Images and annotations exploring the nature and culture of Australia's tropical deep north
Another painting and story from Jacky Green, pictured a long way from home for a big city exhibition of his works in 2013.
Jacky Green, 2013, Private Collection
This painting is about Irinju one of the ancestral beings from a region that is now within Soudan Station in the Northern Territory. This is the place where I was born under a coolabah tree in one of the creek beds running out from the main creek at Soudan Station. The creek where I was born is in an old devil devil story for that country. We call the old devil devil Irinju. He lives under the ground and used to send his hand up out of the creek bed to pick wild oranges from a tree that grew on the hill, west of Soudan Station. When old devil devil was taking the oranges he was stealing them from another old fella from the area where the tree grew. He kept pinchin’ them. That old fella kept wondering why his wild oranges were going missing all the time. To find out what was going on he decided to watch the tree. He’d count the oranges and then go back and see that some more had
gone. He figured that old devil devil was pinchin’ them. So he went to the wild orange tree and waited. It wasn’t long until he saw old devil devil’s hand come up out of the earth and take the wild oranges from the tree. Right away, that old fella, he got his stone axe out and cut the hand off the
arm. The hand fell down and made a big hole, right there. When old devil devil pulled his arm back into the earth it was going everywhere, all over, waving back and forth. It was this action that made the creek bed and that’s right where I was born in the elbow of Irinju, right there, in Wakaya
Heart of Country, 2013,
Jacky Green (centre above), Drill Hall Gallery, ANU
The heart represents the life of the country. It’s the heart of Aboriginal people and the country, together, as one. Through the heart runs a river. Rivers are important places for us Aboriginal people. They always have been. Country needs water. On the left-hand side at the top are four people. These figures represent the mining company and government. They work together to take what they want from us. Below them are the drilling rig, grader and dozer all belonging to the mining company who are comin’ into to our country and damaging it. In the middle of the heart are the four clan groups of the Borroloola region. The Garawa, Gudanji, Mara and Yanyuwa. The line with four people sittin’ down are the singers of the four clan groups. Yanyuwa in red, Mara black and red, Gadanji yellow one and Garawa brown. Above them in the heart are their dancers. It’s though our song and dance that we pass the knowledge and law of the country. Above the heart is what the country used to be like. Beautiful, with everything there for us, lots of bush-tucker and water. But when you got all this machinery comin’ into our country you start to get damage. People and bush-tucker pushed aside having to move somewhere else, sometimes dyin’. You can see the area around the miners is empty no bush-tucker and no Aboriginal people. This no good.
Love and respect have kept artist and activist Jack Green and Josie Davey together now for 10 years and blessed them with two gorgeous kids, Jackie and Shantrelle. But on Monday this week, 150 people from the four main indigenous language groups from the south-western Gulf country around Borroloola gathered in the bush to see them formalise that relationship in a unique wedding ceremony. The wedding was in a special “something old, something new” style, drawing on indigenous symbolism and the making of lifelong social contracts, not just between individuals but between families. Jack and Josie want to bring back the best of their traditions, traditions that have been worn down by more than a century of colonisation. The families gathered around two bush shelters in the soft light of the late afternoon out of town near Jack’s camp. In one bough shade, Jack and men from clans he connects to painted up and began singing to the beat of clapsticks and the drone of a didgeridoo — with Jack playing the didgeridoo. A little way off Josie and women sat and painted up the bride and also her bush “bridesmaids”. A chanting chorus and escort of women elders walked with Josie to a central point where, holding her father’s hand she left her women folk and walked towards the party of Jack’s clan coming from the east. Jack and Josie’s hands entwined and they walked back towards the groom’s shade. Speeches were made… about the importance of ceremony and preserving Aboriginal law. The ceremony now links Jack in a special ceremonial obligation to Josie’s clan, a relationship symbolised by the passing of a burning firestick. Says Jack: “Ceremonies like this symbolise long relationships between families and clans. It’s like if there’s a ceremony on, the groom has to dance for the bride’s brother. I have to dance for that fella, because I’m married to that fire, to that sister of his. I’m tied in there now under our law. And like you have to look after fire, I have to look after and take care of Josie for the rest of my time”. As the ceremony concluded with a feast of rib bones from a ground oven, road trains from the McArthur River Mine roared past only a hundred metres away, carrying ore to the port at Bing Bong. But that’s another story, and not a happy one like this.
7 o’clock this morning at the McArthur River mine — the smoke is from out-of-control chemical reactions deep inside the mountain of waste rock. There’s no doubt this is an environmental disaster — the only question is … Just how big a disaster?
This is what Jack Green and the rest of Aboriginal people who live at Borroloola have been protesting about. Watch this space. Just finished a 1000km drive today.
