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Person and place: making meaning of the art of Australian indigenous women.

When I moved to the United States in 1989 my longtime friend, teacher, and colleague Topsy Napurrula Nelson (1) gave me a painting (see fig. 1). She said to keep it close by. It would help hold us together despite the distance. I have and it did. Napurrula was not a famous desert artist and until she presented me with the painting I did not know she was working in that medium. I was intimately aware of her beautiful body paintings which reflected her vast knowledge of ceremony, land, and the history of her people. I had danced with her and heard the songs that told of the heroic deeds depicted in the painting. I had visited the country of the two sites celebrated in the painting. I had given evidence in land claims for her mothers, her mothers mothers, and her fathers countries. But, it wasnt until my physical link with place and person was about to be severed that she was prepared to paint in a form that could exist separately from the land and the people responsible for caring for that country.

Women, Religion, and Art

Specific beliefs and practices vary across the Australian continent, but at core is the concept of the Dreamtime and Dreamings. (2) In the long ago past, in the formative era, the land was a shapeless, formless mass. Across this Dreamtime landscape traveled ancestral beings. The paths of these Dreamings crisscrossed the land, marked out the territories of different language and clan groups, and established the Law, a moral code which informs and unifies all life. The power of the Dreamings can be evoked in ceremony, and the explanatory power of the stories of the Dreamtime is vast. Their heroic deeds are inscribed on the land itself. Hence, in the desert a rocky outcrop may indicate the place where the ancestral dog had her puppies, and a low ridge may take its shape from the sleeping body of the emu. Looking at the red streaks on a cliff face, one knowledgeable in the ways of the ancestors might recall blood shed in a territorial dispute. Tall ghost gums (Eucalyptus) stand as mute witness to where the Lightn ing brothers flashed angrily overhead to their father, Rain; and the lush growth of bush berries might be the legacy of the prudent care by two old grandmothers. Particular places are linked through the travels of such ancestors whose power remains at the sites.

(2.) Each of the several hundred languages of Aboriginal Australia has a word that glosses this religious philosophy. In Warlpiri, one of the desert languages spoken by Napurrula, it is called the jukurrpa. For Arrernte speakers, including the Alyawarre and Anmatyerre, it is alyterre. For the Ngarrindjeri, there is a belief in the muldawali, the creative heroes whose deeds are recalled in stories and whose bodies are visible in the land.

To the living, who trace direct relationships to these Dreamings, falls the responsibility to give form and substance to this heritage in their daily routines and their ceremonial practice. It is they who must keep the Law, visit and protect the sites, and it is they who may use the country and enjoy its bounty. Relationships to the land and the founding drama of ancestral activity are traced in many ways. It may be through the lineage of any of ones four grandparents, or to ones place of birth or burial of a parent. This network of structured relationships is further extended by celebration of sites of sentimental significance and economic advantage. Yet another level of land-based alliances is established through marriage. Multiple modes of "being of a place" allow that, although circumstances may change, the chain of connectedness to the land can continue to be asserted by the living. In theory, there will always be someone to care for the country, to sing for it, paint it, and hold the stories.

Women play a number of critical roles in the maintenance and transmission of knowledge of the Dreamtime, but the classic texts on Aboriginal religion were written as if women were the "feeders, breeders and follow the leaders," marginal persons whose lives were mainly profane. (3) Too often male observers--be they missionaries, bureaucrats, anthropologists, or art advisers--assumed that what women were doing was trivial, inconsequential, and of significance to women only. Further, they assumed that men could speak for the entire society. With several notable exceptions, womens ceremonies were not even included in the religious domain. (4) Rather, they were categorized as magic, personal, and peripheral. Within this patriarchal logic all that emerges from the religious domain will be the province of men. Womens quick fingers might be taught to make craft items but certainly not anything associated with the sacred. Indigenous and nonindigenous women have begun to rewrite the earlier patriarchal scripts of Ab original religion, and the received wisdom that the renowned artists will be men is rapidly being transformed by the work of a number of Indigenous women painters and multimedia artists. What happens when women work with women? How do new sensibilities generated at the intersections of the shifting politics of Indigenous and womens rights influence womens art?

Here I focus on the work of four women artists--two from central Australia, Emily Kngwarreye (ca. 1900-1996) and Topsy Napurrula Nelson (1937-99) and two from southeastern Australia, Ellen Trevorrow (1955- ) and Muriel Van Der Byl (1943- ). Over the past twenty-five years I have had the pleasure of watching each of these women at work, visiting their sacred places, listening to their stories and songs, and gathering wild bush tucker (food) with them. I have given expert testimony concerning their rights and responsibilities in land and its sites in a number of cases. My anthropological research in central Australia dates from 1976 when my children and I lived for eighteen months in a desert community, Warrabri-now known as Ali-Curang (Alekarenge)- about 270 miles north of Alice Springs. (5) My initial project was to document the religious lives of desert women, which at the time was underreported and underappreciated. It was there that I first came to know Napurrula and it was from there, over the following decades, that I visited a number of neighboring communities, including that of Emily Kngwarreye. My work in the well-watered land of the Ngarrindjeri in the southeast began in 1996 with a consultancy on an application to protect a sacred place from a proposed development and grew into more in-depth and ongoing ethnographic research in the region.

Emily Kngwarreyes breathtaking, expansive landscapes evoke her relationship to her country in Anmatyerre territory, on and around the Utopia cattle station (ranch), about 150 miles northeast of Alice Springs, and have found an appreciative international audience. Napurrulas fine-grain representations of her relationship to her country and its Dreamings endure in the ceremonies that celebrate her places-to the north, south, and west of Ali-Curang. They have a much more restricted public. However, both painters draw on a repertoire of symbols that encode intimate knowledge of ritual relationships to land. Muriel Van Der Byl, like Emily Kngwarreye, works with silk as well as canvas; but she also paints on small boxes, dishes, tins, and a range of found items. Ellen Trevorrow is a cultural weaver whose work, like that of Emily Kngwarreye, has an international audience. The work of both Ellen Trevorrow and Muriel Van Der Byl draws on Ngarrindjeri beliefs about land, the power of particular places, and the wisdo m of their elders.

"New Schools": From Localized Beliefs to Global Markets

Recognition of the importance of the work of women has been slow. A rich mix of art advisers, educators, missionaries, local property owners, government funding, and savvy collectors has introduced new materials and techniques; and, along with the shifting sensibilities and appetites of the art market, race and gender politics, Australian government policies have framed the emergence of "new schools." Here I track some of the gendered moments of this complex history. For the most part, the visible, public face of the action has been male dominated. Men painted and men set the international agenda regarding style, price, and the potential for innovation. On the one hand, this has meant that women have been ignored and that their work has been underresourced and underresearched. On the other hand, it has meant that women have been relatively free from the constant need to act as informants for outsiders. They were not tutored to produce works that represent "Aboriginal culture" for the consumption of others. T oday the range of women s art rivals and, in some instances, eclipses that of the men. And, on certain occasions, it is now women who represent "Aboriginal culture." (6)

Rex Battarbees 1943 visit to Hermannsburg, a Lutheran Mission eighty-five miles west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, sparked the growth of the Hermannsburg school of water color artists several years later. Albert Namatjira (1902-59), with his renderings of the MacDonnell Ranges, is probably the best known of this school. His story is an ode to assimilation-the "primitive" could learn to paint "just like a white man." However, within the more contemporary politics of selfdetermination, it has become a tale of paternalism with Namatjira cast as one of its most tragic victims. He was granted citizenship, an honor which conferred drinking rights at that time denied to Aborigines who were "wards of the state," but he fell afoul of the law regarding sharing alcohol with nonenfranchised Arrernte kin, was jailed, and died dispirited and disillusioned. (7)

