Journal - Mulan Paints, 2004
Text in ( italics) was added for at the time of transcribing.
Mulan is a small Aboriginal Community in the East Kimberley, Australia
Day 1: 14.6.04
Monday- The first day is the hardest (let us hope that is the truth) Spoke with Bryan and Helen (community store managers) about storing materials, a good solution found being the wet season cool room, so unpacked the Hilux, masonite and paints. I now have the key to the padlock for the compound so can come and go without having to bother the store keepers.
Peter (partner, working on a building project in the community at this time), and I has a tour of our accommodation. I guess we expected what we found. The detritus of life in a community. Stove not working, leaking plumbing, no hot water (all indicative of the lack of maintenance programme) and 'stuff' covering most floors, nailed on window security etc, etc. great spaces and outlook but no time saving devices or a clean surface other than the stainless steel sink. (For 8 weeks we had no phone, internet or TV, evenings were generally spent sitting around the fire, listening to music and going to bed early and reading,' just like the old days'. Which old days was that?)
Leah was trying to get a cleaning team organised but she decided to go to Balgo (closest settlement about 40 k away), and would be back this afternoon, she warned me about the green snake that lives near the house.
A few people asking when the painting would begin? Monica ( senior person and painter), says "wait till Fatimah comes back" ( Fatimah is a senior person and perhaps the most established painter in the community) , thinking she will be back in a day or two. Later on I hear she will be away for about 3 weeks. A setback for the project.
Rang Arts WA to clarify funding as it was not specified what their contribution is for although it was assumed for artists fees and as 4 senior artists are now no longer here (since writing the submission 3 had passed away and one had gone into care in Halls Creek) I wanted to know how the money was to be used.
Arts WA need a 'request for variation', which means finding other artists in the community that have a 'profile'.
And that was the morning.
P.M. Spoke with Margaret W., she is keen to paint but is on 'Centrelink' but "Mark could give me food vouchers" ( Mark Mulan administrator), She says "whatever the young people paint Monica (her mother), will say you can't do that"
Visited the accommodation, no movement on the cleaning. Possibility of moving into a teacher 1 bedroom flat when one of the teachers leaves if I do some work at the school.
Spoke with Sam, ( administrator at Warlayirti, arts centre at Balgo), about other Mulan artists that have a 'profile' not much more than what we already have. That is the finish for the work for the day, feeling a little more 'on top of things'
Day 2: 15.6.04
Secured a tape measure!! Spoke with Gary ( CDEP coordinator), about CDEP payments, $10.85 for all with unlimited hours and 'top up' if there is money left ( ArtsWA grant paid 'top up') . Began organising a meeting for tomorrow to discuss what will be appropriate to go on the panels but after asking Shirley ( white world savvy whose mother is a traditional owner (T.O.) and is often called on by us karitya to liaise with the community) to be there, she mentioned she would be taking a car load of T.O.s to Bililuna for a meeting so we will meet on Thursday.
Spent the afternoon cleaning our new home.
Day 3: 16.6.04
Put up meeting notice. 10am, Church Bough Shelter.
Got prepared for meeting, spoke with lots of people but no meeting as such, no Shirley. Spoke with Shirley later and she was with some tourists. She recognises she is the essential ingredient for people coming together. Let's try Monday.
Later; Cut some panels and primed some boarder pieces as Leah is keen to start over the weekend. On my way home Anna J ( senior women), was standing by the store and I mentioned "the meeting didn't happen maybe Monday", she said "Plenty time" I agreed!!!
Day 5 : 18.6.04
Began priming the big panels. Took half an hour to stir the lumps off the bottom of the tin, I think the tin has sat in Streeter and Male, Broome for a decade and when adding the tint didn't bother to really stir it. Collected a big roll of paper that surrounds the new vinyl floor covering going into the 'house upgrades' to draw up a 'plan' for the panels. A day of small steps.
