Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where the #?% is Baz Luhrmann’s and Tourism Australia’s East Kimberley?

Kununurra, the East Kimberley capital, was naturally was one of one of four co-hosts of last night’s premiere of Australia. Most media coverage blithely omitted the obvious (even if you haven’t seen the movie) point, however, that Kununurra and its environs (spectacular, if you don’t know the area) simply aren’t in the movie.

Darwin and Bowen stand in for pre-WWII Darwin, while Kununurra was merely the base for filming at “Faraway Downs”, the cattle station set. Finding out more precisely where “Faraway Downs” is didn’t take too much digging. It appears to be split between Carlton Hill Station (45 km NW of Kununurra) and Digger's Rest Station (60 km W of Kununurra).

The same URL notes that “Local indigenous people journeyed out to the set to conduct a 'welcome to country' ceremony” prior to the “Faraway Downs” filming. It must have been one mighty welcome to have trickled all the way down to Kununurra, so allowing the town to acquire the proxy mantle of being the “Faraway Downs”. Or more likely, near enough is good enough for the media – unless you care about Indigenous niceties, like specific place being something that matters.

Speaking of Indigenous niceties vs European geographical vagueness, there’s a great quote today from a Tourism Australia spokesman, point blank denying that Ambrose Mungala Chalarimeri, an Indigenous elder from around the King George River in the NE Kimberley, could possibly have recognised, from some ad footage, King George Falls (in his own country), or at least that non-Indigenous tourists would be able to put a place name to the ad footage:

"The advertisements do not make any reference to a specific location. Rather, they are about the emotional impact of visiting Australia and the type of experiences people can have here."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Warmun, November 1979

As fundamentalist revolutions raged around the Western and Islamic worlds, a quite different cultural revolution was taking place in the Indigenous community of Warmun (or Turkey Creek as it was then called), in the East Kimberley region of north-western Australia. Not for the first or last time, but perhaps the most spectacular performance (and certainly the best documented) on its home turf, a particular ceremony, the Gurirr Gurirr* (or Krill Krill) occurred. This non-secret Gurirr Gurirr was seminal to the art of the late Rover Thomas, and the Warmun “school” of which Thomas is the best-known artist.

The ceremony was photographed by Kim Akerman, and stills of this have been reproduced in various publications (including True Stories: Artists of the East Kimberley 2003 Dir. James Marshall & Hetti Perkins, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, DVD 32 min). Until researching the subject further today, however, I was not aware that there was any video footage of it in the public domain. The footage can be viewed online here (Chapter 2, between about 4.00 and 6.00).

The film the footage comes from, On Sacred Ground (1980, Film Australia, Robin Hughes – Producer, Oliver Howes – Director or vice versa), has its own story. It seems to have been deliberately suppressed** after it was finished, and (mostly) forgotten about in more recent decades.

What a gem.

* (9/11/08) "Gija people do no know the meaning [of 'Gurirr Gurirr']. Song words are often special words that do not have a meaning known today". Frances Kofod, "Gija glossary", in Paddy Bedford (Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2006) p 137.

** (9/11/08) "On Sacred Ground . . . was banned from being shown overseas. The ban was not lifted until 1983 when it was released for screening by the newly elected Labor government": Brian Syron with Briann Kearney, Kicking Down the Doors, Donobri International Communications, Sydney, 1996, chapter 4 (accessed through Google Books). The filming, editing and release of On Sacred Ground spanned the Noonkanbah and Argyle Diamond Mine native title confiscations of 1979-80. The former, but not the latter, was a cause celebre among white activists at the time. This was despite, or because, the oil-less Noonkanbah soon being proved a fiscal and political red-herring, just after the multi-billion dollar Argyle Diamond Mine was quietly steamrolled ahead. See R.A. Dixon and M.C. Dillon eds,
Aborigines and diamond mining : the politics of resource development in the East Kimberley, Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands WA, 1990, pp 2, 43, 91, 158-60 and 173-78.

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