Family groups belong to certain territories with spiritual connections and obligations to their country.
The Alyawarra people have knowledge of Dreaming for their country – the Central Desert region of Australia – about many things including water holes, bush medicines, food and landmarks.
Parts of this knowledge are passed on and represented through song, dancing, and art.
Kulanada is the source of all life, and the benevolent protector of the land and its people but will punish law-breakers.
There is no image of Kulanada because the Ampilatwatja community made a conscious decision not to paint altyerr (dreaming stories).
Language is not just a means of communication. It helps create a sense of identity and belonging. It is also an important way for cultural knowledge to be passed on.
Only 13 traditional indigenous languages are currently being passed on to children. There are another 100 or so languages spoken by older generations, and these are at risk of being lost as Elders pass away.
2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages. It created a dramatic resurgence of interest in preserving and strengthening indigenous languages, and to make sure they are passed on to the next generation.
Alyawarra-speaking communities include Mt Isa, Ilperrelhelam (Lake Nash), Awerrethel (Canteen Creek), Alepeyewenh (Hatches Creek), and Epenarra.
Alternative names for Alyawarra include: Alyawarr, Aljawara, Ilaura, and Yowera.
These songs were created as part of a four week Desert Pea Media mentoring program in the remote desert community of Ampilatwatja in Australia's Northern Territory in 2013.
The structure of Alyawarra society is based on two reciprocally named patrilineal moieties each of which contains two sections – Pitjarra and Ngkwarriya, and Upurla and Kimarra. Banjo Morton’s ‘skin name’ was Pitjarra.
There are also different sets of rights and responsibilities passed on through their mother’s father, their father’s mother, and their mother’s mother.
This sense of belonging to country through 'mother’s side' puts people in a kwertengeri-kurdungurlu (manager/worker) relationship with the land and to the patrilineal members of the community.
As well as containing knowledge of water holes, bush medicines, food, and landmarks, the artwork has a positive impact on strengthening the Alyawarra cultural expression.
Most of the Alyawarra artists paint Arreth (strong bush medicine). Every plant and animal has a role to play in sustaining the Alyawarra people.
In keeping with their beliefs, the artists reveal only a small amount of their traditional knowledge. This allows the paintings to be seen by uninitiated people.
The artists talk about two levels of information: 'inside' stories which are restricted to those of appropriate ritual standing, and “outside” stories which are open to all.
The Artists of Ampilatwatja community was established in 1999 near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Art from Ampilatwatja is exhibited around Australia and the world.
Lilly has painted her country, Antarrengeny. The brightly coloured flowers and small bushes are bush medicine and are still used within the community. Lilly’s landscapes beautifully communicate the rich knowledge she possesses of both medicinal plants and country, the heart of her culture.
As a young girl, Lilly lived traditionally off of the land with her family and Alyawarra people. In Lilly’s lifetime, she has experienced and borne witness to the irreversible changes to country and way of life that had been unaltered for thousands of years.
This painting shows the layered landscape of Alyawarr, Central Australia. Knowing your country is an important part of living in a remote community like Ampilatwatja. Knowing when and where to go hunting and gathering, knowing where there is ‘soakage’ (where you can dig for water), travelling with family for ceremonies, and maintaining a connection with the land.
“This is my country, my view of country.”
Colleen’s paintings often depict her Grandfather’s country where her family have hunted for many years. As a child she was taught about the bush medicines and plants that grew there and how to gather them. The elders would teach the importance of looking after country and that the sacred ancestral spirits watch over and protect the animals and plants. The layers of Colleen’s paintings are as detailed and complex as the stories she paints.
Colleen is one of the original artists in the Utopian batik movement in the 1980’s and has been successfully painting ever since.
“My Mother, Lilly Kemarre, taught me to paint. Julieanne’s painting’s are inspired by her Mother’s stories of the old days, walking and living on their land, and also of her own experience of life in Alyawarra country.
“The landscape changes during the different seasons in the year. I paint the dried flowers and bushes from last season as well as the new plants that come after the rain. These plants have special meanings and uses for us. I have been taught how to read the country, and now I teach my children these skills.”
Antarrengeny is Edie’s country and also her Father’s. In this painting Edie depicts Antarrengeny, “when there has been no rain and the land shimmers like jewels. It is the open flat country, after a bushfire, when only the young grasses and the trees are growing and where there is good hunting.”
Edie has a strong connection to Antarrengeny. She gave birth to two of her daughters ‘out bush’ on this land. It is her country and she loves it dearly.
Daisy has painted her Mother’s country, “Kngwarraye” country. Kngwarraye is one of the four main skin names of Ampilatwatja.
Bush medicine, goanna and many other traditional bush foods are found here. This is where Daisy’s traditional laws lie. Daisy paints her country to keep her culture strong.
The Artists of Ampilatwatja talking about their country and bush medicine plants.