I’ve just returned from an incredible trip out to the Tanami Desert, to spend time at Paruku, an Indigenous Protected Area (also known as Lake Gregory) and Mulan, the local community of about 120 people. Paruku is a truly unique place, a massive lake system surrounded by desert, in the southeast Kimberley region of Western Australia. The lake was once connected to the sea, flowing out near what is now Broome, and has been home to the Walmajarri people for many thousands of years.
Over the last few years, traditional landowners, artists, scientists and writers have been working on The Paruku Project, which aims to build a greater appreciation and sharing of environmental values between Indigenous landowners and second settlers. The project, initiated by artists Mandy Martin and Kim Mahood in April 2011, now involves over 50 people, and includes artists across 2D, 3D and film-based mediums, such as Faye Alexander, Laura Boynes, Basil Hall, Tara Lecke, David Leece, Jacinta, Karen and Veronica Lulu, and Anne Ovi, to mention but a few. The outcome of the project will showcase the artwork at Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs in March 2013, coinciding with the launch of Desert Lake: Art, Science and Stories from Paruku published by CSIRO press, and a documentary in response to this truly incredible place.
While I was there I spent time working in the Warruyanta Arts Centre, and with Cobina Crawford the youth worker, and scores of incredibly enthusiastic kids. Having heard about painting and mapping workshops that had been organised on previous trips, it was fantastic to see the way the local artists worked with Alice Springs based sculptor Faye Alexander, their new approach to found materials and three-dimensional forms fresh and exciting. Dancer and filmmaker Laura Boynes was hard at work shooting and editing masses of footage for the Paruku Project documentary, no mean feat when working 14-hour-plus-days with no power and sleeping in a tent! Later in the week, fellow artist Tara Lecke organised a shadow dancing evening on the basketball court, and scores of smiley kids, teenagers and parents turned up to join in. The kids were quick to get the latest Rap and R&B songs booming out of the stereo, and with a smoke machine billowing away (you never know when you might need one!) the shadow dancing performance quickly turned into an all-in showcase of some of the best booty-dancing, shirt-swinging and karaoke singing I’ve ever seen – somewhere between Bangarra and a Baltimore club.
On our final day, we had the great pleasure to be taken by Monica and Veronica Lulu down to a special place on Lake Paruku to be ‘mudded’, an Indigenous ceremony involving the singing of the lake song and mud being rubbed into the skin. People are ‘mudded’ to protect them from the serpent spirit in the lake, and to welcome them into the Walmajarri lands.