In this painting Jacky Green (centre, playing the didgeridoo) reflects on change and continuity in culture, against a background of strangers using country who don’t understand the meanings that lie in the landscape and the special relationship of indigenous people to their country.

The Land is our Life
Jacky Green, 2013, Private Collection
Like many of my paintings I’m looking at the time past and present. This painting is of the region now known as McArthur River Station. Before, when there wasn’t much white people in this country, the Gudanji could still live on their land. The place in the painting is where there is an important waterfall and billabong and where there used to be lots of kangaroos and goanna nearby. It was always good for hunting. It is also a really important ceremony ground. In the painting are Gudanji women singing and dancing. The song they are singing is associated with the waterfall. It’s a women’s song. The singers are sitting on white plastic chairs like so many of us do these days. The crocodile is from a time long ago, when he snuck up on a hunter bloke to eat him, but the hunter saw him and killed him. The kangaroos represent one of the song-lines in the country when the kangaroo was travelling through on his way to Kaiana. The song-line comes in over the escarpment. I’ve made some small arrow marks to represent his journey. The helicopter represents the present time when people fly in to take tourists; the tourist operators are always looking for good place to take tourists. Most of the time they don’t realise that the billabongs and waterfalls and other places are really important to us Aboriginal people and they shouldn’t be there without us to guide and protect them. The story I want people to take from this painting is when they see our country they remember that besides the trees, hills and waterways there are lots of important things that they can’t see. These are powerful things. Things that we know about from our songs and under our law we have to protect and care for them. No whitefellas can do this.

Another powerful picture and story from artist and activist Jack Green in Borroloola. Traditional owners in the Borroloola area are struggling against the powerful alliance of government and big business. They say Xstra’s mine and disregard for the environment is killing country and culture.
Read what Jack has to say…
FIFO —Jacky Green, 2012, Private Collection
I call this painting Fly In and Fuck Off. It tells the story how the government mob and mining mob fly into our country to talk at us. They fly in and tell us one thing and then they say they will be comin’ back but we never see them again. They fly in, use complicated words and then fly right back out,
real quick. The people sitting on the ground in the painting are us Aboriginal people. We all focused on the government people standing with their whiteboard. The bring ladies in sometimes who do all the talkin’. But we not really understandin’ what they sayin’. Many of us don’t read and write so the words on the board mean nothing. It’s really hard, getting our heads around what it really means.
That’s why some of them just sittin’, scratchin’ their heads and others they got their hands up wantin’ to ask questions. Why they here in our country? The government story doesn’t go through to us properly. Their paperwork and their story always two different things. They just put something
in front of us and when they think they got it right they outta here real quick and we don’t know what they really meant. This top-down way of talking with us been going on too long. Things gotta change. We want things to be explained to us proper way so we can sit and talk about it amongst
ourselves. We’ll be switched on then and make our own decision to say yes or no. None of this “gotta
hurry up ‘cos our aeroplane is leavin”. They gotta give us time. No more of this Fly In and Fuck Off stuff!

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.

People of the Deep North: Jacky Green is a Garawa-speaking artist, activist and cultural warrior from Borroloola in Australia’s Northern Territory. He was born in 1953 in a creek bed on Soudan station in the Northern Territory where is father was working at the time. School was the bridle and the blanket, learning on the pastoral stations. He was taught traditional Law by his grandfathers, father, uncles and other senior kin. His early life was spent working as a stockman on pastoral stations in the Gulf Country.
His extensive knowledge of the Gulf Country and its peoples was developed through ceremony, song, hunting, fishing and gathering, and travelling through Country with the old people. For the past thirty years he has worked tirelessly with the Indigenous peoples of the Gulf; fighting first, to get country back in Aboriginal ownership, and then to protect and care for it.
In 2005, he, along with other Garawa and Waanyi people, started the Garawa and Waanyi/Garawa Ranger groups to care for over 20,000 square kilometres of ancestral land, and to create meaningful work in a remote and challenging region with few employment opportunities.
He says he started painting to get his voice out.
“I want to show people what is happening to our country and to Aboriginal people. No one is listening to us. What we want. How we want to live. What we want in the future for our children. It’s for these reasons that I started to paint. I want government to listen to Aboriginal people. I want people in the cities to know what’s happening to us and our country. I want the government and mining companies to know that we are still here. We aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t dead yet. We are still here, feeling the country.”
He works through Waralungku Arts in Borroloola and has exhibited at two solo shows in Melbourne (2013) and Sydney (2014) as well as a combined show in Sydney (2014) with Yanyuwa and Garawa artists Nancy McDinny and Stewart Hoosan. His artworks are held in numerous and private and public collections.
(Thanks to Jacky and Sean Kerins for this bio).