Lightning strikes twice: conflicts in perception of painted images.
Tourist operators and site managers have often regarded Indigenous Australian places containing rock-paintings and carvings as sites to be viewed as purely artworks, and where consideration of development is to enhance the enjoyment of the place while not restricting the aesthetics of the setting. In the Northern Territory, as in other parts of Australia, there is an Indigenous spirituality ascribed to these places and the symbols within. All aspects of site management and any tourism activities at such Indigenous cultural heritage places will have an effect on this spirituality and have the potential to produce repercussions within the relevant Indigenous population.
This article was first presented (1) as a plea from Ngaliwurru and other Traditional Owners of the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory. Their concern was for greater awareness by all those involved in Indigenous sites as heritage resources, to take Indigenous sociocultural realities about sites and rock-art into consideration. To some extent, the intervening years have seen some restitution and better understanding, especially by the informed touring public and management agencies of cultural heritage.
For a long time it had only been a few museums, the nowAustralian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the thenAustralian National Parks and Wildlife Service managing Kakadu and Uluru parks, and individual researchers who were cognisant of Indigenous wishes and cultural requirements, and had been concerned with the process of consultation and recognition of cultural control. Over the last few decades there has emerged an awareness, and increasing acceptance, of Indigenous cultural custodianship of Indigenous cultural heritage places (for example the development of codes of ethics within professional associations). This has accompanied an increasing consideration and acceptance by governments and the public alike of Indigenous rights and the importance of these rights in self-determination.
However, with increasing Government involvement in Indigenous cultural heritage, political interests rather than cultural respect came to be emphasised. There have been instances where politics has been largely responsible in determining what is done with skeletal remains and whether sites of traditional significance are disturbed. The return and reburial of the Kow swamp skeletal material (Victoria), the protracted investigations into mining at Coronation Hill (Northern Territory) and the relatively recent case of the Hindmarsh Island bridge development (South Australia) are examples of such political determination. These situations have often involved the enforcement of federal legislation when inadequacies in state or territory laws and conflicting Indigenous community interests have emerged.
Along with the public embrace of Indigenous identity there developed a growing interest in learning about and experiencing Indigenous cultures, whether passively or actively. In the early 1990s, the Northern Territory government was quick to see the potential for economic advantage, and encouraged and assisted the development of this market. In a 1990 Northern Territory Government Tourist Bureau publication, no less than thirty-three separate Indigenous tours and twenty festivals and events were listed. However, in the general enthusiasm for cultural heritage experiences, little thought had been given to the management of the cultural heritage places being targeted. Even less attention had been paid to the impact upon, and implications for, existing spiritual and ceremonial practices of the respective Traditional Owners.
In the Northern Territory, several Commonwealth and Territory statutes are concerned with Indigenous cultural and social circumstances; here politics, and to a large extent Ministerial discretion, can override the wishes of Traditional Owners. Despite this, the strength of cultural cohesion of many Indigenous communities ensures that the legislation, such as the Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976 and Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989, has been successfully implemented. This potency of cultural resolve is exemplified by the number of sites protected, the success of prosecutions over sacred site infringements, and by the extent of access Indigenous Territorians have to their sites and traditional resources, regardless of the underlying non-Indigenous status of the land. However, a particular issue arose involving an Indigenous tourist enterprise that was not readily handled within the framework of any existing legislation. The issues surrounding this case are discussed in this article and serve as an exemplar of the cultural complexities at issue in heritage tourism at rock-art sites.
