Before the arrival of European settlers in Australia, all Aboriginal three-dimensional sculptures were ephemeral, designed through inspiration from the Dreaming or tjukurpa and translated into reality for a brief moment of ceremony. Unlike many African nations, for example, Australia had no tradition of venerating ancestors through carved wooden or moulded images. Ritual objects in Australia were either designed to influence the spiritual powers by allowing their life force to enter the temporal world during dance and ritual, or to encourage the spirits of the dead to leave the temporal world during dance and ritual, or to encourage the spirits of the dead to leave the temporal world and pass into the landscape whence they came.
For the purpose of bringing the life force of ancestral beings into ceremonies, fibre representations of snakes, birds and animals were made, both in symbolic shapes and realistic representations. After use in ceremonial dances and rituals, these were then destroyed or discarded. To encourage the departure of the spirit to the ancestral home of the spirit, Tiwi mortuary practices included making sculpted wooden grave poles and, in Arnhem Land, hollow bark and wood bone containers were painted with special designs. These also were left to disintegrate over time; no attempt was made to restore or to repaint them. Some facets of Aboriginal creative life were, however, designed to last. Ancient stone formations found in many arid zones were thought to be the work of spirits themselves and at the time of European contact were only repaired by living people. Sacred stone discs or carved and decorated tjuringa were also thought by desert peoples to be the core of power of a particular ancestor and were kept hidden for generations, produced only for secret men's ceremonies. The ancient carvings on trees that marked burial and initiation sites in New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland lasted for the life of the tree.
The patterns and constructions made on the ground for ceremonies in central Australia discussed on Web site about Papunya painting:
As well as low moulded and mounded earth constructions made in the south-east for bora initiation ceremonies, could also accurately be termed sculptures, but, like other forms of Aboriginal sacred arts, these were not shown publicly at the time of their creation, and they may not be seen publicly now. The bora mounds have largely disappeared, with only a few overgrown hillocks now protected from destruction.
The complex dancing headdresses and constructions carried on the shoulders in Western Australia, central Australia and South Australia should also by rights be included in the spectrum of Aboriginal sculpture, and these are also considered sacred and private objects. In Cape York wooden sculptures wee made to represent animals and fish in dances commemorating mythological events. These and unique elaborate dancing masks set apart the sculptural arts of the Aboriginals of Cape York, linking the visual arts strongly with those of the Torres Straits and Papua New Guinea.
The spectacular carved poles unique to the Tiwi of Bathurst and Melville Islands are made for the pukumani ritual and placed around the grave during protracted ceremonies for the dead. The word pukumani, translated broadly, means 'taboo' or 'dangerous', and it is applied to the relatives of the dead person. They must not handle food or filfil certain tasks. The name of the deceased is termed pukumani and must not be spoken, sometimes for several years, depending on the dead person's importance. The brilliant Tiwi sculptures and dramatic rituals originated with the earliest legends of the Tiwi, recounting how death came into the world due to the misdemeanours of Bima, the wife of Purukapali, in creation times. Purukapali instituted the first pukumani ceremony in which men and women intricately paint their bodies, wear elaborate armbands, head ornaments and body decorations, and dance for days. Between three and fourteen poles are erected around the grave site and these are carefully caved and painted.
Pukumani ceremonies are multi-faceted. At the time of death the body is placed in a grave about a metre deep and covered with sand and paper bark. The posts are erected several months or even a full year later and at this time extensive dancing and singing take place. The close relatives of the dead must commission the posts to be made, as well as carved and decorated ceremonial spearheads. This can be quite a complex economic transaction. Individuals are still known for their exception skill in carving and decorating the very hard ironwood used in making these artefacts. Once the posts were made with stone tools, but metal hand axes, hammers and chisels have replaced these since early this century. In a fascinating personal account of time spent among the Tiwi in the 1920s, Hart described two old men ('cronies' as he called them), Tu'untalumi and Timalarua. One was a singer, dreamer, dancer and canoe maker, the other a quiet, resolute man who spent all his leisure time singlemindedly making ceremonial spears and grave posts. The Tiwi admired both men, one for his canoes, the other for his posts. They saw no difference between the canoe and the posts as skilfully made objects or between them as artefact or art. However, Timalarua's posts were greatly admired. Hart says the Tiwi described them in detail for him, tracing the designs in the air as they looked at them, clearly impressed with his decoration.