Day 6: 21.6.04
General 'put around the word of a painting panels talk'. Shirley arrived to rally the troops. Anna J stated her ideas and had to go and see Mark. Monica sat with Kim ( kartiya whom has spent a lot of time with the Mulan people over the years), and I with the big sheets I had drawn up . We made lists of possible subject matter and also wrote the Walmajarri words, I found it impossible to write the language words but fortunately Kim has an ear for it. ( Over time with much patience from the women I did learn these words). Monica was fantastically patient with the words and then began to draw bush tucker and medicine. Bessie and May also contributed.
Day 7: 22.6.04
Decanted paints into small containers while waiting for the bush medicine trip( organised by Palyalatju Maparnpa Health based in Balgo) to get underway, getting organised to leave was a journey in itself, collecting digging 'poles' and shovels and passengers and then back again. Drove past Robbies Bore to Broncos Yard. On the way passed through 'productive' black head python country. The women went wild - 7 blackhead.
Arrived at the water hole and sat discussing plants while the women who caught snakes gutted/kura their snakes. Tea and bread.
Day 8: 23.6.04
Finished decanting the paints , today was to be the day to get paint onto the panels and as I did the above I wondered if that would happen, and it did. Leah came and chose paints and we got her organized in the childcare room. ( She was apprehensive about painting in a visible position).Wendy and I primed more panels in a prominent position near the office and now have a few takers for small panels for tomorrow.
Day 9: 24.6.04
Serious painting begins, Wendy and Shirley Y are ready to start a 9. Leah, Anna J, Monica and Lena W come along a bit later; it was a good amount of people for the space and coordination. Monica began on the big bush tucker panel everyone else did a small one.
Began documenting the panels. ( As the painters worked they told me any relevant information about the subject and gave a name to the panel. It was this process that enabled me to develop a Walmarjarri vocabulary.)
Day 10: 25.6.04
A few unsustained starts - Friday is not a good day for concentration. Brian and Anna Y came and did a small panel each. Brian's bird looked beautiful with the final touches by Anna. The blue with white spots have made my day. Shirley Y and Monica worked on the big bush tucker panel.
Day 11: 28.6.04
Mantra for the day 'Embrace the uncertainty' Wendy was ready to start before nine, she finished her panel. The 'cultural tourism' course took out many painters however Leah put in nearly an hour on her panel, we had a talk about her work. Anna J ( her mother-in-law,) had said, "she should make it more simple" Leah will stick to her style, carefully fully dotted. The Lulu's are back.
Met Noonie, she offered to work with the children next week. Wendy started a new panel. Magda M started a small panel and will be back. Karen L stared and finished a small panel. Monica and Leah did a little more on the big panel. Leah refined Monica's people and mungari ( food space, Monica is Leah's grandmother). In a quiet moment organised Teresita and Keifer( pre-schoolers) for little panels. Leah then used them as background. Great. After the morning session I had energy to get the paints out this afternoon no adult painters but 4 young girls sat and completed a small panel each. Karen L wanted to know if we would be painting tomorrow, yes, enthusiasm.
Day 13: 30.6.04
Noonie was first on the canvas working with 2 kids, handprints that she worked on with lines and dots. Big mob of painters and 2x 500x 1200 panels worked on until completion, a sustained effort by the Wise women, Fatimah and Noonie. And some great small panels. The regular painters, Wendy, Leah and Monica did not paint today, were they frightened of by the crowd. The 500x 1200 was worked on by several painters, a productive calm atmosphere prevailed.
P.M. primed further panels. Due to a threat of violence in the office there will be no more CDEP work until the issue of the violence is resolved.... Maybe no painting tomorrow.
Day 14: 1.7.04
As it tuned out very little painting not because of the office incident which was resolved but Kim Mahood was having an opening/explanation day at the Women's Centre, Kumirrki Ngurra and I agreed to take all the painting gear there so as not to split the women's community. It was an effort to get it there, two big panels plus others. The women's meeting went well but was not well attended by the younger women as was commented on by the women that were there. There was painting about ½ hour before sunset and a flurry of kids wanting to paint, this stressed me after a big day. Finally got a satisfactory answer from Arts WA about the cheque.
