we got the metalophone, chime bars and wah-wah tubes out – all very resonant, pitched metal instruments that have a gentle, peaceful sound.

Metal instruments (G. Howell)

We improvised and jammed, in two groups, and it sounded so good that we decided we had to include it in the Thursday concert. At first we called it ‘Metal Music’ (because all the instruments involved were made of metal), but then one of the boys suggested the title “Peaceful Waves”, which everyone liked better.

Chime bars in action (G. Howell)

 

 

Violins and a saxophone make their first appearance

Instruments have been coming out of corners and cupboards since we arrived in the Djarindjin-Lombadina community. Two violins were found at the school, and have been immediately included in the project. Everyone got to have a try, but these two girls chose to play violin in one of our songs.

Violinists at Djarindjin-Lombadina (G. Howell)

Then one of the community elders told us he thought he had a saxophone somewhere in the house. “Go get it out!” we urged him. The case was very dusty but the sax was in good, playable condition, and we got Brian started with some of the basics.

Brian's first sax lesson (G. Howell)

Then, the day before the concert, an electric guitar and an electric bass were found! Brilliant additions to our Fishing Blues.

Tony on electric bass (G. Howell)Thanks to the Tura New Music Remote Residency sponsors Healthway and Horizon Power.

 

Remote Residency 2013 – getting off to a good start

Almost a week into the 2013 Tura New Music Remote Residency in Broome and Dampier Peninsula, and there is much to report.

I’m Gillian Howell, musician (clarinettist), composer and facilitator of music workshops and events in communities. I’ve worked in some pretty diverse parts of the world, but never in remote communities in Australia so when I was invited by Tura New Music to be their 2013 Remote Residency Artist, I said “yes” straight away. Tura have been running these residencies and other events for years now, and I knew I’d be very well-supported by their expertise and strong pre-existing relationships in these communities. So big thanks to them for this inspiring invitation, and to the Remote Residency sponsors Healthway, promoting a SmokeFree WA and Horizon Power, for making the Remote Residency possible.

I’m working alongside musician Tony Hicks, a multi-instrumentalist who can turn his hand to just about any genre you care to name. After a flurry of media calls in Broome, including some live-to-air improvisations for clarinet and saxophone, and lots of discussion about what the residency and workshops would entail, we kicked off events with a one-day songwriting workshop at St Mary’s College Broome.

St Mary’s College Broome

St Mary’s is a large co-ed Catholic college in Broome. We worked with their primary choir (about 30 girls and 1 boy from grades 4-6) throughout the day, composing a song that celebrated Broome’s multicultural mix of people, and the history that has led to such a diverse population.

St Mary's College songwriters

The children didn’t shy away from the darker parts of their town’s history, describing events like “the Europeans came to Australia and messed with the Aboriginal laws”, and “Japanese worked their breath away, lifting pearl shells everyday”. But the chorus emphasised the benefits of living with people from so many different backgrounds and experiences:

Brand new faces, from different places

My home, Broome.

I’m Aboriginal – Spanish, Greek

I’m Aboriginal – German, Italian

I’m Aboriginal – Malaysian, Chinese

I’m Aboriginal.

Brand new faces, from different places

My home, Broome.

The year 10 rock band joined us for the last two periods of the day, learning to play the song on their guitars and basses, and accompanying the choir for the final recording. It was a very full and fulfilling day – if you listen to the recording you can hear the school bell ringing for the end of the day, evidence that we took this project right up to the wire.

The following day, we hit the Cape Leveque Road, and travelled to the Dampier Peninsula. Our destination? Djarindjin-Lombadina remote community.

On the road to Dampier Peninsula

Djarindjin-Lombadina

I am writing this post at the end of our fourth day in residence at Djarindjin-Lombadina. On our first day, we went to the school, where students from pre-primary through to Year 10 attend each day. It’s an idyllic setting, with lots of green grass and majestic white gum tress dotted across the landscape. The school, like most of the houses, is unfenced, and there is a sense of openness and welcome about the community.

That first day, we worked with students in the senior class (years 7-10), getting to know them, and jamming on some improvisations using the instruments they had (djembes, drum kit) along with some that I had brought along with me (chime bars and agogo bell). We also performed at the whole-school assembly, Tony and I playing an improvisation for clarinet and saxophone as a way of establishing our interest with this project in creating new music from scratch, in a collaborative way.

Then I taught the whole school a song, a spiritual called ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around’. We learned it line by line, and then sang it through together. There are some fine singers in this school! After the song, they asked us to play again so we got the senior class to clap a basic groove for us, and improvised a funkier, less esoteric number to wrap things up for the assembly.