Traditional Owners from a large area west of Katherine in the Northern Territory (Figure 1), had been quick to rectify the inappropriate use by specific individuals within the Indigenous community of certain rock-art motifs associated with a tourism venture. However, the effectiveness of the action within the Indigenous community has seen no apparent rectification within the wider community. Many tourist operators and cultural heritage managers do not have the mechanisms, or apparently the desire, to recognise Traditional Owners' spiritually based restrictions, including appropriate behaviour at sites and the reproduction of rock-art images. It is not a matter of ownership of the past; rather it is an issue of an active religion and the spiritually ascribed meaning of the rock-art in the region.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Our intention here is not to deal with the merits, or logistical considerations of heritage-based tourism, but rather to present an example as a case study dealing with the sociocultural implications and repercussions that can arise when Indigenous peoples open to the public their cultural resources. Traditional Owners, in particular, become concerned where their community's sacred sites are visited, or are situated close to areas being developed. There has existed a perception that cultural heritage managers and tour operators tended to treat sites containing paintings and carvings as picture galleries and to consider little else. This is not to deny that there are some examples where respect is given to Indigenous concerns. For example, the then-Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service developed strategies for dealing with this aspect of cultural tourism in its management of Kakadu National Park (Gillespie 1983; Sullivan 1984). At Nourlangie in Kakadu National Park, a path takes visitors past a board that introduces the Traditional Owners of the rock-art sites that they are about to view.
To date, most effort has been focused on the specific management of the physical location, primarily in minimising the potential damage by visitors. In some instances, information may be provided on the mythology of various figures depicted in the rock-art and on past usage of the particular site. Protective measures such as restricting access to parts of sites, constructing walkways and barriers, screening off individual motifs, limiting visitor numbers and restricting photography, all have been applied to publicly accessible Indigenous places (Jacobs and Gale 1994; Lambert 1989). These methods could deal with particular cultural requirements at specific sites. Although there was some awareness that specific rock-art images had the potential to be of particular sensitivity, there was little evidence that this regard extended beyond individual site management developments and often reflected organisational bias (Mulvaney 1998). However, recently there has been a shift in emphasis from traditional conservation and heritage-based significance evaluation to allowing the relevant Indigenous peoples to determine significance (Australian Heritage Commission 2002).
Over recent years there has been an increase in cases where Traditional Owners and site custodians have placed restrictions on access to, or use of, specific sites by the installation of physical barriers to control access to areas, or restricting commercial photography. This situation is partly a reflection of the improvement in mechanisms for Indigenous cultural control. This seems to have been acceptable to the wider community due, in part, because existing management practices and tourism use could accommodate the particular limitations. It may also be significant that in the Northern Territory such actions by Indigenous custodians are supported by statutes such as the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989.
In this article, our concerns lie in the display and use of certain rock-art motifs, rather than in use of the sacred sites themselves. At issue is the nature and extent of Indigenous cultural ownership and control of rock-art sites, and how legislation and cultural resource managers should recognise these broader circumstances. Presented here is one example highlighting the existing complexities and spiritual implications within Indigenous society, and the need for such religeo-cultural realities to be embraced by the expanding cultural heritage tourism market. Although this particular case relates to a matter more than a decade old, it remains pertinent as it contains lessons relevant for today's practitioners of Indigenous heritage tourism.
In the late 1980s, 'Jankangyina Tours' was established by Mr Bill Harney, a Wardaman man, to target the emerging 'Indigenous experience' market. This operation, like others in the Northern Territory, catered for small groups of visitors spending time out in the bush, viewing cultural heritage places (especially rock-art), tasting bush tucker and experiencing camp life. With Jankangyina Tours, Bill adds his own special blend of Indigenous mythological stories, bush knowledge, and pastoral experiences. In using Jankangyina Tours as an example, the authors' intention is neither a direct criticism of Bill nor of Jankangyina Tours, but rather to cite an example of a situation that has arisen because of historic and social circumstances. It is likely that such cases will become more prevalent as Indigenous tourism in this part of the world increases, and it is representative of situations that those dealing with heritage tourism and management will need to accommodate.
