Late at night, we are driving along a highway through the remote Kimberley area of northern Western Australia. We are located in the Fitzroy Valley about 3500 km north of Perth, Western Australia’s capital city and the same distance east of Darwin, the capital of Northern Territory.
Canberra is Australia’s capital and the home of federal government. Broome is 400 km to our west. There are many contrasts between the distance, density, cultures, and environments. In the afternoon, we leave Broome to travel inland towards the river country. This is an area where Nykina, Bunuba, Gooniyandi and other language groups have maintained traditional Customary Law relationships over many generations.
Our goal is to arrive in Fitzroy Crossing by nightfall, which is a town where the famous and extensive Fitzroy River flows. Amy Ngurnta Nuggett is seated in the passenger seat next to me. Marminjiya Nuggett, her daughter, is seated in the back with a young granddaughter. Amy is a senior Juwaliny–Walmajarri woman. I have worked and known her since the 1980s.
Traditional Owner Under Native
Amy is a local artist and traditional owner under native title Customary law. Amy, a widow, has been living in the West Desert for many years. She now lives in her late sixties and has five adult children, great-grandchildren and grandchildren. Continue driving until we reach Fitzroy Crossing. We then continue to the Bayulu Community, where Amy lives.
We load the vehicle with bags, water bottles and food, as well as several swags or bedrolls. Large, striped plastic bags are filled with clothes. These items are essential for families who live in remote areas. Ngurnta informs me when I return to Bayulu Community two more days later that she must visit Mangkaja Arts in order to determine if any of her paintings are sold.
She wants to know if she has enough money to buy food (tinned milk and bread, tea, coffee, tea, fruit, sugar, tinned salmon) as well as fuel to travel inland to her desert homelands. This trip will require strong four-wheel drives and skilled drivers to transport her family across the jilji (or sandhill) country to Fitzroy Crossing.
Amy visits Mangkaja Arts and learns that she is still waiting for payment for her painting. Marminjiya, who is taking a break from her job at an Aboriginal resource agency, joins us. We also meet Amy’s eldest daughter, Wayawu, who is employed on a part-time basis as a journalist and broadcaster with the local west Kimberley-based radio station, Wangkiyupurnanupurru, and Amy’s mother’s sister, Wapi. We have lunch under a tree, not far from Bunuba’s Ngiyali Roadhouse.
Price Of Clothing
Lunchtime is a time when we talk about many things, including Amy’s grandchildren, Mangkaja and a possible trip to the desert. We also discuss the high price of clothing at the local shop. We start to tell stories about Amy, including many about Amy’s childhood. Wayawu suddenly speaks out of her thoughtfulness.
Let’s make a book about Amy. About her life. Let’s talk about Amy’s stories. She has a lot of stories and loves to paint. This is when a small artistic and literary seed is planted, which is later called thematically visual storytelling. Amy says she loves the idea of a book. This is partly because Amy was a Juwaliny Walmajarri woman who married an a Walmajarri man. They both left the desert to live in the Fitzroy Valley’s rivercountry.
Amy makes it clear that she wants the story of her family to include everyone, and not just focus on Amy. This is a way of explaining how land, culture, and family have interconnected over time. The project’s heart is centered on this interconnected emphasis of family, storytelling, and painting rather than specific details about Amy’s life.
We visit, be, and talk with each other in various desert and Fitzroy Valley settings and in Perth. This allows us to work on the book and exhibition intermittently. We communicate via phone and email, re-telling stories and finding and sorting old and newly acquired photographs. Also, we converse with kartiya (or non-Aboriginal) friends. Amy and her children are able to maintain close Aboriginal family connections, but Amy and her children also renew friendships with non-Aboriginal friends.