The story of race relations in Australia and the conditions that might give rise to artists and schools changed dramatically with the 1967 constitutional referendum. Ninety percent of the voting population endorsed an amendment to the federal constitution so that Aborigines would be counted in the national census and the federal government would have concurrent rights with the states to pass laws for the Indigenous population. Enter Geoff Bardon who, in 1971, came to teach school at Papunya, a government settlement (reservation) established in 1959, about 150 miles northwest of Alice Springs. (8) Unlike earlier educators, he did not want to impose Western standards. He attempted to get the children to make art but found them reluctant. Instead, two senior men, who had been doing yard work at the school, offered to paint a mural on a school wall. More volunteered. Via the school Bardon supplied boards, paints, and brushes. The men painted Snake Dreaming, Wallaby, Water, Honey Ant, and more. They took the sacre d mosaics, which are painted on the ground during male ceremonies, and made community art. With the assistance of Obed Raggett, Bardon drew diagrams and documented the stories depicting the relationships between specific sites and Dreamings. The paintings can be read as maps of the country by those schooled in the Law, but what could and should be made available to a wider public fueled local debates regarding the propriety of maldng sacred art public. Bardons influence on the style-he) encouraged neatness, restricted the palette to "earth colors," and discouraged anything Western-has been debated by critics. (9)) Initially, marketing was a problem but the Western Desert "dot and circle" style of the Papunya Tula artists, with accompanying stories, soon engaged a national and international audience. (10)

As a countemarrative to these male "success stories" are enterprises born of the collaborations of dedicated female educators and local women. Working in the craft room established in 1948 "to keep them on the station," Pitjantjatjara women of the Ernabella Mission in the Musgrave Ranges of South Australia learned spinning from craft worker Mrs. M.M. Bennett. They transposed the vibrant paper and crayon schoolchildrens drawings on to floor rugs and cushion covers. They developed their line of Christmas greeting cards of "Ernabella Design" into high-quality water colors sold as cards, for framing, and printed on silk scarves. Then, in 1971, they were the first of a number of desert women to experiment with batik. Winifred Hilliard, local arts adviser from 1954 to 1986, along with Jennifer Isaacs and Mary White, of the Crafts Council of Australia, invited Leo Brereton of New York to teach the women the batik techniques he had recently learned in Indonesia. In 1974, women followed up with a visit to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and in the same year Ernabella Arts Inc. was established. "Ernabella Design" has many offshots across Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands, and ranges from art centers in other communities to women working by themselves in a shed in one of the homeland centers (outstations). (11)

From other communities, such as those of the Tiwi on Melville and Bathurst Islands comes a gendered tale of mens art work and womens craft work. From its humble beginnings in a small shed at Nguiu in 1969, the screen printing of Tiwi Designs has been the commercial success story of Indigenous textile production. Tiwi men, initially taught wood block prints by Madeline Clear, the art teacher at the school, experimented with prints of animals, birds, and insects. The ritual design work on their Pukumani poles (associated with mortuary ceremonies) provided the conceptual frame for the mens generation of repeat designs on lengths of fabric. (12) Meanwhile, women were taught "fancy work" by the nuns; and, although they sewed Tiwi Designs fabrics and experimented with fabric production, the Tiwi Designs screenprinting studio remained a male domain. (13) But Tiwi womens work does draw on the mythological past. Tiwi Pima Art bark baskets of Melville and Bathurst Islands echo the work of spider woman, Pirraka, who made a basket for the first Pukumani ceremony. Similarly, the woven pandanus baskets of Maningrida Arts and Craft recall the sacred dilly bags of one of the creators of Rembarruga ancestral clan lands. (14) Although these objects may have mundane uses, their meanings and significance are located within the sacred domain. To a large extent the gendered taxonomy of sacred and profane, and attitudes toward the value of womens work in general, have informed nonindigenous evaluations and have obscured the significance and genius of women artists.

At Yuendumu, about seventy-five miles north of Papunya, where there have been interested women teachers and researchers, the Warlu kurlangu Aboriginal Artists Association now has roughly equal female and male membership. Interestingly, it is not craft work but acrylic painting for which the women are known. In fact, women initiated acrylic paintings on canvas in the early 1980S and with the proceeds of their early work bought a Toyota so they could visit their country. The men followed suit. In 1983, at the invitation of the new school headmaster at Yuendumu to make the school look less "European," senior men began painting the school doors with acrylics. The painting was a communal exercise and done quickly, usually in a day, as is the custom for ceremonial ground paintings. The size of the doors allowed more expansive, complex accounts of the Warlpiri jukurrpa (Dreaming) than was possible on small boards. (15) The designs were more fluid than the Papunya school; but the Warlpiri men of Yuendumu, like the Pi ntupi of Papunya, were working with the "maps of country" of their traditional ceremonial sand paintings. The women drew on their ritual repertoire of paintings on the body, sacred objects, and the ground. (16) In a splendid celebration of dance, song, and painting, which I attended with a group of women from Ali-Curang and in which we participated, the Yuendumu womens museum opened in 1977. It provided a safe place for women to store their sacred objects and stimulated these ceremonially busy and independently-minded Warlpiri women to paint. In the 1980s, the research of Francoise Dussart provided further encouragement by finding commercial outlets for the paintings. (17)

Throughout the 1980s, womens work diversified and began to appear in exhibits. In 1983, the exhibit Recent Australian Painting: A Survey, 1970-1983 at the Art Gallery of South Australia included a collaborative work by Turkey Tolsen Tjupurrula; his wife, Kitty Nakamarra; and daughters, Elizabeth and Pamela. Although it was not uncommon for women to work on large canvasses, they were not always acknowledged as the "artist." But women were also producing their own works. The Womens Work exhibit at Araluen Arts Centre, in Alice Springs in 1984, was followed by the First Aboriginal Womens Art Festival organized by Black Women in Focus in Adelaide in 1985. During 1988, the Australian Bicentennial year (as during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney), the treatment of the Indigenous population made news-some good, some bad. One positive highlight of the Bicentennial year, although not an official function, was the Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia exhibit shown at the Asia Society Galleries in New York in 1 988, and then Chicago and Los Angeles, before returning for exhibit in Australia. (18) It included the traditional bark paintings of Arnhem Land, the canvasses of the Western Desert artists, and some womens art. Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, amongst the first of the Papunya artists, along with Dolly Nampijinpa Granites from Yuendumu, became world travelers and stimulated a sophisticated audience to ponder, amongst other things, the modernist and postmodernist framing of this new genre from Australia. (19)

Through the 1990s the Indigenous art scene became more complex and more dynamic. Although the world was coming to grips with the mens representations of the jukurrpa, Alyawarre and Anmatyerre women at Utopia (see fig. 2) were developing their own "school." Their work did not reach an international audience until the 1990S and by then individual artists such as Emily Kngwarreye and Kathleen Petyarre were being celebrated in monographs and solo shows. (20) By 1997, the work of Emily Kngwarreye was representing Australia at the Venice Biennale. Today across Australia, in the cities and in family-based bush camps, there are many new artists and enterprises. There are collaborations of women printmakers and fashion designers. New galleries and cooperatives have brought womens work to the forefront. (21) In terms of the reach of contemporary womens work of particular note is artist, photographer, film and video maker Tracey Moffatt. Born in 1960 in Brisbane, Queens-land, Moffatt was raised by adoptive white pare nts but maintained contact with her Aboriginal mother. (22) In the early 1980s she moved to Sydney and from there launched a career with her controversial, cutting-edge, often confrontational., and sometimes autobiographical, work of calculated artifice. She has had over thirty solo exhibits worldwide since, toured Western Europe in 1998 and 1999, and North Asia in 1999 and 2000. Moffatts solo exhibition Free-Falling at Dia Center for the Arts (1997-98), New York, included clips from her seventeen-minute film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989), wherein the dying white mother is nursed by her adopted Aboriginal daughter. In her earlier Nice Coloured Girls (1987), urban streetwise "coloured girls" subvert and parody race and gender relations. In Heaven (1997), produced for the Free-Falling exhibition, Moffatt focuses the female gaze on male surfing behavior. (23) Aboriginal women are indeed rewriting the patriarchal scripts and in the process have issued a range of challenges for feminists.