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These days pukumani posts are made for ceremonies and for sale. The economics of their production have changed only slightly; now the clients are European art buyers more often than bereaved relatives, but thee is carving and who are therefore virtually professional artists. However, in the process of commissioning and payment, the system generally follows traditional Tiwi lines. The posts described at the turn of the century were painted by several individuals simultaneously and the designs consisted of vertical bands running in wavy lines down the posts, with other oval designs arranged in rows lengthways. All the camp watched the progress of the decorations and the preparation was clearly a social event. On some posts a rectangular space was hollowed out, leaving thin perpendicular supports for the upper part; others were finished on top with two prongs or with a rounded cap. More recently, the painted designs on the surface of the poles have become detailed horizontal bands of pattern and the finishes on the top include barbed spearheads, birds and human figures. The designs on the poles are identical to those that each man paints on his face during pukumani ceremonies and that are repeated on their ritual items, including spears, bark armbands and bark containers. They are invariably broad, bold abstract designs using strong red, yellow, white and black ochre, often against a white or black background. The huge, heavy painted spears are made only for display and use on ceremonial occasions; they wee never used as functional objects for hunting or warfare. The cutting and painting of these took a great deal more time than a grave post, and all men at an important pukumani funeral would carry at least half a dozen as a symbol of status.
The Tiwi practice of carving birds and human figures stems from the pukumani carving tradition, though it is a relatively new development. a man called Katu first carved a human figure on top of a pukumani post in about 1945. When he was asked why he had carved this post, he answered that he had seen such carvings on a visit to Darwin. Katu carved another post for presentation to Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, and since that time the carving of mythological characters, birds and animals from the environment has been a central part of Tiwi craft. The main myth illustrated in these carvings in the round is that of Purukapali, Tapara and Bima. A complete set depicting the entire myth, including a fine piece of Bima holding the dead child in her arms on a paper bark cradle, is in the collection of the Darwin Museum.
Elaborate poles consisting entirely of tiered figures up to four or five metres high, are also commissioned by major institutions. Many of the human figures are dressed as though for ceremony, complete with pubic cover made of bark, cockatoo feather headdresses, armbands and body painting decorations. The practice o carving the extremely had ironwood on Bathurst and Melville Islands was traditionally only carried out by men; even the paintings were the province of the men only. Today this has changed and many younger women are learning to paint the decorations from older men, usually their fathers. One young woman was observed painting traditional designs on a carved owl, seated close to her old father who was almost blind.
MORTUARY SCULPTURE IN ARNHEM LAND
Elsewhere in Arnhem Land, particularly in the eastern part, Aboriginal people, or Yulngu, were taught by their ancestral heroes to place the bones of the deceased in hollow logs. At the initial funeral these days, close relatives sing his spirit to its resting place and paint the clan designs on his chest or coffin. The songs instruct the spirit where it must go when it leaves the body. Most Aboriginal communities greatly fear the desire of the spirit to stay around the living after death, particularly close relatives. Relatives beat themselves and cut their faces and heads to show their grief, as well as painting an intricate abstract design representing the dead man's clan country either on his body or his coffin so the ancestors can see to which totem the man belonged and carry the spirit straight there.