The focus of Jankangyina operations was sites within Wardaman traditional country on Willeroo and Innesvale pastoral leases (Figure 1). Willeroo Station is located 118 kilometres southwest of the township of Katherine in the northern part of the Northern Territory, and is reached along the Victoria Highway (the main road link between Western Australia and the Territory). Innesvale adjoins Willeroo to the west. In 1999, Wardaman as Traditional Owners were successful in their claim under the Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976 for a parcel of land that was the Innesvale Pastoral Lease, and which has now reverted to Aboriginal Land Title, although it is still managed as a pastoral enterprise.
Mr Bill Harney was born on Willeroo Station and grew up in and around the Katherine area. For more than twenty years he worked on the various cattle stations, principally those that comprise part of Wardaman territory (Wositzky 1996). He formed a fencing business, and later was contracted to fence places on several stations where paintings were being damaged by sheltering cattle. In 1988 Bill established Jankangyina Tours and, with the consent of other Wardaman Traditional Owners, and that of the pastoral lease managers, he began taking tourists to cultural places, including sacred sites on Willeroo and Innesvale.
The main places visited on these tours were Mt Hogarth on Innesvale, and sites near the waterhole known as Ingaladdi, on Willeroo. The rock-art at these locations is impressive and has been the subject of many studies, most extensively by 'Earthwatch' teams led by Dr Josephine Flood (David et al. 1990a, 1990b, 1994; Flood et al. 1992). The area has been called the 'Land of the Lightning Brothers' in recognition of certain definitive painted figures (Flood 1997:300-20).
This evocative description was taken up by Jankangyina Tours, and the reproduction of two painted figures from the Ingaladdi site became the emblem for the tourist operation. In addition, photographs of these particular spirit figures (Dreaming Beings) were included in the Northern Territory Government Tourist Bureau's brochures and promotional literature. These figures were actively used to promote Jankangyina Tours, apparently with the consent of Wardaman. Later, it became apparent that senior Indigenous men from areas to the west of Willeroo considered such use inappropriate under traditional law.
Sites within and to the west of Wardaman country have similarly styled spirit-figure motifs to those present at Ingaladdi. For Traditional Owners of the larger part of the Victoria River District, these painted figures are regarded as directly associated with a Lightning Dreaming (tradition mythology and narrative). At each place there is some artistic variation; in addition, the sites at which they appear may have other, more localised Dreaming associations. These paintings feature large anthropomorphs with 'head-gear' and associated objects often depicted as held in the images' 'hands'. They are bi or polychrome paintings; red and white are the principal colours, but yellow and black are also used. At the Ingaladdi site, yellow rather than red ochre is used extensively on one of the figures. Within Wardaman territory, these figures are known as 'Jabirringgi' and 'Yagjagbula'; the two 'Lightning Brothers'. Further west, in Ngaliwurru, Ngaringman, and Bilinara country, similar figures also exist at sacred sites; Juratburra and Jungarlanyi are two that are specific to the Lightning Dreaming. In this western area the figures are known as 'Jungninina', 'the Lightning', and are always seen in the sky as signalling across the country, 'like one hand to the other'. It is this vast atmospheric phenomenon that links all the sites throughout the Victoria River District within the one tradition.
In December 1989, both authors were involved in a meeting at the Mayat camp near Timber Creek, in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory. Senior Ngaliwurru, Nungarli, Ngaringman, Kurrungpurru and Wardaman men attended this meeting. The meeting was called to air concerns held by these western groups about the display by Jankangyina Tours of the Willeroo 'Lightning Brother' motifs.
Images of the 'Lightning Brothers' had appeared in a number of academic and popular artbooks. As far back as the mid-1930s, Davidson had published photographs of the figures at the Delamere site (Davidson 1936:114-15). In the 1960s and 1970s further papers and books appeared with photographs and line drawings; about 1963, a movie was made by Qantas at these sites. Another film, Land of the Lightning Brothers (Roberts 1987), showed footage of these paintings, and an enactment of part of the mythology relating to these spirit figures. In a popular book, published as a tourist guide, photographs of these Willeroo figures and one spirit figure from a site on the Victoria River, in Ngaliwurru country were published (Flood 1990:104-5). Over the last ten years, various authors have published articles associated with aspects of archaeological research that have reproduced the images and discussed the associated mythologies to an extent (e.g. David et al. 1994; Flood et al. 1992).