The Politics of Knowledge

At times I long for the innocence one might be able to assume in writing of Aboriginal art as objects one encounters in galleries or catalogues, as murals, as logos and designs on T-shirts and dishtowels. I cant. My understanding of the works which, through a number of exhibits are now known to persons with no necessary knowledge of the people and places of the paintings, remains situated in the local politics of person and place. Furthermore, I am suggesting that all Aboriginal art arises out of a context, including but not limited to the politics of government policies such as assimilation and self-determination, social movements concerning race and gender, and local consideration of kinship and ritual knowledge. Art is about making meaning and this occurs in particular political contexts. Here, with reference to work from "remote Australia" and the "settled south," I am intent to make visible aspects of the contexts where-in this meaning making is pursued. In "remote" communities the romantic image of the "pristine native," isolated from the broad sweep of national and international politics, endures. In the assimilated south, traditions are described as "lost"; religious beliefs are glossed "superstition" and "magic." All that persists is "memory culture." Im suggesting the remote/settled dichotomy is a dangerous juxtaposition and one that obscures the complex realities of the emergence of Indigenous art in both regions.

In both the desert and the southeast I recorded stories that hitherto had been passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. But whereas in the desert the cryptic codes of ritual reenactment remain as reference points, in Ngarrindjeri lands, the stories are fragmentary and jealously guarded by those families who have been able to hold on to the knowledge. Here the context for learning is no longer ceremonial, but it is intimately associated with specific places, and it does concern maintaining the Law of the land in that threats to the integrity of sacred places are resisted. In other words, it is about upholding their Law regarding proper behavior at sacred places, and it is about respect for the stories of their old people. The art of the southeast may not be a direct transposition of ceremonial art into another medium; but, I would argue, it is firmly grounded in the stories of their ancestors and the sacred trust of the living to protect the land of their ancestors.

The desert stories I learned were embedded in a rich oral culture which was just beginning to confront the issue of the existence of a written record. What they found in the writings of missionaries, anthropologists, welfare officers, and early settlers often gave deep offense because it transgressed their Law regarding who might know what, where, and when. The Ngarrindjeri also confront multiple accounts of their past, some authored by literate Ngarrindjeri. (24) But in the desert, when the ethnographic record is silent on womens religion, women may demonstrate their knowledge of land through ritual performances. In the southeast, silences in the written record can more easily be read as evidence that women had no separate ceremonial life and hence nothing to protect.

Nonetheless, when I began to negotiate the right to publish the stories Ngarrindjeri had shared with me I found that, like my desert experience, words and images remain embedded in relations of person and place. Some stories can only be told at a particular place. There are others that only those present at a ceremony may know. There are still other parts of the stories that only those who have proved worthy of the investment of sacred knowledge may know. There are things one may know by virtue of having been present but may not repeat or acknowledge knowing. The politics of knowledge are complex indeed. (25) I know I will never know all that is to be known about a particular work. Some of what I know is not to be made public. There are inside meanings available only to those who stand in a particular relationship to the subject of the work. There are meanings any member of a community might know. There are others known by only one or two sages. There are layers of explication of symbols. One earns the right to know and then one is enmeshed in a web of rights and responsibilities regarding that work. The word and the work remain an inalienable part of the person.

Topsy Napurrula Nelson: Desert Art and Ritual Politics

In the mid-1970s it was Warlpiri and later Warumungu, Kaytetye, and Alyawarre women at Ali-Curang who first introduced me to the womens painting-some was on the body, some on the ground, some on objects. None was painted to last. It was ritual art. It was not until the late 1970s to early 1980s that I saw women painting on boards in the "circle and dot" painting style. After I had been in the field about a year, the men were prepared to discuss some details of their work. Some were familiar with the idea of painting for a wider public through the Western Desert artists at Papunya, but it was older women who were my primary teachers. It is improper and unproductive to attempt to gain access to the religious knowledge and practices of the opposite sex; and I was intent to learn what women knew, believed, and practiced. Being incorporated into womens worlds was straightforward if one trusted women as knowing agents. During the day men socialize with men and women with women; and women, like men, have their own residential spaces, their own ceremonial grounds, storehouses, and sacred sites. These were the places I frequented, and these were the places where one might observe and eventually be invited to participate in womens ceremonies.

Known as yawulyu in Warlpiri (Napurrulas primary language), and awelye in Anmatyerre (Emily Kngwarreyes language), womens ceremonies make manifest their relationships to and their responsibilities for land. Central themes of womens ceremonies concern nurturance of land and the living. One "grows up" the land as one "grows up" children. Ceremonies celebrating particular places bring women together and establish webs of relatedness whereby one may call upon another to assist in staging ceremonies. It is to this cluster of relationships that women turn when contemplating and engaging in ceremonies and also when they work on large art pieces. In this way rents in the fabric of the ancestral design may be reworked. In terms of art work, it means that one can draw on a range of experiences and be assured that ones choice of symbol, design, and place can be validated by another with an obligation to uphold the Law. This is the context within which Napurrula painted and from which Emily Kngwarreye emerged as an individual artist, in the western sense of painting in a style that was exquisitely hers but which remained true to the rhythms of her land and modes of representing it.

The first body painting of Napurrulas country that I recall seeing was associated with her fathers Dreamings at Pawurrinji, a country to the west of Ali-Curang. Napurrulas aunt, old Rosie Nakamarra, was one of the first women to befriend me. She called me "sister" and through her I was then related to all others within the community and many beyond. Napurrula was her brothers child and thus niece to Nakamarra. Very early in my research Nakamarra told me of Pawurrinji and introduced me to the beautiful yawulyu designs, dances, songs, and stories of the travels of the little Willy Wagtail and Diamond Dove at Pawurrinji.

The settlement (reserve) at Ali-Curang was an artifact of assimilation. (26) Four different groups had been "settled" there in the 1950s, and the traditional owners of the land, the Kaytetye, resented the presence of outsiders. One response from the Warlpiri, whose traditional country lay to the west, was to stage ceremonies and thus stake a claim for the upcoming generation in this new place. Warlpiri women like Rosie Nakamarra were shrewd strategists and, unlike the shy and retiring Kaytetye, were prepared to find ways to bring aspects of their ceremonies into the public domain. In late 1976 they were preparing for a trip which was being funded by the Northern Territory Education Department. With this sponsorship they could not be accused of being "greedy" or "puffing themselves up." They had garnered what resources were to be had and were enjoying having a rationale for "practicing" their ceremony on a regular basis.

In the midafternoon we would be sitting in the womens camp, the jilimi, and one of the elderly women would begin to summon all those necessary for a yawulyu-old, young, married, single, widowed, divorced. Throughout the afternoon women would drift in and out of the general camp with food and other goods, children, and news. By late afternoon the senior women moved to a brush shelter at the "ring place," the womens ceremonial ground, located just beyond their camp in such a way that no man could stray or stumble upon the women at work. There they sat in a tight circle. They sang the songs which give power to the fat with which they greased their bodies. They prepared the ground ochres with which the kurdungurlu (persons related to the Dreaming through the mothers fathers line) and painted the kirda (persons related through the patriline). They rubbed the sacred boards with red ochre, attached the brilliant white feathers to the ritual pole and "planted" it at the center of the dancing ground. They sang th e spirits of ancestors into the site, to the ritual pole, the kurduru, which they addressed as kin. Nakamarra called it "aunty," pimirdi, as did I.