Mortuary rituals extend over a long time and assist the spirit to find its final resting place in the land of the dead. Once the spirit has found its home, it will therefore not return to harm the living relatives. recently on a small island off the coast of Arnhem Land, a young child was lost when some women and their children wee on a camping expedition. Although Darwin police found that a crocodile had probably taken the child, the relatives were quite convinced that her deceased grandmother had seen her wandering in the bush and taken her away. Spirits of the dead will always attempt to bother the living unless they are placated and put to rest in peace. For the past fifty years or so, the Tiwi and many people of "Arnhem Land have been Christian and therefore the burial ceremonies frequently combine both Christian and traditional practices. Bodies are generally buried, whereas, in the past, they might have been placed on a tree platform. The bone coffins, or lorrgon, can be made of wood or bark. They are hollow, but in some areas they are finished with two prongs at the top, imitating the barbs of the swordfish.
Among the Yulngu, grave or memorial posts are still erected at the place of burial. In the past, several months after death and burial, the body was exhumed and the bones were cleaned, covered in red ochre and placed in a circular bark container. The bark container was decorated with sacred clan designs, as the body had been. Further west the bones, when exhumed or taken from the tree platform, were placed in hollow logs which wee simple branches of trees, previously hollowed out by termites. These wee elaborately decorated as well. Both bark coffins and lorrgon are decorated with the totemic design of the deceased. According to Warner the hollow bark coffins were simply preparatory receptacles to be used before the bones are placed in the final hollow log coffin at the end of the mortuary ceremony.
The clans of central Arnhem Land are divided into two halves or moieties, Yirritja and Dhuwa. At mortuary ceremonies the songs, decorations and procedures follow the traditions of each division. If the bones belong to a Dhuwa, red parrot feathers are fastened around the edge. After the bones have been placed inside the cylinder, the two ends are stuffed with grass or paper bark. Some hollow logs are carved and have two holes near the upper rim; these symbolise the eyes of the deceased so he can see his way to the land of the dead. Hollow log coffins that have the swordfish prongs symbolise the way in which the swordfish swallows the dead person as the bones are placed through the mouth of the coffin. The mouth of the swordfish is then sealed with grass and paper bark. Abstract clan deigns, or occasionally representational images of funeral ceremonies including drawings of relatives and kin with clapping sticks, are painted as part of the designs. The hollow log coffins are placed upright in the camp with the bones inside and left to decay naturally, the bones scattering and disintegrating. Occasionally the coffins may be sent back to the clan country to be erected in the bush where rain, winds and bushfires ensure that the spirit of the deceased will return to its source.
ANCESTORS AND ANIMALS
Painted and carved representations of totemic animals and ancestral figures were created throughout north-eastern Arnhem Land for use in particular ceremonial cycles. Today along the coast of Arnhem Land - at Yirrkala, Elcho Island, Milingimbi, Ramingining and to a lesser extent at Maningrida - soft wood carvings of birds, animals and fish, as well as ancestral heroes, are made by many artists. The shapes are carved from a single piece of wood and broad colour areas are then painted onto the surface of the carving, using natural ochres mixed with commercial fixative. The surface designs are engraved into the wood through the painted surface with a sharp knife, exposing the pale wood beneath and contrasting with the painted patterns. The carvings are all highly decorative, intricately designed and exceptionally light.
The surface patterns all relate to clan designs or other aspects of the myths in which the carved figures occur. The origin of carved human figures in eastern Arnhem Land seems to lie with the visits of Macassan fishermen. As reported by Mountford, who visited the area in 1948, Mawalan recounted that his father Djuakan was taught by the old Macassan fisherman Bopalindi how to carve a human head on top of a burial post. The art was passed from Djuakan to his son and he in turn passed it on to others. According to Mountroford, at first the Dhuwa moiety were the only group to carve such posts and the Yirritja people commissioned them to carve the mortuary posts for their graves. Mountford commented that in just over two generations. Aboriginals had taken the simple post figure of foreign origin and were at the time of his visit carving full-length human figures in wood.
