Bula'bula artists produce paintings on canvas and bark

On the road to Ramingining NT

I recently undertook a road trip to deliver a replacement vehicle for my son Damon, who teaches remotely in Ramingining.

Ramingining Community and its surrounding outstations in North Eastern Arnhem Land is home to a varying population of 700-1200 people depending on season and ceremony.

The visit began at the local oval where the Eagles were playing the Hawks in a fast moving kick and mark game with very few stoppages. Good skills were in abundance and the large crowd were vocal supporting their chosen team with children and dogs roaming freely among the spectators. The match ended with an Eagles fight back and surprise win followed by at least 150 spectators rushing the oval to challenge the result. The dispute lasted two days.

The remainder of my time there was spent walking to and from the central meeting point of the community which comprised the sporting oval, food store, medical facility, the Bula’bula Arts Centre as well as Government facilities. I was privileged to be able to sit and chat with locals.

At the shop customers wait patiently to pay for basic foods, constantly chattering in their language and occasionally sharing welfare cards or cash to pay for their goods.

The days are quiet, the dogs lay about sleeping, people move in small groups to and from the shop, the nights are late with loud music, kids playing, small fires burning with family groups sharing food and chattering. Card games are scattered around the community with large groups participating.

Bula’bula Arts is the Aboriginal owned and governed not for profit organisation with a core objective to preserve and foster Yolngu Culture. It is one of Australia’s most significant Art Centres with works from highly recognised artists in collections nationally and internationally.

The Arts centre is the destination for 2-3 visits per week by Outback Spirit carrying 20 visitors from Nhulunbuy via the Arafura wetlands to Ramingining onto Maningrida and Oenpelli communities staying in luxury camps along the way. The visitors welcomed the opportunity to visit this remote and previously inaccessible part of Australia and were spending valuable $$$ weekly in the Arts Centre, a welcome source of employment and income.

It was here I met Guninyirryirr (Frank) who was waiting for the tourist bus to arrive. Frank was proud to tell me he is employed by Outback Spirit to provide cultural experiences and stories for the tour passengers. Hours were spent listening to his proud story of working for Outback Spirit, travelling between communities to meet the bus at its next destination, sharing that his father’s paintings were hanging in Australian art galleries and in his spare time made ‘bush pipes’.

The trip had a snappy ending on the last morning while enjoying a coffee on the road outside my son’s home. A pack of dogs suddenly attacked and managed to bite my calf. Frightening but I managed to escape without further bites. The last morning was spent in excellent care at the Medical Centre being treated by nursing staff.

The contrast with life at home is huge. Cars are not new Landcruisers as popularly believed down south  but well worn, mostly older 4 wheel drives. Sport is played on the local oval without basic facilities unlike the amenities enjoyed at venues here. Election promises by Government only extended to the promise of lighting for the oval. Football games are currently played until darkness halts them.

I left with the strong feeling the original inhabitants of this country are entitled to a lot more understanding and respect from all of us.

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