At sunset the soft singing and plaintive harmonies gave way to a strong decisive call for women dancers to prepare to dance along the tracks of the ancestors. The seated singers kept the beat by clapping one hand on to the other cupped hand held low in the lap. From the northwest came women wearing designs for the Diamond Dove, Kurlukuku. This Dreaming had traveled from the north, was weary, hungry, and crying for food. The paintings of the round flat stones on the breasts and stomach were the grinding stones, the little lines on the shoulders the seeds dripping from a parraja (shallow wooden dish). As the dancers neared the ritual pole, representing the site at Pawurrinji, they spied the seated Willy Wagtail women. The little black and white pointed designs painted on the breasts were recognizably the tail feathers of that ancestor, Jintupirri. They were feasting on a marsupial mouse, Janganpa. The hungry newcomers danced weaving in and out of the ranks of the Willy Wagtail women who were then also dancing. As they questioned each other regarding their origins and purpose, the initial hostility evaporated, the hungry visitors were fed, and the power of both of the bird Dreamings entered the ground where the kurduru was "planted." At the actual site there is a stone arrangement which symbolizes this meeting. It stands as evidence of the enduring truth of the story and ancestral presences.

Once the spirit of the ancestors was at rest, the mood of the ceremony once more changed. Now there was ribald joking and good-natured chaffing about the various styles of painting. Then followed a series of exchanges whereby the singers were "paid" for their work and nonparticipants "paid" for the privilege of witnessing the ritual (see fig. 3). By now the chill of the desert air was noticeable. The senior women built up the fire and began to "rub-down" the painted boards in order to return the power to the ground.

A number of negotiations were necessary to craft a performance of the ceremony described above for an audience not implicated in the ritual reciprocity of the ceremony. Ultimately only a portion of the yawulyu was made public for the Education Department excursion. Through these yawulyu I knew a great deal about the place and the stories but I did not visit Pawurrinji until late in 1979. (27) Neither Napurrula nor her father was able to travel with us on the first occasion; but she heard the story of our visit, incorporated that story into her knowledge of her fathers country, and restated her desire to return to her country and to care for it.

That country, Diane, that Pawurrinji-were going back there. My father told me about it when I was a child, and all my aunties [fathers sisters] too. They taught me the business, the songs, and the painting up for that country. We went into that country before with you, but there was too much long grass, too much no road. We had to turn back all the time. We couldnt get right up close to that really place at Pawurrinji, where the Jintirrpiri (Willy Wagtail) and Kurlukuku (Diamond Dove) Dreamings come through.

But they told me about you-you got there. They told me here, where Im sitting now. That country, its all right now. They been bum it and make it clean. Now you can get right up to that Pawurrinji place. They were telling me and my father about when you got there and he was happy. Rosie, his sister, was singing for that country. She was teaching me about the business, like before. (28)

Shortly after this visit her father died. According to their Law his name became taboo along with all his intellectual property. Thus Napurrula did not sing the songs of Pawurrinji or give permission for the body paintings to be made. But then in 1980, during a land claim which included Pawurrinji, I was sitting with the women as they painted up and saw a particularly intricate one being painted on Napurrula. (29) I caught her eye and signed "Whose?" It would have been impolite and possibly dangerous to ask out loud. She confirmed with a light touch to the chin, the hand sign for "father," that it was for her fathers country. The occasion was deemed a worthy one. She was making a clear statement regarding who would now be taking responsibility for the sites through "opening" the painting.

Napurrula was closer to my age than Rosie Nakamarra, and her encyclopedic knowledge of the desert was revealed in one land claim after another. She was able to provide details of genealogies, Dreaming stories, and on visits to sites, an account of the traditional bush tucker and medicinal plants to be found there. I have spent years in her country and she has visited me in Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, and Geelong. We have presented papers together at conferences, written together, danced together, laughed together. (30) Our children have played together. She mourned my fathers passing. I mourned hers. I have sat with Napurrula in the hospital when she has been ill and she has comforted me when I have needed her wise counsel.

When Napurrula died, her painting, along with her songs and stories, also became taboo. I could not say her personal name aloud. I doubt I ever will. Instead I use her "skin" name Napurrula or refer to her as aunt, pimirdi (fathers sister). Although in one sense the painting is mine, in order to reproduce her painting here, I needed permission of those who shared responsibilities for the sacred sites of the painting. According to her Law the power of the painting remains with those people. They are the ones who will care for the country of their Dreamings. The painting depicts the travels of Yawakiyi (black berry) from one site, Waake, to another, Wakulpu, where the weary hero finally goes into the ground. He is accompanied by two small black birds, Yirlpirdilpadilpa. The two sites are related as brothers and in another part of the story communicate in lightning flashes. As with other important sites, multiple Dreamings are implicated. The painting concerns the country where Napurrula was born. It was her m others mothers (jajas) country and she was especially close to her jaja.

My mother carried me in a parraja [shallow wooden dish] in Wakulpu country. Then, when I was a little girl, I went walking in that country.... When I was a bit bigger, maybe four, I was stealing" yakajirri [bush raisin-Solanum sp.] and uganjawarli [bush tomato-Solanum sp.] and yarla (bush potato-Ipomea sp.). When I was really big and my grandmother was digging for yarla, I kept watching her and she kept telling me, "Watch out for the digging stick. Itll poke your eye out." I kept looking at it and she threw the yarla at me. I never left my grandmother alone. I used to be there always. I loved her very much. I always followed her, not my Mum. She was tall and straight, like Nungarrayi [Napurrulas cousin]. (31)

Napurrula and Nungarrayi, a woman of extraordinary power, were close and together invested much energy in maintaining and transmitting the knowledge of Wakulpu. Nungarrayi was considered "rich" in Dreamings and in one ceremony passed a number of sacred objects to a neighboring group in order to share her wealth and to restore her health. She believed she was ailing because there was "jealous business" arising from her "wealth." After the official handover, her stories, songs, and designs could be told, sung, and painted by women who hitherto only "knew" the Dreamings but had no right to transmit that knowledge.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye: From Bodies to Batiks and Acrylics

Like Napurrulas art, that of Emily Kngwarreye is embedded in a web of relationships to her kin and country. Emily Kngwarreyes middle name, "Kame," is the seed of the wild or pencil yam (atnulare) (Vigna lanceolata), which grows in her fathers country, Alhalkere, and it is a Dreaming which features in many of her major paintings as does the wild potato (anatye) (Ipomeoa costata). (32) When hunting for these plants one looks for the fine cracks in the ground which indicate the swelling underground tubers and then traces the "strings." Atnulare produces a long thin root whereas anatye are fat and roundish. The excavations of the latter are expansive and after working at shoulder height in the holes wed dug, I would make a mental note not to take my vehicle off the road in that area. In Emily Kngwarreyes paintings one can trace the delicate intertwinings of the root systems of these tubers, see the pale pink and white flowers of anatye and the changing hues of the pea-like flowers of the atnulare which is fo od for the emu, ankerre, another favored subject of her paintings. The tracks of these Dreamings, Anatye, Atnulare, and Ankerre forge links between Alhalkere and adjacent countries in which Emily Kngwarreye has rights and responsibilities through her mother.

I first met Emily Kngwarreye in 1978 when, on a visit to the Utopia cattle station (ranch), I visited one of the relatively new "outstations." Emily was sitting with a group of women, who were boiling the billy for tea and invited us for a "cuppa." Their camp was sparse-shelters made of bush materials, discarded corrugated iron, a water drum, food placed beyond the reach of the ever-present dogs, and bedding laid out to catch the warmth of the early sun and to dry out after a chill desert night. What caught my eye was the lengths of brightly colored cotton fabric hung out to dry along a barbed wire fence. The motifs were familiar, tiny lizards, animal tracks, and bush tucker. Id seen some in womens body painting and some in the sand drawings which often accompanied story telling. As the "scene" changes, the storyteller deftly wipes clean the previous symbols and begins afresh on the smooth sand. What was less familiar was the use of batik and ways in which the cloth size "framed" the work. With body painti ng it is the breasts, upper arms, and stomach (sometimes back and thighs) which are the "canvas" for paintings, and with sand drawings a small area of sand between the storyteller and her audience. But here were paintings on a larger, rectangular, flat surface. They were closer in conception to the better-known mens dot painting from which one could read landscape but were distinctively womens in their subject matter. It was about country, in particular about women s relationship to their country. At that stage the batik work was very basic. There were no wooden frames to hold the cloth. Instead it was spread across the lap to provide a horizontal surface. Working quickly to avoid blobs of wax forming, the artists produced fluid, sweeping designs and on occasions even managed to make features of the blobs. Wax was heated in old hubcaps and boiled off in flour drums heated over open fires. A distinguishing feature of the early batiks was the small holes made by the barbed wire in the drying process. (33)

