The Ampilatwatja community is in Central Australia, between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. The Artists of Ampilatwatja community was established in 1999. The works by the artists of Ampilatwatja do not depict ‘alteyerr’ dreaming stories. Instead, the paintings are of their country where those stories sit and focus on “Arreth” or “strong bush medicine”: seeds, fruit, plants, animals and the landscape where the bush medicine grows. The paintings demonstrate a deep knowledge and connection to country and are important for maintaining culture and passing bush medicine knowledge to the younger generations.
Natasha Beasley was born in 1972 in Ampilatwatja, an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory of Australia. Natasha enjoys painting with her sister Traphina Beasley and says ” I find that painting makes me feel good I want to continue painting. My kids like to paint too”.
The community of Ampilatwatja made a conscious decision not to paint ‘altyerr’ dreaming stories, the artists paint their country where those stories sit. 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.”
“Bush medicine plants are used for healing on the body and for drinking. We make this by smashing the plants with a rock, we use the juice and the fibre of the plant. We collect bush medicine plants when we are out hunting. Different kinds of plants grow during different seasons. There are lots of different medicines, we know what their stories are, we learnt them from our parents and we teach these stories to our
children.” Bush medicine knowledge is still strong in Ampilatwatja, it continues to be passed down to the younger generations and is widely used. When the women go hunting they often gather bush medicine. The plants depicted here are found in the country around Ampilatwatja, they are used for soothing skin infections and to make a drink to help with colds and coughs. Painting bush medicine stories is important because it helps to maintain a strong knowledge and culture for the community.
Barbara Ngwarraye Long was born in 1957 out bush. This painting Ntang Native Seeds depicts the story of collecting and preparing seeds for food.
The seeds are collected under a tree by laying a tarp on the ground and hitting the tree continuously until most of the seeds have fallen. Once the seeds are collected they are then ground with a mortar and grinding stone. A number of these grinding stones have been in families for generations. Once seeds are ground, water is added and mixed until a damper-like substance is formed and placed under the coals until cooked .
Joycie Pitjarra Morton was born in 1976. Joycie’s husband is from Ampilatwatja and she has lived here for many years, however her country is “out Rum Jungle Way.” about 100 kms south of Darwin. In 1952 the Australian Government funded the setting up of a mine and treatment plant to provide uranium oxide concentrate to the UK-US. Although the Rum Jungle mine closed in 1971, one of the main environmental impacts of uranium mining is the creation of large volumes of radioactive mine waste (tailings) which are left behind on the site. Joycie’s land is still recovering from the damage that was done.
Joycie’s alive and expressive paintings capture the vibrancy of the land that she knows so deeply and that is rich in dreaming stories and culture. Using a beautifully bright colour palette and her own unique style, Joycie’s paintings are easily recognised and celebrate the love she has for her country. She and her Mother Betty Pula Morton enjoy painting together. They say that painting is relaxing and keeps them connected to their country, culture and identity.
Rosie Kemarre Morton has very strong ties to country, she was born in country, with no walls around her. She grew up in mother’s country. Rosie’s father was working fencing the boundaries of Amaroo station. This is where the family was settled and, as was common, the family took the surname of the station owner. Rosie first started painting around 1999-2000 when Desart Inc. ran some workshops on the community.
Rosie has painted her Father’s country, where she can always find bush tucker and bush medicine. She is very happy when out bush hunting and gathering, as it brings back memories of her childhood when she used to live traditionally off of the land with her family. Rosie uses these hunting trips as her inspiration for her artworks, each one reflecting the layered landscape and various colours as she has seen them. “They are always changing, with the light of day and the seasons of the year”.
Rosie enjoys and understands the importance of painting bush medicine plants. They help in the healing of her people and it keeps the tradition and knowledge strong. These particular plants are very plentiful after rain and can be used for numerous conditions, such as skin irritations, flu, coughs and infections.