The truly amazing Pilbara

I am a 29 year old Kiwi working for BC Iron Nullagine, between Nullagine and Newman on Bonney Downs Station. My role as Heritage Officer exposes me to the side of the truly amazing Pilbara.

Pilbara Project Exhibition opening at FORM Gallery

On February 10, the Pilbara Project launched its first exhibition “52 Weeks On: A Pilbara Project Exhibition” at the newly renovated FORM Gallery in Perth.  The exhibition also opened the following night at the Courthouse Gallery in Port Hedland, details shown on the previous blog post here.

Tony speaking along with the rest of the artists

The exhibition features new photography and film by renowned artists Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher and Peter Eastway.  It is curated by William L. Fox, Director of the Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art.  More details on the exhibition can be found here.

Squeezing in to see Michael's film launch

Les talking with filmmaker Curtis Taylor

Hon Troy Buswell MLA opening the exhibition

The book launch for “The Pilbara Project: Field Notes and Photographs Collected over 2010” was also a great success, with the artists on hand for signing.

Photographs by Michelle Taylor


The Stories Project: Puntawarri

The Stories Project: Puntawarri from CuriousWorks on Vimeo.

“For family, woman, man and child, going back to the land they know.”
- Billy Landy aka Butler

Catch a slice of Martu life in 2 minutes.

On a return to country trip to Durba Springs in June this year, Martumili artist Yankura paints his traditional home Puntawarri. The backing track, performed by Butler is also about Puntawarri, a longing to return to their ancestral home.

Visit The Stories Project website for more videos.

Producer: Dave Wells
Directors: Curtis Taylor, Anthony Gibbs, Owen John, Carol Macdonald
Directors Photography: Curtis Taylor, Anthony Gibbs, Owen John, Carol Macdonald
Editors: Curtis Taylor, Anthony Gibbs, Owen John

Sound: Anthony Gibbs
Music: courtesy of Billy Landy aka Butler, “Puntawarri”, recorded live

The Stories Project
Creative Director: Shakthidharan
Producer: Eleanor Winkler
Mentors: Elias Nohra & Platon Theodoris

The Stories Project is presented by CuriousWorks.

Content by the Desert Stories crew is produced in partnership between CuriousWorks and Martu Media, a division of Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa.

Purely Pilbara

I’m finally getting round to joining FORM and contributing to the Pilbara Project blog (and it’s about time too!!). To introduce myself, I live in Newman, age too old, I’m a qualified mining engineer but am trying my best to become a photographer (way to go yet!). I lived in Port Hedland during my primary school years, Telfer in my 20s and have been in Newman now for over 3 years and loving it!!

Mt Newman and surrounds on an unusually foggy morning recently.

The new BHPB sculptures outside the Housing Authority office in Newman.

Red Tree at West Angeles

Red Tree at West Angeles

We saw this tree on our way back from Newman. West Angeles is a Rio Tinto Iron Ore mine around 100 Ks NW of Newman.

Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route recently launched at the National Museum of Australia

The National Museum of Australia, in partnership with FORM, recently launched Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route in Canberra.  The Exhibition will be open until January 26, 2011.  Hopefully you will be able to see it in Canberra, otherwise it is anticipated that the exhibition will travel to Perth late 2011.

The event was a great success, with over 50 artists from the 9 community art enterprises along the Canning Stock Route able to attend, including about 20 from Martumili Artists in the East Pilbara.  The artists brought the opening and public programs to life with a generosity of  insights, cultural knowledge and personal stories.

Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route

The Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route exhibition launch at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra is less than two months away.  While cutting across much of WA, the part of the Canning Stock Route that crosses the East Pilbara plays an important part, particularly because of the great participation by the Martumili artists.

Below is a film that was made for the Canning Stock Route exhibition at the Beijing Olympics.  We will update newer content soon as we move towards the NMA exhibition.  Enjoy the great filmmaking by Nicole Ma.

Untitled (Beijing Olympic Expo) a Film by Nicole Ma from FORM on Vimeo.

Retracing E. C. Warburton in Paint

In 1993 I was offered a commission by BHP to paint at any of their mines anywhere and having ruled out South America and New Guinea( !) I chose Mt Newman in the Pilbara. I really wanted to see that part of the world. I had seen Fred Williams’ Pilbara works and knew that John Wolseley, who was also undertaking the other part of the commission which was for the board room of the then new BHP headquarters in Melbourne and I were not obvious choices for a BHP commission. We were both environmental artists and my previous industrial works had been overtly critical of the cultural and concomitant, industrial exploitation of Australia.

