Turkey Creek, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Warmun
The Kimberley is a region of approximately 420,000 square kilometres (262500 square miles), bordering the Indian Ocean in the northwest corner of Australia. It is a rugged landscape of great variety, from the mountain plateaus of the Durack and King Leopold ranges, to huge inhospitable areas such as the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts, the majestic beauty of the Bungle Bungles, and extensive river systems such as the Fitzroy River. Climate wise, the Northern half of the Kimberley is dominated by the seasonal monsoonal rains controlled by ancestral beings known as Wandjina. To the south and West, Aridity increases, these areas are dominated by the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts. The Kimberley is one of the major areas for rock art in Australia, it is the home of the famous Bradshaw and Wandjina figures which are still painted today. Due to it's isolation and the rugged terrain it was not until the 1880s that European colonisation began in the Kimberley. During this period, towns such as Fitzroy crossing were established. Colonisation also brought much violence to the Kimberley region with a number of massacres in the area, up until the early 20th century.
History and Colonisation
White settlement of the Kimberley began in the early 1800's via the claiming of land by pastoralists with support from the government and police. Colonisation of Aboriginal land resulted in gross mistreatment of the original inhabitants.
"...repeated instances of poisoned flour, enslavement on pastoral stations, ethnocide on missions, deliberate and bloody massacres, rape of Aboriginal women and the kidnapping of children. If Aboriginal stockmen wandered off stations, they were rounded up and led back in neck chains. Permits were required for transit of people between various centres and towns. Aboriginal people were compelled to work hard on mission stations, where sisters and brothers were forced to sleep apart from their parents in segregated dormitories."
Violence in the Kimberley lasted for over 100 years and it was not until the 1920's that acts of genocide and ethnocide began to ceased. Kimberley artist Queenie McKenzie was as young girl a survivor of such a massacre; a number of her tribe were murdered as retribution for killing one of the settler's bullocks. In Queenies print, "Horso Creek Massacre" she describes a similar event that occurred in the 1880's. The mixing of recent history particularly, describing the atrocities and relations between Aboriginal people and white authority, are now part of the Kimberly art lexicon, and unambiguously places much Kimberley art within a political realm.
Kimberley Art and Communities
Covering over 25 Aboriginal tribal zones, the Kimberley is very complex both culturally and linguistically. These differences within the Kimberley are in stark contrast to other regions in Australia; the Western desert region for instance is far more culturally harmonious; tribal groups that make up this area all fall within the same language group (Pama-Nyungan) and use a common set of visual signs within their art.
With the establishment of large cattle stations in the 19thcentury, many Aboriginal people were forced from their land and relocated to communities such as Balgo Hills, Warmun (Turkey Creek), Kununurra, Fitzroy Crossing and Kalumburu. In these towns Pama-Nyungan, Bunuban, Worrorran, Nyulnylan and Jarragan people now live together. While residing primarily within these communities, Aboriginal people of the Kimberley still make frequent trips to their tribal lands for ceremonial obligations and spiritual revival.
Dispossession from their traditional land and years of colonial repression was a major impetus that sparked the development of contemporary painting within the Kimberley. Painting and dance (particularly the revitalisation and creation of Balga song-cycles such as the Krill Krill Ceremony) became the primary way for Aboriginal people to reconnect with their cultural heritage that had been severely weakened through colonisation. The art of the Kimberley stands to reaffirm the original inhabitants land ownership and history; it promotes and validates the importance of Kimberley culture to the outside world, and at a practical level the economic benefits derived from the sale of artwork, give Kimberley indigenous communites a greater autonomy, that in effect allows aboriginal culture to continue despite dispossession.
"Art is means of empowerment for its makers, a political tool in the fight to regain sovereignty of the land and to be allowed to remain themselves"
Turkey Creek, Balgo Hills, Kalumburu and Fitzroy Crossing are particularly important communities for Aboriginal art, with each community representing the major stylistic differences within this culturally diverse region.
Warmun (Turkey Creek)
The community of Warmun (Turkey Creek) is home to such artists as Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Jack Britten, and Freddy Timms. The East Kimberly aesthetic became firmly established during the late 1970's, though the painting of ceremonial boards that are held aloft by dancers during the Krill Krill ceremony. It is these ceremonial boards that became the basis for the first ochre paintings on canvas, which were produced, by Paddy Jaminji and Rover Thomas in the early 1980's. Paintings and prints from Turkey creek normally consist of large flat planes of interlocking colour, generally the palette is restricted to ochres and blacks that are delineated by brilliant white dotting. Artworks from the East Kimberley depict events both contemporary and ancient within the landscape, either from an aerial perspective or a flattened European perspective. The East Kimberley Aesthetic integrates both figurative , abstract and iconographic elements. This aesthetic fusion of figurative elements that express events in recent history and iconographic elements that are charged with significant cosmological meaning, serve to reconcile within an Aboriginal perspective the events since colonisation, effectively integrating this period within Indigenous cosmology.