The next time I met up with Emily Kngwarreye was in 1979-80 during their land claim to the Utopia Pastoral Lease. To be successful the traditional owners had to prove, to the satisfaction of a judge sitting as Aboriginal Land Commissioner, that they were indeed entitled to the land. I was working as the anthropological consultant to Mr. Justice Toohey, who was then Aboriginal Land Commissioner. In taking evidence from the five major landholding groups on Utopia, the court traveled to various "outstations" and heard from those with traditional interests in the land and its sites. This was the first land claim heard under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, 1976, where relationships traced through women were presented as ones which carried a category of rights which should be recognized as those of "traditional owners" as defined by the legislation. Hitherto women had been included within patrilines but not as agents through whom rights could flow to the next generation. The women were critica lly important in terms of puffing together the genealogies required for the claim but reluctant and ill prepared to testify in the male dominated quasi-court setting. Rather than give oral testimony, the women chose to present evidence of their rights and responsibilities to land in awelye (ceremony). From their painted bodies, songs, dance, and ritual relations could be read their direct continuing relationship to the land of their Dreamings. (34) (See fig. 4.) The photographs I took while working on this claim were taken on the understanding that I would only photograph those aspects of the ceremony which were being made public.

Utopia has an honorable place in the history of art, especially when it comes to womens art. (35) Their rise to fame was rapid. In 1978, Julia Murray, with limited funding from the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme, working as a part-time instructor, teamed up with Jenny Green at Utopia. Jenny Green had been delivering a creative mix of literacy, sewing, and driving lessons to the women and had already been experimenting with batik techniques. Suzie Bryce, a teacher from Pitjantjatjarra lands, had visited in 1977 and, along with batik artist Nyangkula Brown, had introduced Utopia women to the techniques. The early pieces, some on cotton, some on shirts, were riots of "pretty flowers." They also experimented with tie-dyeing and woodblock printing. I bought skirts, shirts, and lengths of fabric. My Kngwarreye pink and blue wraparound skirt has long since worn out. The glorious golden silk painting I bought in the early 1980s hung on my wall at work, but light exposure has faded some of its brilliance. For me the se were living pieces and, like ritual art, were not meant to be conserved. Of course, Emily Kngwarreyes work did not then enjoy the international attention it does today.

Since those early days their skills and techniques have been much improved by expert assistance, the opportunity to visit with batik artists in Indonesia (1982 and 1994), a growing sense of confidence in their work, and experimentation with other media. Emily Kngwarreye has shifted style several times and moved from batik to paint to get away from all the fuss with boiling. She noted: "I gave it up because it was too much hard work...I changed over to canvas then--it was easier." (36) The first exhibit of Utopia womens work was in 1980 in Alice Springs in a private gallery run by Mona Brynes. The following year, at the Adelaide Festival Centre Gallery, the Floating Forests of Silk: Utopia Batiks from the Desert exhibit featured the work of twelve artists. (37) In 1982, the batiks displayed at the Craft Expo, in the Hyatt Hotel in Sydney, caught the interest of designers Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee and galleries began buying the pieces. But it was through promoting the Utopia: A Picture Story, 1987-1988 and Utopia: A Summer Project, 1988-1999, that Rodney Gooch, manager of the shop at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), transformed the marketing of the womens work. (38) The first exhibit which featured eighty-eight silk lengths, toured Ireland, France, and Germany. The second featured eighty-one small canvasses, the womens first acrylic paintings. Both exhibits were purchased by the Robert Holmes Court Collection. (39) In 1990, Gooch, working with artists Christopher Hodges and Helen Eager, introduced woodblock printmaking. Parts of this "Utopia Suite" of woodblocks have reached international audiences. (40) CAAMA emphasized the communal aspect of the work--all artists were paid the same. It was gallery owners, art dealers, and local patrons, such as Donald and Janet Holt of neighboring Delmore Downs cattle station, who created the conditions under which Emily Kngwarreye could develop as an individual artist. (41)

Ellen Trevorrow and Muriel Van Der Byl: Making Art in the Eye of a Storm

By the 1990s it was received wisdom, for all but the most stubborn patriarchs, that desert women had sacred sites and knowledge that were gender restricted. However, in the "settled south," a story of "womens business" was received with suspicion, contempt, and derision. (42) In 1994, a group of Ngarrindjeri women came to public attention when they sought to use the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, 1984, to protect a place which was threatened by a proposed development. They claimed that if a bridge were to be built from the mainland town of Goolwa to Hindmarsh Island which nestles in the mouth of the Murray River, women would sicken and die. The women said the site was sacred to women, and the knowledge underlying this belief could not be shared with men. (43) One story concerned the activities of the constellation the Pleiades, commonly known as the Seven Sisters. Initially, the women were believed and a twenty-five-year ban was placed on the site, but this decision was challe nged. In a 1995 South Australian Royal Commission, the women were found to have deliberately fabricated beliefs in order to thwart development: there was no authentic Ngarrindjeri Seven Sisters Dreaming. (44)

In this highly contested climate, Ngarrindjeri women continued to paint, teach their children, visit the sites at the Murray Mouth, and to draw power from their old people and the surviving fragments of stories. Muriel Van Der Byl painted aspects of the Seven Sisters on silk and greeting cards. She also painted images of Thukapi, a turtle, who in an advanced stage of pregnancy, broke through from the river into the ocean and thereby created the Murray Mouth. (45) Ellen Trevorrow began a major weaving project to make Seven Sister Baskets. Both women are the direct descendants of Margaret "Pinkie" Mack, said to be the last initiated Ngarrindjeri woman, whose repertoire of songs incorporated traditional and postcontact themes. She was Ellen Trevorrows mothers mother and Muriel Van Der Byls fathers fathers sister. Both families have stories from her and her generation.

The Goolwa, Murray Mouth, Coorong area is one rich in bird and marine life; and, not surprisingly, it is also rich in Dreamtime activity, as witnessed by the multiplicity of ngatji (totems) active in the vicinity. This is where river water flows through a series of brackish lagoons and lakes into the cold waters of the Southern Ocean. One of the resources is the fresh water sedges (Cyperus vaginatus, C. gymnocaulos), called "rushes" by the Ngarrindjeri who still collect and "weave" their coiled designs. I had seen their large century-old circular mats, baskets, coffins, and scoops in museums; but not until I began to learn to weave, heard the womens stories, and was shown how to collect and prepare the rushes did I learn of the religious significance of the activity. (46) To weave is to make family. With each loop, with each tightened strand, the family grows, different lengths, different sizes, reaching ever outwards, never sure of its final form, its strength in its woven structure. To collect rushes is t o learn of the land, the seasonal round, the salting up of the rivers, and the stagnation of the inland lagoons no longer flushed by the ocean. Collecting rushes with women I was told of the best places, of how the fencing of the land had cut people off from various resources, of some local white landowners who allow access and of others who wont.

In the absence of ceremonial activity and under the strict eye of missionaries, how did women manage to keep stories and knowledge of land alive? Veronica Brodie, a custodian of the Ngarrindjeri story about the Seven Sisters, makes the link with weaving.

Some of them, when they left Raukkan [the mission], or wherever they were, would bring their weaving. They would carry whatever they were making. And it didnt come to me until my sister Leila said, "You think about it. Theyd tell the White Christians they were coming away to pick rushes, and to do more weaving. Mum would come with her grandmother. While they were away theyd be doing womens business which the White Christians didnt know about, they would also take in a bit of trading." So, you see, womens business was always taken care of but no-one knew what was going on. All they knew was that the women had gone away there to do some weaving, pick some rushes, and the only ones to know about it were the ones they knew could be trusted. Goolwa was a trading place. They told Taplin [the missionary] they were getting rushes and that they were trading, all of which was true. (47) (See fig. 5.)

