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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