As part of Colin Biggers & Paisley’s commitment to protecting the legal and cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, a team of thirteen people including Managing Partner, Nick Crennan, and the Arts Law Centre of Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Robyn Ayres, travelled to Central Australia from 19 – 25 August and trekked more than 70 km of Watarrka and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks. In doing so, the team, which was made up of people from our Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne offices raised funds to help facilitate the employment of a solicitor at Arts Law.
Days one through four of the Challenge took place at Watarrka – approximately 300 km north east of Uluru. Here, the group stayed at Kings Creek Station, a functioning cattle and camel station owned by Arrente man, Ian Conway. Ian joined the team for dinner on the team’s final night at the station and shared stories about his family’s history in Central Australia; an impressive lineage that can be traced accurately back to the 1840s.
Watarrka National Park plays host to the Kings Canyon Rim Walk (6 km), the Giles Track (22 km) and the Kathleen Springs Walk (2.4 km), all of which were accomplished by the trekkers. The terrain is undulating and the Giles Track in particular presented both a physical and mental challenge for the team. To complement their new appreciation for this land a visit to Karrke Cultural Centre was made and an introduction to local culture was given by owners Peter Abbott and Christine Breaden. The highlight for all was tasting freshly gathered Maku – otherwise known as witchetty grub – a surprisingly tasty morsel.
The final few days of the Challenge were spent in and around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The first morning was devoted to visiting the Mutitjulu Community, which is home to traditional owners of Uluru and its surrounds. It was a huge privilege to be invited to the Mutitjulu Community in which lies the Maruku Arts Warehouse, a working space for artists who make up the Maruku Arts Centre. After a cuppa and a yarn, the group was shown how to create a Kali (non-returning boomerang) from scratch and given the opportunity to design their own Walka boards using white-hot metal rods and paints in ochre-inspired tones.
Spending the morning with some of the artists who form the Maruku Arts Centre was invaluable and reinforced why the team had undertaken the Artists in the Black Challenge. Nelly Patterson, Senior Anangu lore woman and founding member of Maruku Arts shared one of her stunning art works and explained its meaning, incorporating the importance of the passing down of Tjukurpa – the ancient lore of the desert. Without the help of Arts Law’s Artists in the Black program, artists like the ones who are part of the Maruku Arts collective may be vulnerable to commercial ventures that are not advantageous to them or their communities or be at risk of having their creations stolen or misappropriated. Of Artists in the Black, Managing Partner, Nick Crennan said “This program makes such an important contribution to autonomy and resilience in these communities, offering these artists hope and opportunity. It is a wonderful cause and we are very committed to supporting it.”
A visit to the base of Uluru, with insight into local lore and history delivered by Anangu woman, Sarah Dalby, followed the morning at Maruku Arts. The stories Sarah shared further emphasised the sacred nature of Uluru and its surrounds and the relationship of the people to the land on which Uluru and Kata Tjuta sit.
Friday morning’s Valley of the Winds walk, which runs in and around Kata Tjuta provided the foundation for that afternoon’s Patji tour, led by Vance, an Anangu man. On this tour the group was invited beyond the boundary of the National Park and onto Aboriginal-owned and controlled land known as “Patji”. Vance was incredibly generous with the group and shared stories of his nomadic ancestors and their struggle to regain their land once the tourism industry took hold of the area. The AITBC team was told the story of Lungkata, the Blue Tongue Lizard Man, which makes up part of the Tjukurpa surrounding Uluru. Very little Tjukurpa is able to be divulged to non-Anangu people but Lungkata, along with methods for hunting and certain significant sites were allowed to be passed on to the group.
The Challenge concluded with an early morning visit to Bruce Munro’s “Field of Light”, an installation of tens of thousands of handcrafted, coloured lights inspired by the desert as the sun rose over Uluru and Kata-Tjuta.
The Artists in the Black Challenge left participants feeling inspired and enriched by newly gained cultural experiences. Olivia Boyages, a graduate from Colin Biggers & Paisley’s Sydney office took part in the Challenge after working on a few pro bono matters for the Artists in the Black program during her rotation through the Commercial Dispute Resolution group. She said “the Challenge seemed to provide the opportunity not only to raise funds for the Arts Law Centre’s program, but also to engage with the Indigenous community from whom I would be able to gain a greater understanding of their arts and culture.”