Like Napurrula, the Ngarrindjeri women were worrying about and caring for their places.

Not all teaching has been in an unbroken line; sometimes it comes through the mothers line, sometimes from aunties. There are a number of forces at work which have limited the access to knowledge for this generation of weavers. Ellen Trevorrow stated: "I was taught by elder, Aunty Dorrie, in the 1980s. Basket weaving was around me as a child, but my grandmother and mother did not teach it to me. They said I needed an education, a white education. The welfare would take children away if I didnt go to school. So I missed out on a lot as a child, but now my mother is starting to pass on important cultural information to me because we are running the Race Relations Cultural Education Recreation Centre." (48) Through her work at Camp Coorong, where she lives with her husband, Tom Trevorrow, Ellen Trevorrow is in daily contact with the land of her forebears.

Ngarrindjeri weavers have hosted visits from Native Americans (49) and Ellen Trevorrow speaks with pride of their 1998 trip to the United States. "There was a basket weaving conference in Los Angeles and Tom and I and sixteen other Ngarrindjeri women were able to come over and share our weaving skills and stories once again. ... This is one point of our culture that the land provides for us. Take away our land, destroy our land, and it will destroy our freshwater rushes for our cultural weaving. The land is already salting up, and pesticides are ruining our rushes. We have to travel a long way today to collect our freshwater rushes for weaving." (50)

Today the Ngarrindjeri live in towns, cities, up the river, on the old mission, and on land that has been retained by individual families. Muriel Van Der Byl lives in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, from where she travels to visit her places like Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island) and her fathers place at Marrungkung where the Murray River flows into Lake Alexandrina. Both sites are where waters meet. Her 1992 painting, Marringhan (Marrungkung), in the Art Gallery of South Australia, depicts the intensity of ngatji (totemic) activity, including the pregnant Thukapi and the travelling Seven Sisters. When I had completed my first fieldwork stint with Ngarrindjeri women in 1996, Muriel Van Der Byl gave me two small dishes on which were depicted the turtle, Thukapi. I was just beginning to grasp the complex web of stories for the site they were attempting to protect and this was another part of the puzzle. The silk painting of the Seven Sisters she gave me at the 1998 launching of my book Ngarrindjeri Wurru warrin: A World That Is, Was, and Will Be, for which she painted the cover design. The womens story of the Seven Sisters, amongst other things, explains how the girls travel from the sky to be in the river with their mother and then return to the sky. Their journey marks out the season when it is safe to swim and explains the rising and falling of the constellation. (51) (See figs. 6 and 7.)

Muriel Van Der Byl knows white people consider her a "late bloomer" because she didnt begin painting till she was in her late forties. The calling came in a dream. "I knew what I wanted to do up here in my head and in my heart." (52) She would paint in silk. With advice from a local art store about paints and with used "family size" pizza cartons as frames, Muriel Van Der Byl began to paint her country, its ngatji (totems) and history. Her art is routinely exhibited at the Adelaide Arts Festival. When we first met she regaled me with stories full of fun, mischief, and a wry sense of history. They had playfully called the 1996 exhibit shown on the Fringe at the Adelaide Arts Festival, Tratuoballa: Silk and Wire. Patrons of the festival asked if this was a word from the local Kaurna language or from Ngarrindjeri. "No," Muriel Van Der Byl explained, "It is all about art spelled backwards." The silk and wire she sees as representing the hard and soft, the negative and positive working together.

Contesting Ngarrindjeri Beliefs

One of the claims in the 1994 Royal Commission had been that the women had imported the story of the Seven Sisters Dreaming and that it was not an authentic Ngarrindjeri Dreaming. (53) Beliefs about the travels of the Pleiades are common across Indigenous Australia, and in the mythology the stars are usually young girls who are fleeing young men represented by the constellation Orion. However, the Royal Commission found the women to be liars: the story had been imported from elsewhere. Feminists were implicated in this fabrication; the base line was you couldnt trust women. (54) The lack of ethnographic sources supporting their claims was used against the women as was the fact that only several women knew details of the stories. Once I was able to spend time with the primary sources I found solid nineteenth-century references to the Seven Sisters Dreaming in Ngarrindjeri lands of which the Royal Commission was ignorant. (55) The politicolegal history of this matter is fraught and I wont rehearse it here, sa ve to say that after much research, court time, and bitterness the women were vindicated and found to be "credible witnesses who genuinely hold the beliefs and recollections expressed by them." (56) However, while various aspects of the contesting of the site worked their way through the Australian legal system, the bridge was built. As prophesied, women sickened and women died.

In accounts of Ngarrindjeri mythology, the best known, larger than life Dreaming is Ngurunderi, whose fury as his wives escaped by running into the ocean was so great that he called out in the voice of thunder, whereupon the waters rose and the women were drowned. Today their form is visible in the rocky offshore islands called The Pages. In Ngarrindjeri the word for body is ruwar. The singular form, ruwi, is the word for land. Within this cultural logic, those rocky islands are the bodies of those Dreamtime women. To the Ngarrindjeri women concerned to protect the site complex at the Murray Mouth, to drive pylons into the Goolwa Channel was akin to driving a stake through the uterus of the body represented in that landscape. Damage to ones ruwi registers on ones ruwar. However, the Royal Commission relied on an androcentric view of religions wherein "womens business" was addressed as if it concerned women s physiology and their reproductive lives, not womens sacred trust to care for the land and its plac es. The existence of fragments of several stories for the creation of the Murray Mouth, that of Ngurunderi and Thukapi, which in my view speak to the dynamism of the Dreamtime, was beyond the comprehension of the literal-minded Royal Commission. Similarly, the possibility that "womens business" might entail spiritual nurturance and cosmic reproduction of their worlds made no sense.

But the power of the Seven Sisters Dreaming continues to infuse the land; and when visiting the site at the Murray Mouth, the women say they can feel it through their miwi, the source of wisdom, located behind the navel. New songs are "given" by the power of the place to those who know how to feel. The women continue to tell the story of Thukapi and her search for a place to lay her eggs. They speak of a tradition of "warrior women in the Coorong area. They translate their name for Hindmarsh Island, Kumarangk, as place of pregnancy. (57) They look to their elders to help make meaning of their feelings about the place.

Ellen Trevorrow recalls: "When I went across to Kumarangk for the first time, I was with my elders and I felt it in my tummy, all stirred up and I cried. And thats what I believe about what my elders were saying about the island being sacred womens business. When I went home that night and told Tom, he said that was my miwi speaking to me, so its true." (58) Through the miwi Ngarrindjeri know truth and will explain that all people have the capacity to "feel" what is true but that Westerners emphasize the mind as the locus of wisdom.

Whereas an account of "remote Australia" usually begins with the Dreamtime, that of the "settled south" usually begins with the arrival of the British and the establishment of a penal colony in 1788. The indigenous populations of the southeast of Australia were the first to bear the brunt of the British colonization; and the art that is now flourishing does so against a background of the ravages of disease, missionary interventions, government policies of assimilation, and relocation. These are the people land rights forgot, but the research occasioned by the passage of the Native Title Act, 1993, and my own research with Ngarrindjeri indicates that much more survives than the assimilationists allow. There is still fieldwork to be done. There are stories yet to be told. The art of the Ngarrindjeri is one way of caring for places and making meaning of their lives.


In the work of all four artists we see them drawing on existing resources to make meaning of their worlds through their art. The work of Ngarrindjeri artists is explicitly political. It concerns threats to their places. But the works of the desert artists come to us in a political context also- that of the era of self-determination, of land rights, of feminist activism, and scholarship. Some of the works were generated by ritual politics within communities; some by demands from outsiders in land claims, education department schemes, and art advisers. People of the southeast and desert both suffered forceful removal from their lands, massacre, and the ravages of disease. Ritualized grief kept Napurrula out of her grandmothers country after the massacres of the 1920s, (59.) and boundary fences and restrictive laws restrained the Ngarrindjeri. (60) All have stories of "Stolen Generations" to tell. (61) Certainly there are striking differences in the art from the central desert and that of the southeast. They ha ve different histories and geographies. But their work remains firmly grounded in the politics of person and place, in relations to kin and country.