When I pulled into the Hi Way Inn at lunchtime today after a 600km drive from Darwin I thought I’d driven onto the set of Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. Surrounded by a fairly parched landscape at this time of year, the roadhouse has plenty of water, shade from a grove of exotic African Mahogany trees and plenty of pickings from the passers by. The roost at the Hi Way Inn is ruled by Apostle Birds (Struthidea cinerea)— at least 150 of them, making a huge racket and being the wildly social creatures they are. They squabbled over scraps, huddled together, groomed one another frantically and generally made whoopee. Apostle birds, so named because they are usually in family groups of about a dozen have quite few other common names — grey jumpers, happy families and lousy jacks, the last being name I was given for them as a kid in Queensland. From the frenzy of grooming happening they do seem prime mite hosts, or else they have a grooming fetish. The birds around the Hi Way Inn and Daly Waters are part of a separate Northern Territory population unconnected to the main populations all down eastern Australia. The Northern Territory population doesn’t get as far north as Katherine and covers maybe 20% of the Territory. At a distance they look fairly drab, but up close they are a handsome and appealing bird. Drove on to Borroloola to finish a 940 km day.
Today another painting by Jack Green, artist and activist from Borroloola in the Gulf Country of Australia’s Northern Territory. Jack explains the message:
Jacky Green 2012, Private Collection
These are the four clan or language groups around Borroloola. On the left in white and black at the top are the Yanyuwa. To the right of them are the Mara. Underneath in yellow and black are Gudanji, with Garawa on the right in black and white. While we are four different groups we are all related through ceremony, culture, land and marriage. The circle represents the ceremony that ties us together. The boat in the centre represents a prau that the Macassans used to sail from Indonesia to the Gulf of Carpentaria. My great-grandfather saw one of these and he went and painted it on his country at a cave at Spring Creek. The Macassans are part of our history; they came long before white people. We traded with them.
In the box at the top of the painting are three groups of people. On the left are Aboriginal people wondering what’s going on. In the middle are pastoralists. On the right are government people. This represents us as separate groups, not working together. On the right are four boxes. At the top is a government man. The man with white hair represents the boss of the mine, not caring about what happens to our country. Below him are miners. At the bottom are two miners standing in front of some rock art. They don’t care about the rock art or our sacred sites. They go looking for them,
taking pictures, or they ignore them when the mines go in.
Earlier today I posted a news story reporting on the indigenous protest about the cultural and environmental damage from the Xstrata mine at McArthur River.
Jacky Green is an artist and cultural warrior fighting for his people against the might of Xstrata.
This painting and his story below gives some background to this struggle.
……from Jacky Green 2013, Private Collection
Mount Isa Mines Limited was the company that first owned the McArthur River Mining lease from the 1950s to 2003. When they first came to the Gulf they were doing tests and drilling to see if they could make an underground mine. The traditional owners of the place wasn’t happy with it, but they said alright because they are going to do it underneath the ground and not damage the property on top it, so they let it happen. But when Xstrata Mining Company took over the lease in 2003 they didn’t respect the agreement that we had with the mining company.
This painting tells the story of our fight with Xstrata Mining Company and how they expanded McArthur River mine from an underground to an open cut mine making it one of largest lead-zinc-silver mines in the world. The mine is built right on the resting place of The Rainbow Serpent. It’s a
spiritually powerful place, real powerful.
The men standing at the bottom of the painting represent the junggayi (Boss for Country) and the
Minggirringi (Owner of Country). Together, these are the people who have responsibility for protecting country. They are powerless, just staring at what is happening to their country, to the animals and sacred sites. They are afraid the land is being poisoned. They have to stand on the
outside of the mine lease, they can’t walk freely on their own country because the mine has restrictions and we can’t enter unless they say so.
Near the airport you can see a tree. This is the place where the Turtle rests. The Turtle is an ancestral
being and part of The Rainbow Serpent story. The tree is a powerful place and only the junggayi can go there. Women, children and young boys can’t go near the tree because it’s too powerful. If anything like kangaroo, stone, fish, turtle or sugarbag is in the area it can only be touched by the
Junggayi. But now the miners are there, not the junggayi. That’s not right
White Fellas Work Like White Ants, Jacky Green 2014, Waralungku Arts
I call this painting ‘White fellas work like white ants’ because it tells the story of how white fellas force their development projects on us and our country.
On the left of the painting is the white fella bulldozer pushing over what he thinks is just a tree. But it’s not. It’s a sacred site tied in with the songlines that run through our country. Above the bulldozer is a white ant. White ants destroy things.
On the right of the painting I show how white ants attack and kill healthy trees. The white ants find the weak spot, like a decaying root, they get in there and slowly start eating the tree from the inside out until they kill it.
This is what white fellas do to us, Indigenous people, when they want to get us to agree to one of their development projects. They find the weak ones in our cultural groups. They look after them. They use them to sell their plans, and to tell us there will be jobs and goods things for the development project.
This way of working always causes conflict amongst our people. It starts to eat away at our cultural groups and communities from the inside out, just like white ants do.
When they pick us Aboriginal people off and separate the weak ones from our cultural groups they killing them and our culture. I symbolise this in my painting by the body hung by the neck in the tree. The person is separated and isolated from the cultural group and might as well be dead.
White fellas they just work like white ants.
— picture and story from Jacky Green.