The first carving in the round to be collected from Yirrkala by a visitor was made by Mawalan in 1938. At the time, the Reverend F.W. Chaseling was a missionary in the small village and one of his sermons he had expressed grief at the loss that the nation had suffered by the death of King George V. The sermon and the missionary's feelings so impressed Mawalan that he carved a mortuary post similar to the traditional memorial grave posts for the dead king. The piece was sent to the Australian Museum and consisted of a hardwood post with a long face and an elongated beard. The pole was simply decorated with ceremonial string. Only few years later, during world War II, an Air Force camp was established near Yirrkala and many Aboriginals were employed there. These people learned to use pocket knives, tomahawks, wooden rasps and files, and with these they made many wooden sculptures. The Berndts worked at Yirrkala shortly after this and they mentioned that although the artist used knives they were still also using spear points to carve.
At present softwood carvings include a great variety of birds and ancestral figures. The figures are generally major characters from the great clan ancestral heroes. Like the Tiwi, who are carving replicas of the main mythological heroes, Purukapali, Tapara and Bima, the clans of eastern Arnhem Land are using the repertoire of their own traditional stories to carve exceptionally skilful images in the round.
CEREMONIAL EMBLEMS AND SPIRIT IMAGES
Natural materials such as bark, string, feathers and other fibre wee utilised in a wide variety of ways throughout Arnhem Land to make ceremonial sculptures in the forms of symbolic animal, plant and bird images or abstract totems representing sacred objects or food emblems, such as yams. None of these have found their way into the commercial art markets and they are not made as part of the arts and craft industry in the north. They form an essential part of most important ceremonies. Termed rangga, paper bark emblems are made throughout Arnhem land and many of the finest examples exhibit great beauty and elegance of form. They are shaped from folded or rolled strips of paper bark which are then tightly bound with hand-spun bush string. Realistic heads of birds or animals may be added, carved out of small pieces of wood and painted before being fixed into place. The tightly wound string is then painted before being fixed into place. The tightly wound string is then painted with ochre decorations and feather strings may also be added as decorative elements.
In western Arnhem Land, the intense imaginative quality that gives form to weird bush spirits on bark paintings also reveals itself in to her specialised in painting and carving the Mimi spirits that live in the dark crevices of the rocky western Arnhem Land sandstone escarpment. Guningbal's Mimi are instantly recognisable as angular spotted figures with round heads and large, staring eyes. Among the Yulngu of eastern Arnhem Land, the spirits of the deceased which are still wandering about the bush are called mokoy, and these form subjects for sculptures as well as paintings.
CARVED TREES OF THE SOUTH-EAST
Carved trees, or dendroglyphs, have been recorded in Queensland, the Northern Territory and south-eastern Australia, although most of the trees are found in the territories that once belonged to the Kamilaroi and Wiradhuri people of New south Wales. Most of the trees have been carved in vertical sections using metal tools, suggesting that those that still exist were carved after 1800. Decorations on carved trees were made to mark burial sites or initiation ceremonial grounds. Each design has a mythological significance and is owned by a clan or local group. These are the largest carvings of any Aboriginal group in Australia. Most of the designs are geometrical, including curvilinear patterns, spirals, scrolls and diamonds. Representational figures also occur, including goannas, snakes, turtles and fish. It would appear that initiation tress are distinct in that only the outer bark of the tree was carved, whereas burial memorials were designed to last much longer and the designs were cut deeply into the undersurface.
Many of these trees can be found in remote parts of New south Wales, tucked away in the storerooms of local museums, and several magnificent examples are in the collection of the Australian Museum. One tree, five metres in height, has a design of concentric diamonds cut all around the trunk from top to bottom. As the old trees grow in situ, the bark tends to cover the ancient designs and in the process of restoring some trees, conservators are attempting to strip back the outer bark to reveal the designs once again. Contemporary Aboriginal people of New South Wales have a great pride in their heritage and are seeking to classify such sites as important cultural resources and sacred areas of their people.