Day 15: 2.7.04
A big morning. Unpacked all the equipment at the church ready for the unexpected. It was a focused productive quiet morning of painting. Some new painters Phillipa G and Jessica L, Karen's daughter also stated a panel after helping her mother. Fatimah began working on a corner of the big bush tucker panel and 'spread'. Robyn W and Monica also began filling in with beautiful colours. Against my better judgement delivered a big panel and paint to Francis F. Noonie stated he would do a men's panel. This morning as she was walking home she said she would help him... Later: Apparently Noonie has left the community.
Day 16: 5.7.04
Community meeting this morning to discuss rubbish around the community and then a clean up. One comment being 'you can't go out hunting all the time, there's work to do around the community'
Didn't get the paints out until about 10. Fatimah, Jacinta L and Monica worked on the big panel Karen L finished hers. Went to the school after mungarri ( morning food break) to speak with the children about the project and the first of the 4's came over. They approached their boards cautiously but once a bit more relaxed got into it, lots of snakes, some blackhead some rainbow.
Fatimah and Jacinta continued late into the afternoon. I thought they had finished the big panel today, Fatimah says tomorrow. The hard question for tomorrow. Do artists mind other artists going over their work to 'bring it out'? And, to get more painters back on the job.
Day 17: 6.7.04
Another big day. Prepared all the paints for the day. First of the kids came over from the school at 9.30 and adult painters began to arrive as well. 3 new painters. Erica M, Delores B and Katie W. Others came to finish small panels. Jacinta after saying Friday she didn't paint has spent the last two days painting and started her own small panel. I appreciated her helping me to pack up today. I think she was also trying to get her mother Fatimah home. When Monica came over she looked at the big panel and was pleased. A few people were working on the first 'nearly finished' big panel. So I got down the second one encouraging Monica to start. She began a little bush. Lulu came along and discussed background. Monica got up to go, What was there for me to say, say nothing. She left saying 'sorry'. Dorothy stated painting kurlipi in one corner with 'background and Magda started sweeping backgrounds. Fatimah came back and looked at it..... I suggested she start another panel as she had discussed yesterday with a central lake. Monica came back and finished her japakarakarra, everyone seemed happy. Went over to the school to do the hand print panels for the boarders around the kids' panels. It sure is a quick way to 'knock up' a panel. The Lulus painted well into the afternoon and I primed some more panels.
Day 18: 7.7.04
Woke with a feeling of optimism for the first time this morning. Another big day with the kids coming over to paint. Another new painter Selena W. The first big panel finally finished. The Lulus moved onto the second panel. Spoke with several men today, hopefully will get some man action soon.
Day 19: 8.7.04
Drew up 'plans' for the panel placement after concluding in the wake full hours of this morning that it would be better to cut up the 3 remaining big panels into 4 equal sized pieces. Went over to Francis's to check to see if he had started and if not also cut it up. Noonie is back and she showed me the 'beginning' of the panel in a spare room- a large commanding marlu is already finished, a sigh of relief that it has been started and so impressively so. Two of the other 'new' panels were also stared. The last of the kids came to paint their panels, an 'in control' painting period. Tried unsuccessfully to make contact with Arts WA. Finally made contact and they are holding the cheque until a 'request for a variation' is received. I will work on that now and email it.
Day 20: 9.7.04
A quiet day as everyone here went to Balgo to an old man's funeral (a painter). Cut the last of the boards and primed them. Continued to document the panels. Tried twice to contact MB at Arts WA with no success. Assessed progress so far and in 10 days of serious painting have painted about half the designated area. Wake more relaxed about the project these days.