Queenie McKenzie, The Great Flood of 1922, Screenprint ed. 55 (QM005)Queenies screenprint exemplifies the East Kimberley aesthetic, through its combination of both, traditional iconographic elements and recent historical events.
Probably the most striking example of this fusion lies with the Krill Krill ceremony, which tells the story of the spirit of an old woman who died as a result of a road accident just south of Turkey Creek . The woman's spirit came to Rover Thomas in his dreams just a week after the accident and continued to visit him for many years, each time telling him about her travels across the land with a 'Devil Devil' who instructs her about the spiritual importance and songs related to each place visited.
Though painting, dance and song The Krill Krill Ceremony serves to re-establish important cultural links with the land, environment and cosmology within a contemporary context.
Established as a Benedictine mission in 1907, Kalumburu is a remote community in North-Eastern Kimberley situated on the King Edward River. The art of Kalumburu primarily focuses upon the painting of Wandjina spirit figures that adorn rock galleries and caves thoughout the North-eastern Kimberley. The Wandjina ancestors are powerful spirits, that left there imprint upon the rock walls and caves of the region. They control the monsoonal rains and the revitalisation of both plants, animals and people. Aboriginal artists ceremonially repaint or retouch the Wandjina and through this restoration process, ensure that the Wandjina continue to play their vital role, in the lands ecology. In the 1930's Aboriginal artists began painting the Wandjina on portable supports such as Bark and Board to supply a demand by anthropologists for cultural artefacts that could be collected and placed in museums. The early 1970's saw the beginning of the modern movement when artists such as Charlie Numbulmoore and Alec Mingelmanganu's began using modern materials , since then artists such as Lily, Rosie and Ross Karadada, have expressed the powerful Wandjina figure in a number of materials including Ochres and acrylics on bark, canvas and paper, as well as limited edition prints on paper in the form of screenprints, etching and lithography.
Fitzroy Crossing was originally settled in 1893 as a telegraph depot, but it was not until the 1930's that Aboriginal people began to settle in the community, around the site of a newly established ration station. In 1952 the responsibility for running this station was given to the United Aborigines Mission (UAM). The UAM was strongly opposed to any practice of traditional Aboriginal religion and sought to replace it with christianity. In the 1960's and 70's the Aboriginal population grew rapidly. For the most part due to the laying off Aboriginal workers from cattle stations after the equal wages decision in the 1965 pastoral award case. Acrylic painting began in Fitzroy crossing with the establishment of an adult education centre at the town in 1982. Like the artists of Warmun (Turkey Creek) artists from Fitzroy crossing combine personal and modern events with traditional dreamtime stories. Through the establishment of Mangkaja Arts Centre, painting became a way of rediscovering and strengthening important cultural and cosmological links to the Dreamtime and the land. Important Aboriginal artists from Fitzroy Crossing include, Jimmy Pike, Butcher Cherel Janangoo and Peter Skipper The art from Fitzroy Crossing is very distinctive, utilising freely drawn, flowing designs that are executed with vibrant colour, The work primarily depicts the sacred land of the artist either from an aerial perspective, typical in desert iconography to more figurative images of the country that are combine desert iconography with a European perspective which utilises the horizon line. Influence of the Christian missionaries still remains today, and like many Aboriginal people from this community, artists such as Peter Skipper, Jarinyanu David Downs and Hector Jandany practise a religion that incorporates both Christian and Aboriginal beliefs. The expression of Christian cosmology within art occurs to a greater or lesser extent and is a personal decision of the artist. For example, Peter Skipper, does not depict Christian subject matter in this work, as he explains "I don't want to mess around with God". In contrast Jarinyanu David Downs and Hector Jandany often incorporate Christian beliefs with traditional Aboriginal stories in their paintings. For instance Jarinyanu interprets the story of Moses and the ten commandments as parallel to the Aboriginal story of the two men "wati kujarra", who during the dreamtime established the laws for Kukatja, Wangajunka and Walmajarri tribes. Far from dissipating Traditional Aboriginal spirituality, this liberal incorporation of Christianity within Aboriginal cosmology has awakened a sense of place and spirituality, that has lead to the innovative creation of new ceremony and art.