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Paintings by Mandy Martin

Mandy Martin, 8 February 2013

PETER STANLEY: The artist Mandy Martin has worked very closely alongside Mike, notably on the strata project with our colleague Libby Robin. While the stage is being cleared and Mandy is coming down, can I just mention that her husband partner Guy Fitzhardinge has also recently been awarded an AM, awarded that honour for his services to the management of threatened species and to agriculture. So congratulations, Guy.[applause]

MANDY MARTIN: In 2005, I was privileged to be part of the team and an editor for Strata: Deserts past, present and future with Libby Robin and Mike Smith. We’ve already heard from quite a few people today about that trip to Puritjarra, but for me it was an extraordinary insight into the life and work of Mike. Mike introduced us to the traditional owners, and I was able to talk with Ikuntji artists, who became a vital part of the project, providing painted testimony for the publication and exhibition of the significance of the sacred waterhole and the surrounding hills. Sadly, I think all of those artists have now passed away.

We camped some kilometres away from the rock shelter, and every day we carted the canvases, all the art materials and the water over the dunes. It was about a five-mile hike. I painted three large canvases. You can see they’re nearly four metres long, and then five collaborative works with each of the researchers - Libby Robin, Guy Fitzhardinge, Jake Gillen and Mike.

On this day, Mike and I were sitting tucked in in against the painted rock face at Puritjarra, close enough to see the hare wallaby footprints and also fragments of 40C carbon on the floor, bone and sand.

I was intrigued by how I could work with such a distinguished archaeologist. My techniques were hardly orderly or conventional. Mike, who was up every morning in camp before dawn to perform his ablutions, including dressing in a neatly folded khaki shirt, ironed overnight by the headrest of his swag, was not disorderly. [laughs]

We sat down at the half mast easel, in fact an ironing board, and Mike began talking about desert palimpsests. I relaxed - palimpsests, the bread and butter of artists. We were on common ground and worked in harmony. Mike’s hand merged with mine. I was his amanuensis and painted the actual ochre, sand and carbon fragments at the site literally within the layers, creating a portrait of Puritjarra, and also an homage to the man who had unravelled the story of this place. Mike worked long hours. We’d go back to camp, and he continued working on the painting. I thought for one moment you were going to lose him to archaeology. I think Mike and Manik still have that work in their collection.

In the past two and a half years I’ve been part of an even larger group working at Paruku, which you’ve also heard about today, also known as Lake Gregory in the Tanami Desert. Today, co-editors Steve Morton, Kim Mahood, and John Carty are all here, as are a number of the writers - Guy Fitzhardinge and Jim Bowler. The project has five strands, including an exhibition opening at Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs on 1 March, and a book published by CSIRO [Desert Lake: Art, Science and Stories from Paruku] due to be launched the same night. Mike features in the chapter written by Jim Bowler titled ‘Earth science in traditional lands: bridge or barrier’. I created a major series of paintings and studies for the publication and exhibition, and they were named by Walmajarri traditional owner Hanson Pye after the story for the Falling Star site.

I also created a 16-day menu for that particular trip, which I did submit to Mike’s dessert book, but because it was a very late submission, Jo has just included my persimmon pudding recipe, which is a particular favorite when we’re on camping trips. In the persimmon pudding you can use apricot as a substitute. You may think it’s a bit wanky using persimmons, but we’ve got a very big persimmon tree in our orchard at home. I didn’t in that case smuggle them into Western Australia, I don’t think. I had made the pudding in advance so we could have it re-steamed in the camp oven after we arrived. That’s my contribution to the dessert book.

There’s also a DVD and a website as part of the project. We were able to include this small snippet of Mike in the trench, dug according to his best gravedigger’s knowledge at Bungabiddy Creek, which Peter Veth has also described today. Mike sums up in his own words the passion that has driven his work across the desert for 30 years and for which we all admire and love him so much.

Date published: 14 March 2013