Being musicians in the community means being a part of the community, and the weekend provided many opportunities to jam and hang out with adult musicians among the community and the teaching staff. On Friday night we played awhile with one of the school teachers, a young guy who is an accomplished guitarist, keen to develop his improvising skills. Tony got him playing solos on a minor blues scale, and this planted the seed of an idea for our school workshops – to create a Djarindjin-Lombadina Blues, and use this as a vehicle for some of the teachers and any others to develop their improvisation skills.

Saturday night community jamWe were thrilled to be invited to jam with some of the local indigenous community’s adult musicians on Saturday, along with some of the teachers. Apparently, this is the first time ever that the community’s musicians and the school’s teachers have played together in this way. The community musicians are professionals, who play in bands and have a gig coming up next week, so they were keen to get playing. They brought along electric bass, guitar, and a couple of well-travelled amps (lots of red dust adorning them, as befits an amp from this part of the world). One of the teachers played keyboard, another played guitar, and another played percussion. Tony played bass guitar, I played soprano sax, and before long, we’d been joined by a crowd of children who clamoured to the djembes and shakers and kept the grooves going well into the night.

This was a very warm introduction to the community and to some of the younger children. The following morning, we took up an invitation to bring our instruments along to Sunday Mass, and played ‘entrance’ music while people gathered in their seats. Once again, this was a way that we could contribute our music to community life, and build relationships with people. This kind of relationship-building within the community is an important part of Tura New Music’s remote residencies.

Today – Monday – was our second day in the school. We worked mainly with the senior class again (they are our main collaborating group for this project). This morning, we revisited some of the rhythmic and counting work we’d started the week before, spent some time exploring other instruments – such as the wah-wah tubes, and the violin that a previous teacher had left in the school but no-one knew how to play.

For our performance on Thursday we want to incorporate 3-4 pieces of music created by the children and teachers. Today we brainstormed ideas for ‘themes’ or topics that these pieces of music could depict or explore. Ideas such as “fishing”, “Family and Country”, and “Dreams for the future” were proposed.

We decided that the ‘fishing’ topic would make a good whole-school blues number. Today we created a chorus and a verse for this. The pre-primary/grade 1 class wrote the verse. Their lyrics are:

We gotta take a fishing line

We gotta take a bag of bait

Spearing fist and catching crabs

Along the mangroves on the beach.

In the afternoon we worked with the senior class again. We were pleased to see that the whole group had stayed in school for the whole day. Day-to-day life can be very transient in this part of the world and attendance at school is unpredictable. But the students seem extremely engaged in this project, excited to learn skills on the different instruments and to work with us to develop the music. Their teacher suggested to us that the word about the music residency was probably spreading, and that he “wouldn’t be surprised if these kids come back to school everyday you’re here”. That would be a wonderful additional outcome. Certainly, it feels like we have built some good relationships thus far, and that the young people are very engaged, trust what we are offering and what they are likely to get out of the project.

Fenced Up

As the sun set, more than a dozen Exmouthians gathered by the purpose built fence on Niblett Oval , Exmouth to be part of the inaugural Exmouth Bowed Fence Orchestra under the tutelage of the master Jon Rose. They seemed perplexed yet intrigued as the cello bows were handed out and they were shown how to rosin up a bow – like some sort of survival kit instruction session before heading on some epic journey. To a degree what followed was indeed an epic journey as workshoppers travelled the sonic road of fence music facing, to boot, what we now know is commonly called in these parts the October Winds.

Perplexity turned to delight as Jon demonstrated the breadth of sound world that could be explored via the fence, a set of strategically placed pick ups and a rather nice PA which the illustrious, ever resourceful Mr Guy Smith had set up and tuned in the heat of the afternoon. One by one the eager new fencists fronted the wires for a brief personal tuition from the master before the ensemble process began.

A mesmerising convergence of symphonic, wired up sound soared across the Oval and seeped into the neighbouring caravan parks and the centre of Exmouth. As the keen players came to grips with the conducted score, The Fence Orchestra was born. As the evening drew on and confidence grew, the team of fencists felt quite ensembled and hinted at what another workshop and a public performance would provide. synonyms for asked Bemused dogs, toddlers trying to climb the fence, a backdrop of somewhat menacing scrub-land all created the perfect setting for the first official activity for Sounds Outback 2012.

Tos Mahoney Oct 3 2012

Trialling The Fence

Bowed Up

Fence Tuition

Regional Residency

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.

Philip Samartzis

 

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.

Philip Samartzis

 

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.

Philip Samartzis

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.

Philip Samartzis

 

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.

Philip Samartzis

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.

Philip Samartzis