What constitutes the contemporary art of Indigenous Australians is a fast-moving field where issues of authenticity, aesthetics, interpretation, compensation, legislation, and local autonomy are hotly debated. Womens work is now recognized. Emily Kngwarreyes work is setting new records. There are many new artists whose work is receiving attention and many older artists I have not been able to mention. And there are new "schools" emerging which draw on Indigenous symbols. New Agers readily appropriate stories and symbols. Aborigines with deeply held Christian beliefs are engaged in yet another meaning-making exercise. Here I have traced several ways in which womens art has moved from its original locus within the relatively private domain of womens worlds on to a more public stage. What was once generated in a ceremonial context and was not to be viewed other than in that context, and then only by persons with the right to be present, now may be viewed by outsiders with no particular knowledge of the pers ons or places implicated in its making. What was once transitory art, painted for the ceremonial moment, may now last for centuries. What was once painted on bodies and the land may now be crated and shipped far from its home.

Understanding something of womens contribution to the physical and spiritual survival of their communities helps to illuminate the earlier invisibility of their work and to explain why these artists have only recently reached a wider audience. What impact these new audiences are having on womens art is a fascinating issue. Certainly, many more women are painting for sale than in the 19705 and 1980s when their work was more likely to be beads and small, carved objects for tourists.

Aboriginal art reaches far beyond the now-familiar Western Desert "circle and dot" paintings and the fine cross-hatching of bark paintings of Yirrkala. The range is extraordinary and indicative of the diverse experiences of the original peoples of Australia. Dont stop with the art of northern and central Australia. Explore Aboriginal art on line. Visit the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia. (62) Enjoy also the work of "contemporary artists" (63) Sally Morgan of Perth, Western Australia; Fiona Foley from Fraser Island, Queensland; Bronwyn Bancroft of the Boomali Aboriginal Arts Ko-operative, Sydney; Euphemia Bostock of the Bundjulung people of New South Wales (NSW); Pamela Johnston from the Moree-Tamworth area of NSW; Ellen Jose, Mabel Edmund, and Mundabaree from North Queensland; Judith Warrie and Heather Walker of Rockhampton, Queensland, and many more.


I thank Barry Alpher, Linda Barwick, Genevieve Bell, Jennifer Biddle, Ute Eickelkamp, Susan Hawthorne, Peter Sutton, and John von Sturner for answering my questions so promptly and for reading drafts. I thank Olivia Millar for drawing the map.

(1.) Throughout I refer to Topsy Napurrula Nelson as "Napurrula." Her personal name is taboo because she died recently. Napurrula is her subsection, called a skin name in English. The subsection system is a shorthand way of summarizing relationships. In Warlpiri there are eight subsections. Each has a male form (beginning with "J") and female form (beginning with "N"). N/Jalpaljarri, N/Japangardi, N/Jakamarra, N/Jampijinpa, N/Jungarrayi, N/Japanangka, N/Jupurrula, N/Jangala. There are also diminutives for children. In Arrernte the corresponding subsections are Peltharre, Pengarte, Kemarre, Ampetyane/Mpetyan (female form), Kngwarraye, Penangke, Perrurle, Angale. See Diane Bell, Daughters of the Dreaming (1983; Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2002), 260-64.

(3.) See Bell, Daughters of the Dreaming, 229f.

(4.) See Phyllis M. Kaberry, Aboriginal Woman: Sacred and Profane (London: Routledge, 1939); Catherine H. Berndt, "Womens Changing Ceremonies in Central Australia," in LHomme 1 (1950): 1-87; Jane C. Goodale, Tiwi Wives: A Study of Women of Melville Island (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1971).

(5.) Bell, Daughters of the Dreaming.

(6.) Francoise Dussart, "The Politics of Representation: Kinship and Gender in the Performance of Public Ritual," in The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, ed. Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neale (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000).

(7.) Rex Battarbee, Modern Australian Aboriginal Art (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1951); C.P. Mountford, The Art of Albert Namatjira (Melbourne: Bread and Cheese Club, 1944); Ulli Beier, "Papunya Tula Art," Long Water: Aboriginal Art and Literature, A Special Issue of Aspect 34 (August 1986): 32-37.

(8.) Geoffrey Bardon, Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert (Adelaide: Rigby, 1979), and Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert (Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1991); Ulli Beier, "Geoff Bardon and the Beginnings of Papunya Tula Art," in Long Water: Aboriginal Art and Literature Annual, ed. Ulli Beier and Colin Johnson (North Sydney: Aboriginal Artists Agency, 1988), 83-100.

(9.) Eric Michaels, "Bad Aboriginal Art," Art & Text 28 (April 1988): 59-73; Tony Fry and Anne-Marie Willis, "Aboriginal Art: Symptom or Success," Art in America 77 (July 1989), 109-17, 159-60, 163.

(10.) Janet Maughan and Jenny Zimmer, eds., Dot and Circle: A Retrospective Survey of the Aboriginal Acrylic Paintings of Central Australia (Melbourne, Victoria: RMIT Gallery, 1986).

(11.) Winifred Hilliard, "The Story of Ernabella Arts," in Raiki: Long Cloth from Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait, ed. Judith Ryan and Robyn Healy (Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1993), 32-37; Ute Eickelkamp, Dont Ask for Stories: Women from Ernabella and Their Art (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1999); Ute Eickelkamp, "Pitjantjatjara Womens Art at Ernabella: Genesis and Transformation" (Ph.D. thesis, Heidelberg University, Germany, 2001); see DESART at <> for a list of Aboriginal art centers in central Australia.

(12.) Judith Ryan, "A History of Painted and Printed Textiles in Aboriginal Australia," in Raiki, 20.

(13.) Ibid.; James Bennett, "Screenprinting as Indigenous Textile Art," in Raiki, 26-31.

(14.) Steve Anderson, "Tiwi Pimi Art" (20) and Diane Moon, "Maningrida Arts and Crafts" (22), both in Karnta: Aboriginal Womens Art, ed. Chris McGuigan (Nerang, Queensland: Surfers Inkspot, 1987).

(15.) The artists would depict a section of a larger sandpainting rather than scale down the scope of a sandpainting. See Eric Michaels, "Western Desert Sandpainting and Post-Modernism," in Warlukurlungu Artists, Yuendumu Doors: Kuruwari (Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1987), 135-43.

(16.) See Nancy D. Munn, Walbiri Iconography: Graphic Representation and Cultural Symbolism in a Central Australian Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973).

(17.) Christopher Anderson and Francoise Dussart, "Dreaming in Acrylic: Western Desert Art," in Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia, ed. Peter Sutton (New York: Viking, 1988), 89-142; Francoise Dussart, The Politics of Ritual in an Aboriginal Settlement: Kinship, Gender, and the Currency of Knowledge (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry, 2000).

(18.) Sutton; Fred Myers, "Representing Culture: The Production of Discourse(s) for Aboriginal Acrylic Paintings," Cultural Anthropology 6 (February 1991): 26-62.

(19.) Amei Wallach, "Beautiful Dreamings," Ms., March 1989, 60-64; Michaels, 135-43.

(20.) Christine Nicholls and Ian North, Kathleen Petyarre: Genius of Place (South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2001); see Donald Holt et al., Emily Kngwarreye Paintings (North Ryde, Sydney: Craftsman House, 1998), 192-95 for Emily Kngwarreyes curriculum vitae; Michael Boulter, The Art of Utopia: A New Direction in Contemporary Australian Art (Sydney: Craftsman House, 1991).

(21.) Ryan, 22-25.

(22.) "Tracey Moffatt," in Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, 648.