The publications containing these motifs did not, and still do not, impinge on the Indigenous communities of the Katherine and Victoria River regions. Their circulation is limited and specialised, and it was not the intention of the Victoria River communities to recall or restrict these publications. The Traditional Owners were clear, however, in their intentions to persuade the Wardaman, who are the custodians of the Delamere, Innesvale and Willeroo sites, to restrict further public display of these motifs. These Victoria River Traditional Owners also initiated the process, through the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, of registering their sites associated with the Lightning mythology under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989 for the purpose of better controlling access, and providing safety to the sites and custodians.
It was as a direct consequence of the tourist promotional material that accompanied the Jankangyina venture that prompted the senior men of the land to the west of the Wardaman to call for a meeting to discuss the arising difficulties. Bill's wonderfully painted reproductions of the Wardaman images on the Jankangyina Toyota had been seen for some time, both in Katherine and along the Victoria Highway between Katherine and Willeroo. This could be tolerated, both in the sense that this was on Wardaman country, and that it could be regarded that their women (who should not view these figures) were not paying attention to the specific motifs painted on the Jankangyina vehicle.
Northern Land Council and Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority involvement was requested by the Victoria River men following the appearance of advertising pamphlets in the only shop in Timber Creek (a small town servicing the Victoria River area) that had a reproduction of the 'Lightning Brothers' on the cover. Then a Ngarinman youth arrived back in Yarralin, an Indigenous community on Victoria River Downs pastoral station, sporting one of the Lightning Brother T-shirts.
This was neither a dispute over Traditional Ownership, nor of the right of the Wardaman to determine what happened on their traditional country. Neither did the Victoria River Traditional Owners presume to dictate what the Wardaman may decide about access to their sacred sites. The particular problem was rather an expression of a complexity of ceremonial business, compounded by modern-day mobility, Eurocentric regard (or disregard) of ownership, and to what extent paintings or reproductions of them remain public property.
Rock-art in the top end of the Northern Territory, as with other parts of Australia, has a particular complexity that is linked to existing sociocultural beliefs. It is this association that in part explains the reasoning behind these Victoria River men's actions. There exists an intricate association of spiritual and religious beliefs shared by the Indigenous peoples of the region that are manifest in many aspects of the landscape, including rock-art. This goes far beyond the iconography of Christianity and other religions. Many of the paintings are considered to be direct impressions (shades) of the Dreaming characters, originally formed into the rock in the 'dream-time'; their spiritual significance remaining unaffected by the ravages of time. This regard is maintained even when contrary information is supplied, such as recollecting who last painted or retouched the image.
This timeless regard of imagery is not confined to the major spirit figures; other painted motifs also can have their origin in the Dreaming. Indigenous peoples supply various explanations as to why these motifs are on the rock face: They were placed on the rock by the main Dreaming Beings as teaching aids, or as reminders of prescribed behaviour; they can have specific spiritual associations. Other paintings have a more mundane origin, being painted for artistic reasons, as ownership statements (for example, hand stencils), or for magic, as is common throughout the Victoria River District in the sorcery paintings (McNickle 1991; Mulvaney 1992). Some of these aspects are discussed in greater detail, for Wardaman and other Victoria River areas by Lewis and Rose (1988) and Merlan (1989).
There is often a direct association between what is painted on the rocks and what is replicated in ceremony. Just as there are multiple levels in ceremonial business and site-spiritual association, there are also multiple meanings in the interpretation of the painted motifs. Traditional Owners do not regard most motifs as property for which ownership can be ascribed. Rather, custodians of a site have a special relationship to the spirituality belonging to the location, and in ensuring appropriate observances.