Day 21: 12.7.04
It is now 6 p.m. and beginning to recover from the day. A slow start, Monica first to turn up. Walked with Fatimah to the block to get Francis to sign 'contract' (All the artists signed an agreement that the panels would belong to the community but artists would retain copyright). And sight the panel, it is going well, a lot of hours are going into it. When we got back Jess from Balgo was there wanting to have a meeting with the women about bush tucker. Shirley says, "stop that painting and basket making, meeting on". Some new painters, Phillipa T. Rowena M and Margaret W. The Lulu women painted late into the afternoon once again. I was ready to pack up long before they were ready to stop painting. (Every night all the paints and panels had to be packed to a secure location which included putting many of the panels in the church which was not locked but the paints were put in the lock up).
Day 22: 13.7.04
No painting today.
The Warlayirti 7 day basket making workshop started today. The painting was not to compete with this so I 'helped out' with this. However 2 small moves forward. Established a payment for the top painters after discussions with Sam, and so from this will work out payments for all artists and booked Will and my flights out.
Day 23: 14.7.04
A few painters got started before the basketry started, they work compatibly. Two new panels started by Shirley Y and Magda and other worked on. I did a reasonable and enjoyable amount of childcare. Did hand prints with the pre-schoolers rioting in the childcare centre. Processed pay and all the back pay- a good job resolved.
Day 24: 15.7.04
A slow day of painting and Anna J says a big card day tomorrow!!! The truck came in today and yes finally the cover paint. I was enthusiastic about getting started on clear covering the panels. I opened the tin and it was black. Stress!! Fortunately there are some people coming from Broome tomorrow that can collect today and bring it tomorrow.
Day 25: 16.7.07
Gave out the first of the cheques and explained how I had worked out payments - everyone was happy with what they had received and no questions, I hope that does mean they have no questions. ( The payments to artists went very smoothly once we got the cheque from Arts WA).Jacinta L and Magda M will be going up to the next payment bracket as their painting has improved so much in such a short time. From Jacinta L saying she doesn't paint at all, to dropping some dots on the big bush tucker panel to last Friday completing her big water lily and fish panel, Noonie and Karen started it with her and she completed it herself. Tossie B from Balgo came to me saying there was a Mulan story she thought needed to be done and she did it. Fatimah will tell me the story she says. And that was it for painting for the weeks. Two weeks of painting to go, 3 panels to start and 7 to finish. The clear estapol arrived from Broome so can start covering the kids panels at least on Monday.
Day 26: 19.7.04
The coldest day and windy, a few starters, Katie W and Lena W at 10, followed by Monica, so we still inch along. The cover coat of clear goes on well, it was great for me to have an activity to get 'stuck into'. Jacinta started a new panel and Magda M and Martina M finished the one Magda had started.
Day 27: 20.7.04
A hectic day; Katie started a new panel and finished it, with Martina helping with the dots. Leah finished her second panel and the second big bush tucker panel was declared finished but later Karen and I decided it's not quite finished. Had peter cut more panels only to find stage two areas are not the same height as stage one so spent time re-configuring the space with the remaining board and hopefully get it cut and primed before any staters tomorrow. The basket making has finished, hopefully that will make a positive difference. Generally it worked together well.
Mid-day back at the church as it is too hectic at home for lunch break as there are about 15 boys making swords and building tree houses . Peter cut the panels for outside the office, the very last of the board. Noonie and Wendy started the office panels and the store panels dot closer to finishing.
Day 29: 22.7.04
I started early, primed the last of the panels. Had 17 people painting today, became very hectic at one stage. Word quickly got around that there were some new panels. 3 more finished. Monica finished her bush medicine panel. Noonie, Blue Tongue Dreaming and Jacinta, kunuduru and kumpubaja. Karen L once again painted late into the p.m. I was stuffed. Quote of the day from a rep from Centre for Alternative Energy, Derby, Bushlight. After questioning Shirley on the name of the red flower growing along the road. "Does it grow wild?"