(23.) Adrian Martin, "Tracey Moffatt: The Go-Between," World Art: The Magazine of Contemporary Visual Arts 2 (1995): 24-29; Roberta Smith, "Real-Life Tableaux, Natural yet Startling," New York Times, 10 Oct. 1997, E33.

(24.) David Unaipon, "The Story of the Mungingee," The Home (February 1925): 42-43; Doreen Kartinyeri, The Rigney Family Genealogy (Adelaide: Aboriginal Research Centre, 1983).

(25.) See Diane Bell, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World That Is, Was, and Will Be (Melbourne: Spinifex, 1998), 361-417; Howard Morphy, "Too Many Meanings" (Ph.D. diss., Canberra, Australian National University, 1977); Ian Keen, Knowledge and Secrecy in an Aboriginal Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

(26.) Bell, Daughters of the Dreaming, 73-80.

(27.) Diane Bell, "The Pawurrinji Puzzle: A Report to the Central Land Council," Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, 1976 (Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Mudbara, and Warumungu Land Claim, exhibit 54, 1982), 1-40.

(28.) Diane Bell, "Topsy Napurrula Nelson: Teacher, Philosopher, Friend," in Fighters and Singers: The Lives of Some Aboriginal Women, ed. Isobel White, Diane Barwick, and Betty Meehan (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1985), 2.

(29.) John Toohey, "Report on the Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Mudbura, and Warumungu Land Claim," Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, 1976 (Canberra: Australian Government Printer, 1981), 27.

(30.) Topsy Napurrula Nelson, "My Story," in This Is My Story: Perspectives on the Use of Oral Sources, ed. Shelley Schreiner and Diane Bell (Geelong, Victoria: Centre for Australian Studies, Deakin University, 1990); Diane Bell and Topsy Napurrula Nelson, "Speaking about Rape Is Everyones Business," Womens Studies International Forum 12, no. 4 (1989): 404-16; Bell, "Topsy Napurrula Nelson," 1-18.

(31.) Bell, "Topsy Napurrula Nelson," 8.

(32.) Jennifer Isaacs, "Anmatyerre Artist," in Holt et al., 17-23; Jenny Green, Utopia: Women, Country, and Batik (Adelaide Festival Centre Gallery: Alice Springs Printing and Publishing, 1981).

(33.) Jenny Green, "Singing the Silk: Utopia Batik," in Raiki, 38-49.

(34.) In this claim Emily Kngwarreye was particularly involved in painting the designs of her mothers country for which she assumes the responsibilities of kwertengerle. Her silk and acrylics, however, are of her fathers country. It seems to me there is a shift occurring from the ritual division of labor wherein the patriclan members (Warlpiri = kirda) are painted by kwertengerle (Warlpiri = kurdungurlu) to a situation where individuals working in nonceremonial contexts are painting their fathers country. Kathleen Petyarres paintings, however, feature the thorny devil lizard of her mothers country. These are matters for further research, but see Jennifer Biddle, "Inscribing Identity: Skin as Country in Central Desert," in Thinking through the Skin, ed. Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 177-93.

(35.) Julia Murray, "Utopia Batik: The Halcyon Days, 1978-1982," in Raiki, 50-55; Jenny Green, "Utopia Women," in Fighters and Singers, 55-67.

(36.) Green, "Singing the Silk," 47.

(37.) See Green, Utopia.

(38.) Anne-Marie Brody, "Utopia Womens Paintings: The First Works on Canvas-A Summer Project," Exhibition Catalogue (Perth: Heytesbury Proprietry, 1989).

(39.) Anne-Marie Brody, "Utopia-A Picture Story: Eighty-Eight Silk Batiks from the Robert Holmes Court Collection," Exhibition Catalogue (Perth: Heytesbury Proprietry, 1990).

(40.) Sharon Blair, Living the Dreaming: Contemporary Art of Aboriginal Australia (Fullerton: California State University Press, 1993).

(41.) Donald Holt, "Emily, a Personal Memoire," in Holt et al., 143-47; Janet Holt, "Emily Kngwarreye at Delmore Downs, 1989-1996," in ibid., 148-58.

(42.) Chris Kenny, Womens Business (Potts Point, New South Wales: Duffy & Snellgrove, 1996).

(43.) Deane Fergie, "To All the Mothers That Were, to All the Mothers That Are, to All the Mothers That Will Be: An Anthropological Assessment of the Threat of Injury and Desecration to Aboriginal Tradition by the Proposed Hindmarsh Island Bridge Construction," a section 10 report to the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, 1984 (1994). The first Ngarrindjeri application in 1994 for protection of the site was successful. The minister of Aboriginal Affairs agreed to respect their culture and not read the details of their story which they had reluctantly consented to have written and placed in sealed envelopes marked "To be read by women only."

(44.) Iris Stevens, A Report of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge Royal Commission (Adelaide: South Australian Government Printer, 1995). In Australia a Royal Commission is an inquiry directed to be carried out by the executive branch of government. The jurisdiction of the inquiry is defined by its terms of reference. It may be conducted by a judge, a barrister, or any other person. Commissioner Stevens, a retired judge, was asked to inquire whether there had been a deliberate fabrication to thwart development.

(45.) Bell, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin, 99.

(46.) Ibid., 542-44.

(47.) Ibid., 86-87.

(48.) Ellen Trevorrow, "Kumarangk: The Survival of a Battered People," in Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Cosmology and Community, ed. John A. Grim (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 493.

(49.) Jacquelyn Ross, "In the Arms of the Coorong: A Weaving of Hearts and Culture in Australia," News from Native America (spring 1997): 25-27.

(50.) Trevorrow.

(51.) Bell, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin, 573-84.

(52.) Adele Pring, Aboriginal Artists in South Australia (Department of Employment, Education, and Youth Affairs, South Australia: Hyde Park Press, 1998), 97-98.

(53.) Stevens.

(54.) Diane Bell, "The Word of a Woman: Ngarrindjeri Stories and a Bridge to Hind-marsh Island," in Words and Silences: Aboriginal Women, Politics, and Land, ed. Peggy Brock (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2001).

(55.) Bell, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin, 573-86.

(56.) John von Doussa, "Reasons for Decision," Thomas Lincoln Chapman and Others and Luminis Pty Ltd and Others, Federal Court of Australia, No. SG 33 of 1997 (21 Aug. 2001), paras. 317-19, 425-38, 472-73.

(57.) One Ngarrindjeri word for pregnant is kumari, and angk in place names usually means "at."

(58.) Trevorrow.

(59.) Bell, Daughters of the Dreaming, 67-69.

(60.) Bell, Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin, 104-25.

(61.) Ronald Wilson, Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (Sydney: Stirling Press, 1997).

(62.) Howard Morphy and Margo Smith Boles, Art from the Land: Dialogues with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art (University of Virginia, Charlottesville: Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art, 1999). John W. Kluge, influenced by the 1988 Dreamings exhibit in New York, began collecting Aboriginal art, and in 1993 purchased the collection of Edward L. Ruhe, begun in 1965.

(63.) Jennifer Isaacs, Aboriginality, Contemporary Aboriginal Painting, and Prints (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1989).

Diane Bell is director of womens studies and professor of anthropology at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Her research addresses Aboriginal land rights, human rights, Indigenous religions, violence against women, and the writing of feminist ethnography. She has published widely in journals of womens studies, anthropology, law, and history. Her books include Daughters of the Dreaming (Allen & Unwin, 1983; 2d ed., Spinifex, 2002); Generations: Grandmothers, Mothers, and Daughters (McPhee Gribble/Penguin, 1987); Law: The Old and the New (Aboriginal History for Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid, 1980; 2d ed., 1984); Religion in Aboriginal Australia (coedited; University of Queensland Press, 1984; 2d ed., 1992); Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed (coedited; Spinifex, 1996); and the award winning Ngarrindjeri Wurruwarrin: A World that Is, Was, and Will Be (Spinifex, 1998).
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Date:Mar 22, 2002
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