The specifics of that December 1989 meeting at Mayat are not public: much related to important secret-sacred traditional beliefs. It is sufficient to indicate that there exists a string of sites, similar to that on Willeroo, containing a particular Dreaming Being motif. These sites are linked spiritually and ceremonially across this whole area west of Katherine. There is still ceremonial business conducted in relation to this Dreaming that includes a song cycle and related body painting.
In response to the 1989 Mayat meeting, Bill agreed to repaint the Jankangyina Tours Toyota. The pamphlets were to be withdrawn from circulation, with new ones produced using a different rock-art motif, and the T-shirts were no longer to be sold. Bill and the other Wardaman men, in their discussions at Mayat, and later in their actions, displayed an acceptance of these cross-tribal dictates concerning infringements of religious propriety. Interestingly, before Bill could arrange for the repainting of the Jankangyina Toyota, the motor blew up and the vehicle was destroyed. Custodians of the Lightning mythology saw this as proof of the potency of the Dreaming and the retribution that can be wielded by these spirit beings. All parties also saw that a cultural wrong had been done and restitution paid.
There is an intricate and complex relationship with Indigenous peoples in this area to the land, to animals, to other peoples and their spirituality. Part of this is the sub-section structure, with the skin-grouping and associated classificatory kinship, linking obligations and appropriate behaviour to others. These various sociocultural systems are what enabled a group of men, whose combined country covers some 70 000 square kilometres, to sit down and talk out a solution. All this was done under traditionally delineated forms of appropriate behaviour, linked directly to a continuing and sacred ceremonial practice.
Within this part of the Territory, as in other areas, there exists a complex system of traditional land ownership, custodianship, and managers for the law and ceremony. Within this Indigenous society, stringent rules demand correct behaviour. Bill's action, and that of the other Wardman, following the approach by the other men associated with the 'Lightning Dreaming' and sites, is a reflection of this process.
In reality, no one 'owns' these paintings. There may be custodians for sites, bosses for ceremony, and caretakers of objects, but no one individual can be deemed as 'sole proprietor'. Bill was receptive and responsive to the situation, recognising that he had acted inappropriately in displaying the particular rock-art motif linked to the Lightning Dreaming. In the extended use made of the images, it is likely however, that Bill was influenced by, and subject to, pressures of a non-Indigenous aesthetic and enthusiasm for the development and promotion of his enterprise. The Wardaman themselves have also been involved with extensive research into, and visitation by, outsiders of their sacred sites, and through this have developed a different attitude to the sensitivity of the particular Dreaming.
Another avenue for divergence is that sometimes only one, or a limited number of individuals, may be consulted. This is inappropriate, and does not adequately accommodate the area's Indigenous sociocultural system. For specific site matters, there may be only a small number of custodians who will speak for a place, although behind them are a large body of individuals connected through kinship and ceremony. In the Northern Territory, problems have often arisen when just the few are consulted, leading to confusion, misunderstandings and apparently conflicting information. The example of the 'Lightning Brother' motifs represents aspects of this minimal consultation. The matter was further complicated because it concerned not just a limited geographic area, but also extensive ceremonial relationships. Within the cultural system of this region, the Victoria River men had no option but to confront the Wardaman.
Was this an instance of overt interference, with one group imposing their attitudes onto another group? Not so. For the men of the Victoria River not to have taken action to rectify the situation would, for them, be unimaginable and tantamount to ignoring a major sociocultural infraction. That this particular issue concerned rock-art motifs manifests other potential ramifications; namely, the implications of this case for wider or total restrictions on rock-art use in tourism marketing. Most outsiders may regard this as an outrageous situation, however, such a premise is based on a Eurocentric perception of cultural ownership, and does not pattern the reality of Indigenous requirements and cultural necessities. It becomes absurd to regard Indigenous communities as not having the right to expect individuals, organisations or government instrumentalities to accept such dictates based on particular religious restrictions.