Day 30: 23.7.04
A more relaxing day and I needed it. Funeral in Balgo so no-one around. A few painters said they would be painting in the afternoon. I varnished the big panel. By afternoon I was so slowed down I was hoping no-one would turn up to paint. Began transposing this journal.
Went out to the lake with Mark, Ian and Tania Darkie and son Ian Jnr, Latoya, Terizita ( children ) and Rebecca Surprise to meet up with some bird watchers camping by the lake. I was not enthusiastic about all the questions and observed I was identify more with Tania than the women of my own culture. It is curious how they loved to photograph the kids- would it be the same if they were white kids, interest and curiosity with difference. I wondered how Ian, Tania and Rebecca experience it. I can ask Tania.
Day 31: 26.7.04
It seems a long time since this morning and what did happen?
Was a very windy morning and so a slow start. Dorothy was first in and nearly finished her animal panel. One of the artists began finishing the panel someone who will not be here for some time and unfortunately destroyed the charm of the original work. Fatimah is back from her trip to Cape York. In a conversation earlier in the day she said she would be back painting tomorrow but this afternoon she is back at her beautiful lake panel. Ended up a busy painting day with 13 painters. I completed cataloguing the kids' panels that Peter and I fixed to the wall on the weekend. Someone made the suggestion of a community member speaking to the kids. Shirley Y has suggested bringing all the kids over to see the panels and give them the 'hard' word about not defacing them. I wanted to take a more positive approach. i.e. congratulations on the great paintings and you care for your works and your children will see them one day etc. Evelyn came over to the school with me for the assembly and 'in language' 'bawled' them out about not writing names scratching etc. There have also been several conversations from community members about how to protect the paintings from graffiti, and one suggestion to cover the whole with Perspex, Mark estimates at a cost of about $10,000. My perspective is the panels belong to the community and their responsibility to respect and care for. Covering with Perspex would almost give permission to deface and is easily scratched and would need replacing in a short time. (12 months on there is considerably 'marking' but because of the busy nature of the imagery it is not very noticeable, the panels near the office are virtually free of 'marking'. Ironically it was the person who suggested the Perspex to me who allegedly did considerable damage to one large panel with black paint.)
Day 32: 27.7.06
A big step forward today, the bush tucker panel left of the door went up and it looks fantastic, the patchwork/butting up of panels works well. Viewers are impressed, they are engaged in the subject matter, kids pointing out goanna, sand frog, blackhead etc, Another busy painting day 14 painters, more panels finished and the last of the last stated, I had hurriedly primed the 'left over' masonite plus a door for the office. Lost patience with kids messing around, painting concrete, spilling water and leaving brushes everywhere.
Day 33: 28.7.06
Another big day, 14 painters. Fatimah sat for about 5 hour's straight painting. Monica brought in a bag of mungil ( a type of glass wort that is a favourite subject for painting). I can see why people want to paint its amazing colours and sculptural shapes. Used Marks digital camera to take some images. Email to Arts WA with request to use remaining funds for material costs. (This was denied.) Margaret W and Vincent N delivered their painting, it is stunning, Vincent's black and white 'tracking' around some bright animals is dramatic. Went over to Francis's and his big panel is near completion. Stock camp tomorrow, so he will be away, he is putting the pressure on.
Day 34: 29.7.04
Lots of painting and most panels nearing completion - the last of the last of the off cuts are now being worked on and one new painter. Completed the first draft of the glossary and catalogue for painters and May S linguist, to check.
This is where the journal finished . Over the next few days all the panels were finished and fixed to the walls. Vincent's went up the morning of the opening, the cover coat, touch dry. The day of the opening morning tea the area around the store was thoroughly cleaned, we had cakes sandwiches and cold drinks. Fatimah spoke in language to the assembled crowd and I spoke 'in tears' of appreciation for the wonderful experience I had had, being part this project. Lots of photos were taken and an air of positive accomplishment of how the area had been transformed was about the community.
This project was financially supported by ARTS WA