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Utopia community

WARNING: Relatives of the artist are advised that images of Emily Kame Kngwarreye and other Aboriginal people who might be deceased appear in this exhibition and website.

The trip to Utopia in September 2007

by Margo Neale, Principal Curator

In September 2007, Margo Neale and the Ronin Productions team made an official trip up north as part of ongoing consultations with the Utopia community.

The senior custodians of Emily's country, Alhalkere, are Lindsay Bird Mpetyane and Greeny Purvis. I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance given by members of the Utopia community to this exhibition.

In particular Barbara Weir who generously and freely offered her time and assistance once she knew I was heading to Utopia with the Ronin Films crew by invitation from other community members. She hopped on board to pave the way in a number of ways. Most notably she took us to all the right people in all the right places, no matter how hard it was or how long it took. Being a language speaker was a great asset. It was important that we all understood each other. Her respect for culture, for the custodians of Alhalkere and observance of protocols was both dogged and inspirational.

Senior Aboriginal man, Greeny Purvis
The senior custodian of Alhalkere, Greeny Purvis, at Boundary Bore. Permission was given for the Boundary Bore mob to take us to Alhalkere, September 2007.
Photo: Ronin Productions.
Aboriginal man, Lindsay Bird Mpetyane, a senior custodian of Alhalkere in his camp at Mulga Bore
Lindsay Bird Mpetyane, a senior custodian of Alhalkere in his camp at Mulga Bore, September 2007.
Photo: Ronin Productions.
Five women sitting on the ground looking at a notebook of plans for the exhibition, Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Their camping gear can be seen in the background.
Left to right: Margo Neale, Gloria Pitjana Mills, Dolly Pitjana Mills, Jean Fuller Mills and Barbara Weir looking over the plans for the exhibition Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, September 2007.
Photo: Ronin Productions.

A mob of people from Canberra with cameras during the first weeks of the Northern Territory intervention was not a good look and Barbara did a lot of explaining on our behalf. She took us to a very special camp of Emily's close female relatives (and relatives of hers) - a camp that is rarely visited by 'outsiders'.

Their respect for Barbara and her family was clearly demonstrated in a number of ways and in particular by the way the women honoured us with a special series of songs about Alhalkere for the education film that goes in the exhibition's Utopia Room.

They also wanted us to film their stories about their family lineage and connection to Alhalkere, which was indeed a great privilege.

Stephen Pitijara and Margo Neale in the foreground leaning against a vehicle. A very large roofed shade area can be seen in the background.
Stephen Pitijara and Margo Neale, September 2007.
Photo: Ronin Productions.

We camped together in swags on the red earth and Barbara kept us supplied with bush tucker as well as lots of information about her early years with Emily and her family. She was a deadly goanna hunter, constantly stopping to chase yet another one over the sand hills that no one else could see for looking.

Three Aboriginal women sitting on mats on the ground in the shade of low shrubs.
Women at 'Sorry Camp' hearing about the exhibition, Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and telling their own stories, September 2007.
Photo: Ronin Productions.

Barbara and Gloria Petyarre along with Barbara's son Fred Torres braved the depths of winter (with snow) to attend the opening in Osaka. It was too far away and too cold for the other older members of the community who might otherwise have attended. Too risky for their health. Their attendance was important as artists from Utopia with many overseas exhibitions under their belt and a great capacity to talk about Emily and the exhibition to Japanese audiences.

They participated in media events and Gloria gave a moving impromptu performance of songs and dance movements related to Emily's Country and Dreamings at the reception. It was greatly appreciated by all, especially given that few would ever have had any Aboriginal cultural experience before Gloria's performance.

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