Indigenous peoples accept obedience to Australian law, although they may not like it, and at times it conflicts with customary law. It is of concern then that there is not manifest respect or observance of Indigenous law. Only a few decades previously, the inappropriate display of the 'Lightning Brother' motifs would have resulted in the death of those involved. That this does not happen today is not an indication that those involved do not feel just as keenly the wrong of such public showing.
Within Indigenous societies there exist stringent rules that determine behaviour. Indigenous peoples consider that there need to be similar processes within non-Indigenous law where it is relevant to Indigenous cultural matters. Wardaman were quick to respond to the approach by the Victoria River Traditional Owners. However, this acceptance on restrictions has not been extended to other inappropriate displays of the images. The Victoria River men expected that the restriction on the use of the 'Lightning Brother' motifs, once they had spoken with the Wardaman, would be complete. However, although the Northern Land Council informed concerned parties, including staff of the Australian Heritage Commission and the Earthwatch team working in this area, of the particular issue, there was no progress in establishing a ban on the reproduction of the specific motifs. In addition, the Northern Territory Tourist Commission continues to use photographs of the Willeroo paintings in their publications, jewellery based on the Ingaladdi motifs is sold, and the Australian Heritage Commission retained these same figures on the cover of their information brochure. Further, in 1990 and now repeated several times, Imparja (an Indigenous-owned television station) screened The Land of the Lightning Brothers video, and an ATSIC publication (Anonymous 1996) on rock-art contained a photograph of the Willeroo 'Lightning Brothers', and, more seriously, persons attired in ceremonial dress.
What has happened in the case of the 'Lightning Brothers' is not one of expropriated cultural ownership; rather, it is a circumstance dictated by active religious and cultural practices. Within the Indigenous communities of the Victoria River region, the matter was satisfactorily concluded. Within the wider Australian context, however, the structure for control that Ngaliwurru, Wardaman and others can exert is limited. There is increasing potential for similar conflicts to eventuate with increasing development of Indigenous cultural heritage place-focused tourism.
Today, Australians increasingly are willing to accept rather than assimilate Indigenous cultures, and it is the responsibility of those promoting cultural heritage tourism, and those involved with heritage management, to consider, to consult adequately, and to take on board legitimate Indigenous cultural dictates concerning use and reproduction of images of rock-art. In all likelihood, their projects will benefit from the respect displayed.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at a workshop on 'Aboriginal Sites and Tourism' held at Halls Gap in 1990 under the auspices of AIATSIS and the Victoria Archaeology Survey. The authors acknowledge Graeme Ward for the help and guidance he provided with the initial workshop and for editorial advice on this paper; also, thanks to an anonymous referee.
(1.) At the 'Aboriginal Sites and Tourism Workshop', Halls Gap, Victoria, in 1990. REFERENCES
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Mulvaney, K. 1998 'Management strategies and the component of indigenous sacred places: the Dreaming and Aboriginal involvement in site management within Northern Territory National Parks, Australia', Forum 16(4):37-49.
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Roberts, D. (director). 1987 Land of the Lightning Brothers (VHS video, 38 minutes), Film Australia, Sydney, for the Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra.
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Ken Mulvaney has extensive archaeological and anthropological experience throughout the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia. He has worked with the Northern Land Council, principally on land claims and pastoral lease community excisions. He is currently employed by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, based in Darwin.
Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, Darwin, <Ken.Mulvaney @nt.gov.au>
Jerry Manjiari Jones is a senior Ngaliwurru Traditional Owner who for many years has worked to protect significant places on his country in the Victoria River region, and who is a senior ceremony man for his people. He has also been a successful claimant or witness for several Aboriginal Land Claims in the Timber Creek Victoria River area.
Ngaliwurru Traditional Owner, Mayat Community, Timber Creek
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|Author:||Mulvaney, Ken; Jones, Jerry|
|Publication:||Australian Aboriginal Studies|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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