The designs on the carved trees are very similar to the patterns used on decorated weapons and some elements are similar to patterns used on decorated weapons and some elements are similar to patterns from the Kimberley area. (Very few stylistic similarities are found to the work of the people of the central desert areas.) Of nearly 3000 trees surveyed in 1982, most of the tree carvings were characterised by non-figurative motifs and continuous lines enclosed in a space. Such carvings were widely distributed throughout inland new south Wales. Other cravings belonged to two smaller groups. One centres on the new south Wales north coast, bounded by the Great Dividing Range in the west and the Manning River in the south. These carvings were characterised by enclosed spaces with interior infills and the repetition of one or two motifs over a large area of the tree trunk. They were carved into the bark only. The second group comprised only a few trees in central New South Wales that had animal motifs. The bark had been removed within the outline of the fixtures, exposing the wood. There are very few examples on which to base the hypothesis that there were styles of dendroglyphs in New South Wales, but the evidence points to the fact that cultural boundaries defined technique and motif.
Although there might once have been thousands of carved trees in New South Wales, there are now only a few hundred.
Return to the Land
Throughout tribal Australia there has been a strong resurgence of traditional life and ceremony. Families have left government settlements and missions where their parents had lived since they were bon and have established small self-reliant communities in areas from 40-400 kilometres from the nearest main settlement. This has happened in the central and western desert regions and throughout the 'top end' of the Northern Territory including Arnhem Land; a few have also begun in Cape York. As art is an integral part of Aboriginal life, the effect this has had on Aboriginal artists' creative output has been profound. The proximity of Dreaming sites has strengthened ceremonial activity. Associated dance and body decorations, ritual designs and sculptures have become not only more plentiful but also more carefully and elegantly executed, reflecting the joy of the artists in their homelands. The significance of this move is only clear when one considers the history of the interaction between the Aboriginal and European cultures in Australia.
Since the Dreaming, each Aboriginal clan group has owned or held in trust a series of Dreaming sites at which particular ancestors appeared, formed the landscape and produced children who became the human ancestors of the people. Periodically, at sacred sites on this land, the people re-enacted, in chant, mime and dance, the actions of their Dreaming ancestors. The older men initiated young men; the women danced their own celebration of fertility and childbirth and the regeneration of all life. Each group continued the traditions of body painting, making weapons for survival, sculpting the ground for ceremony and painting images of the spirit ancestors and spirits of special places on rock and on bark.
The performance of these ceremonies was the core of the people's religious life. The ceremonies were essential, otherwise the annual cycle of life, the periodic reproduction of species, indeed the whole functioning of the cosmos, would not continue in the manner ordained by the ancestors. If a person wee deprived of his homeland or if special sites on that land were destroyed, he would lose all connection with his ancestors and be left in a void. With the expansion of European settlement in the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, in increasing number of people were encouraged to have their homelands or were forced from them. As the concepts of Dreaming sites and sacred lore were alien and incomprehensible to the invaders, tribal lands were occupied without regard to traditional owners. When objections were raised, the results were often violent massacres.
The spread of imported diseases took an even greater toll. In the south-eastern areas of the continent, this dispossession was rapid and, for many tribes, final. In these areas ritual and ceremonial life ceased early this century and traditional art forms disappeared. By 1900 the Aboriginal population has been reduced from 300,000 to 50,000. In the more remote central desert, Arnhem land plateau and coastal plains, in Cape York and in the Kimberleys, Aboriginal people continued to live their traditional lives, relatively ignored by Europeans in general. It was believed the Aboriginals were a dying race and in an effort to 'smooth the pillow' of the doomed people, missions and government stations were established and reserves of land set aside for them. The government position of Protector of Aborigines was established and an era of welfare and protectionism began. From 1900 to 1960, with the coming of the missions and settlements, the traditional economic foundations of Aboriginal society changed. Access to basic rations was offered, together with small amounts of medical cared, education and housing. The population began to increase again. Fewer children died under the age of five, women survived childbirth, and the elderly, who might otherwise have found survival hard, were nourished from local European rations. But in return for the benefits offered, the people on the settlement were expected to make profound adjustments to meet the objectives of the missionaries and settlement mangers. The missions aimed at spiritual conversion and, consciously or unconsciously, a complete change in their 'charges' basic pattern and values of life.
