In March 2012 I moved to Central Australia to work for an Aboriginal art company. I mainly worked in Kintore and Kiwirrkurra, remote Aboriginal communities situated in the Western Desert between Alice Springs and Port Hedland.
The other day I read an email I sent to my Dad when I first went out bush. It made me squirm. The discomfort and amazement of my first experience of community life all came flooding back, along with my annoying commentary and useless, uninformed analysis. What a jerk. What a white person.
Since moving to the desert, working there and then leaving I have described my experiences many times. I want people to know about that country which is so far away from what the rest of us call Australia. But at the same time who am I to put words to that place? I don’t know anything.
One of the daily highlights at the studio was the crazy outfits worn by the ladies I worked with. Loud florals and aggressive animal prints, paired together with the odd bit of tie-dye and a football jersey or a flannel shirt. In the middle of nowhere with weeks of unfilled time ahead of me, I began drawing and painting. I showed my efforts to the ladies, and they mostly looked at me like I was crazy and kindly said palya, which means good (as in ‘oh, that’s nice, whatever it is – keep trying’...).
I moved to the desert to get away from my life. I saw some things I would never have seen otherwise and I met some people who changed the way I think about things. I ran around an airstrip in the middle of nowhere, countless times. I lost my baby fat running around that track. I yelled at dogs chasing me, I showered an old lady; some kids threw some rocks at me. I danced topless in the middle of nowhere on a slab of granite with bird signs painted in ochre across my chest. I changed ripped up tyres. I lost my shit, and cried like a baby. I had the best laughs at my own expense, even when I got itchy. My best friend died in a car accident at the end of it all and I had to leave suddenly. I went home and I tried to figure out how to say goodbye to her. I painted the whole time and these paintings gave me somewhere to put it all down.
Australia. It is an idea made up by white people and imposed onto everyone else. It is a place I will never really know, even if I live my whole life here. Art making is a kind of fiction too. I’ve read about art and written about art and thought about art over and over again, only to feel like I am getting further away from what it means to make art or what constitutes an artwork. Maybe that’s what being an adult is – admitting that your life amounts to moving stuff from one place to another. You pick something up and put it down somewhere and then you pick something else up or decide to just walk away with nothing for a while until you find something new to carry around with you. And then you put that down somewhere too. And you feel some things along the way.