Alpar (Rat-Tail Plant) Story MB053441-Maggie Bird Mpetyane

Acrylic on Canvas
108 x 93cm
Year Painted


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Alpar (Rat-Tail Plant) Story MB053441-Maggie Bird Mpetyane

Maggie paints the story of the rat-tail goosefoot or green crumbweed plant (Dysphania kAlpari). In Maggie's language it is called Alpar. This small, erect herb is sticky to touch and scented heavily of citrus. Growing especially well in Mulga tree communities, it is found in abundance in Maggie's home in the Utopia Region, north east of Alice Springs. It produces small clustered flowers that form long spikes, resembling that of a rat tail, as well as small black shiny seeds. These seeds are high in protein and low in fibre. Due to the sticky nature of this plant, the seeds are not shed as soon as they mature, making them available much later in the season than most other plants.

In the olden days, Maggie and the women of Ilkawerne would collect these seeds, sometimes soak them in water until swollen or cooked in hot coals, and then grind them into a powder that was used for making damper (bread). This practice is not as habitual now due to ready made bread, however the story is continually taught to the younger ones and ceremonies are carried out to ensure its productivity. The scented leaves of Alpar were also collected, soaked in water and used as a medicinal wash. Alternatively they would be ground into a powder and mixed with animal fats for use as an ointment, making this plant a very important food and medicinal source.

Fine dot work represents the dry seeds of Alpar. Linear patterns denote the Awelye (Women's Ceremonial Body Paint Designs) relating to the Alpar story. Women are represented by the 'U' motifs and they carry with them their digging sticks and coolamons (carved wooden bowls) which are typical instruments used for collecting many bush foods.

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Located at
Mbantua Alice Gallery (MGA)