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Travelling the road to UTOPIA - MAY 2018

Travelling the road to UTOPIA - MAY 2018

Posted by Tim Jennings on 2018 May 22nd

Travelling the road to Utopia in May 2018 to visit artists and collect more art from Polly Ngale, Lena Pwerle, Motorbike Paddy, Geyla Pwerle, Michelle Lion and Molly Pwerle. 

Back in early May with a thermos of homemade soup and a few cold slices of homemade pizza on board for lunch, I headed out through the hills north of Alice Springs enroute to the Utopia Region. It was 7.35am, the car was loaded with canvas and paint, the sun was up and it was 16 degrees Celsius. Weather wise, it looked like it was going to be a perfect day – and it was!

There were quite a few people that I wanted to catch up with, both from an art point of view and also just to have a yarn with. The trip out was fairly uneventful, although at the 200km mark, near to the turnoff to Mulga Bore, I could see lots of thick dust and a big truck was heading my way. The wind was non-existent so the dust just sat there with nothing to blow it away. This can be very dangerous if there is some impatient driver behind the truck who takes a punt by blindly passing through the dust. So, I always pull over to the side of the road just in case!!

At 9.30am I arrived at Camel Camp and saw old Motorbike Paddy. He’s a wonderful old gentleman and we always have a few laughs. I asked him how his wife, Kathleen Ngale, was. He replied “she’s good” and didn’t elaborate any further…. I know that the last time I was out there she was sitting out the front and appeared in good spirits but she was inside on this occasion. He said that his daughter Elizabeth was over at the Store (30kms away) and had a painting that was finished. His son, Matthew, came across too and was his normal, talkative self – a really nice fellow but very hard to understand because his English is very, very limited.

I didn’t stay there too long before heading to nearby Tomahawk Outstation where the Dixon family often reside. There was no one there though so I headed to Alparre Store and found Lena Pwerle in her humpy up the back of the community along with Rosie Pwerle and Nora Petyarre. I dropped off a box of groceries and a drum of flour to Lena. (Our long-time art manager, Tomoko Kuroda, dotes on Lena and insisted that I take them out for her!!! I sat down on an old flour drum and had a good chat to them all, along with Lena’s oldest son George. George’s wife, Shirley, and sister, Thelma Dixon, were also close by and asked me for some canvas and paints, which I gave out to them both.

A bunch of young and middle-aged men also wanted to have a talk to me about artefacts and I was happy to have a yarn. I’m always encouraging them to make boomerangs, woomera’s, spears, carvings and other artefacts, but usually the chit chat enthusiasm doesn’t evolve into actually doing much of it - although sometimes they surprise me.

I was just about to leave the area when Polly Ngale and Elizabeth Mbitjana also visited. Both told me that they had finished the canvases that I gave them last trip, but they were at Camel Camp! So I told them that I would revisit Camel Camp after I had called into all the other places I was planning to head to.

Next stop was an Outstation I refer to as Old Quartpot’s Camp. On arrival, I went directly around to Lily and Michelle Lion’s campsite, which is directly opposite to the Hunter ladies humpies. Teresa Purla also walked across from her home as well and gave me a good hand. All of these ladies are family to Teresa and she encourages them all to have a go. Geyla Pwerle wandered across carrying a box with 10 - 30cm x 30cm completed linens. They were very good for an old lady and she is really happy doing them. Molly didn’t come across but had also had 10 - 30 x 30’s finished – nice little circle ones. I later photographed her with them in her humpy. (I checked our old records when back in Alice Springs and her date of birth is guessed at 1928 – so she’s roughly 90 years of age now.) I must say, she appears in good health, both physically and mentally for someone that age.

Geyla Pwerle

Michelle and Lily also had some great little camp scene paintings too. These are fantastic paintings and I know the ladies enjoy painting them but having said that, I do like to encourage them have a go at other ideas and concepts. I asked them to think of some other design to play around with. They wanted some direction, so I suggested maybe mixing up some larger dots with smaller dots and use lots of bright colours, something that they can enjoy and be creative with. Teresa emphasised the same.. So I am looking forward to my next trip because one never knows what these ladies might be achieve.