I was given free range of the photo library held in Melbourne by BHP and decided that Mt Newman had everything I wanted. I was delighted when the PR person who met me at Pt Headland looked exactly like Robert Louis Stephenson and did not batt an eyelid when I said I wanted to retrace E. C Warburton’s near death retreat on camel back, out of the Great Sandy Desert to the coast. My man took this on with gusto, taking me initially canoeing in the mangroves at Pt Headland and then arranging to meet me later in the week at Mt Newman to take me out to the Great Sandy Desert.

I had arrived at the moment in time when BHP, unlike some of its counterparts, was entering into Mabo agreements with the local Traditional Owners and he had his own motives for the trip. My arrival in Mt Newman was also sensational, a woman alone on a Sunday night walking into the bar at the motel looking for a meal and encountering about 400 men and another woman who came to my rescue!  As I took my boots off at the motel door, (a necessity because the deep purple soil stains the carpets) many hours and an unbelievable party later, I fell in love with Mt. Newman hematite which I still use to paint with till today, literally. I ran out a few years ago and an archaeologist friend of mine arranged to have a few Cottees cordial bottles of the stuff sent down by a boiler maker friend of his to keep me in colour!

I painted every morning and afternoon, the mine personnel said I was the only visitor who had specifically not wanted to see the super-pit, I painted the panorama from a distance and from the aboriginal camp out of town. In between painting sessions, when the light was flat and the temperatures scorching, I drove many kilometres up rocky creek beds searching out amazing rock art sites. I also visited and talked with the last few desultory inhabitants of Wittenoon and looked with dismay at the asbestos paths around town.

My man arrived and as promised we headed out into the Great Sandy Desert to meet the Traditional Owners of a particular tribal group he was negotiating a gift of buildings to. There were carpets of flowering Sturt Desert pea and everywhere was lush from rains 2 seasons before. We drove along seismic survey lines between fields of rock outcrops engraved with larger than life figures. We encountered the Aboriginal mob on their way in to the nearest settlement and they told us there was business in Pt Headland so we headed to Marble Bar to talk with other TO’s there instead and caught up with the other mob later in the week in a house near Pt Headland. It was a bit like the moment in the film, a “Japenese Story” when the car becomes bogged and the mobile phone doesn’t work. A beer at Marble Bar, the longest and hottest bar in the world, did marvels, although my man ordered a shandy from which I have never recovered.

BHP bought the full suite of drawings, about 20 in all, which were pigment, acrylic binder on stretched paper and John Wolseley and I graced either side of  a rotating screen behind the bar in the penthouse board room with our large  3 meter paintings. My painting was of the No Go Zone at Yarrrie Ridge, the area negotiated with the Traditional Owners as not being available for mining. BHP, in its wisdom, auctioned its art collection a few years ago and John’s and my works were separated, mine was bought by a rather good boys school in Melbourne, maybe breeding a new generation of iron ore barons, not that they are Australian these days.

Landing in the Pilbara

FORM took Susan Duncan to Port Hedland and Newman in 2007 as part of its Write in the Pilbara program – five days of events, workshops and presentations by national and international writers.

Landing in the Pilbara feels like plunging into a new, wild and exagerated world. Blood red soil. Hard blue skies. Turquoise leaves. Silver white trees. Everything stark, hard-edged and almost violently dramatic, etched by a sharp light that seems to peel your eyeballs.

I remember the thump of rain drops the size of golf-balls. Evening skies coloured red, purple, black, blue and white at the same time. Gorges filled with milky green water and yet so clear, you could see the white bodies of swimmers from far, far above.

I remember a roaring waterfall in the middle of a desert. So loud, I looked for racing traffic on the horizon. And rocks like staircases that rambled deep into canyons lush with bullrushes, birds and frogs.

There was the constant companion, too, of clean, dry, withering heat that hits you with the force of a mallet the moment you step out of an air-condtioned car. And dust. Yeah. The dust. It stays with you, that fine red dust. Comes at you in the speeding red cloud of a willi-willi that flys over the landscape like a rampaging spectre.

It’s all so ancient, timeless. If you look at it for long enough, you begin to rethink the way you see the world. And the way you treat it. You never forget the Pilbara. Because it changes you.

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FORM is an independent, not for profit organisation dedicated to advocating for and developing creativity in Western Australia.