Language Group: Anmatyerre
Country: Ilkawerne, Utopia Region, North East of Alice Springs
Medium: Acrylic on Canvas and Linen
Subjects: Awelye (Women's Ceremony and Body Paint Designs) for Ahakeye (Bush Plum), Alpar (Rat-tail Plant) and Ntang Artety (Mulga Seed)
Alvira is the daughter of artists Paddy Bird (deceased) and Eileen Bird. She lives in Alice Springs and Mulga Bore with her husband and children. Her grandmother is the late Ada Bird Petyarre, a highly respected senior artist from Utopia.
Mbantua Gallery Permanent Collection, Alice Springs
|2000||Combined Exhibition, Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, N.T|
The linear designs in Alvira's painting represent Awelye (Women's Ceremony and Body Paint Designs) for Ahakeye, Alpar and Ntang Artety. These designs are painted onto the chest, breasts, arms and thighs. Powders ground from red and yellow ochre (clays), charcoal and ash are used as body paint and applied with a flat stick with soft padding. The women sing the songs associated with their Awelye as each woman takes her turn to be 'painted-up'.
In this painting, Alvira's use of black dots symbolizes the ahakeye when they are ripe and ready to be collected. White dots represent the seeds of Alpar. Yellow dots represent ntang artety.
Ahakeye, called bush plum in English by Alvira, is also known as the native currant or citrus. It belongs to the canthium attenuatum shrub which grows about 3m high. This shrub produces small white flowers, deep green citrus-like leaves and the ahakeye which are black when ripe and very small. This fruit is favoured for its sweet taste and can be reconstituted in water if dry.
Alpar is rat-tail goosefoot or green crumbweed plant (Dysphania kAlpari). 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 Alvira'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, the women of Ilkawerne country 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.
Ntang means seed in Alvira's language, and Artety is the word for Mulga Tree. This is a very important story for Alvira that belongs to her country, Ilkawerne. The mulga seeds are an important plant food throughout Central Australia, usually available to collect for several months of the year. The seeds are collected from the tree or ground if fallen, cleaned, lightly roasted and then ground into a paste before being consumed. The seeds taste similar to peanut butter and are highly nutritious.