The settlement officers put into practice government policies of protectionism followed by assimilation. They saw their role as offering benefits, particularly those of education and social adaptation, which would assist Aboriginals to assimilate fully into the wider society. But these large communities had brought together groups of people who spoke different languages, often peoples who, only ten years previously, had been enemies. The psychological stress was great and talk of withdrawal from missions and settlements was commonplace, but, due to long-standing inertia and dependence on the supplies, it was seldom put into practice. Grievances concerned growing gaps between age groups, the erosion of traditional patterns of authority, the aimlessness and drinking problems in the young men and the general and all-pervasive disruption to the social organisation. There was more and more evidence that prospectors and tourists were trespassing on the land where sacred sites lay unprotected.
Bauxite mining that began at Gove (Nhulunbuy) in the early 1970s, only a short distance from Yirrkala mission, became a catalyst. Despite a legal battle, the mine developed into a huge project with a large associated township. Almost simultaneously, in an attempt to protect their own land and sacred sites, Aboriginal people throughout tribal Australia began tomovw away from the missions and settlements to establish small remote communities known as centres, homelands or outstations. Government support has increased for these Aboriginal moves towards self-management. Legislation now provided for 'land rights' or freehold title to traditional lands in the Northern Territory covering up to twenty-five per cent of the total area, with other states following. The dispossession of Aboriginal land is the injustice about which Aboriginals feel most strongly and the security of land for the future, or compensation for its loss, became the central issue for the 1970s and, so far, into the 1980s as other states begin to rectify the omissions of the past.
In the remote communities of the deserts and Arnhem Land, small and large groups have gathered close to water supplies and away from the social dislocation they felt at the government settlements. Australia is, in a sense, being repopulated. Tribal groups are keeping ceremonies alive and are living close to the earth and sacred landscape, while beginning to educate their children in bicultural and bilingual programmes. Tribal men and women have retained full knowledge of the sacred areas in the land, together with extensive ceremonial cycles that commemorate their formation by the ancestral heroes. In these places, ritual life is not disrupted by competing priorities of work or other influences, and in the desert areas particularly, where people have moved vast distances, ceremonies associated with previously inaccessible sacred sits are being renewed. All facets of traditional religious arts flourish.
The survival of these small centres is dependent, to some extent, on their self-sufficiency. Cash is necessary to purchase a range of goods; cars and petrol, utensils for cooking and hunting, building materials, clothing and luxuries such as radios. in large centres, television and even video recorders are now part of Aboriginal society and are seen as desirable. Although hunting is an important source of food, dependence on the regular visits of the the supply truck is also a fact of life.
In the early 1970s, one government administrator said:
The most difficult problems of such communities from the point of view of government are those of reconciling self-determination for the aboriginals with help to enable them to obtain access to essential stores and services upon which they have come to depend, without imposing on them excessive economic dependence. It would serve little long-term purpose if we free Aboriginals from the bonds of bureaucratic paternalism and, at the same time, make them wholly dependent upon financial subvention from the community. Apart from the ever-present risk of white 'backlash', dependence is insidious, in the long run impossible to disguise, and, in due course, destructive. As we are now trying to do in social affairs, the objective must be to make the economic conditions of Aboriginals reflect their own aspirations, efforts and capabilities.
Aboriginal people have subsequently taken up that challenge and have decisively followed a program of self-determination and self-management in which the sale of art plays a significant role. In a large centre such as Maningrida on the Liverpool River in Arnhem Land, the outstations have their own council, with representatives from each small community. This council meets to discuss the specific management and support of more remote places without distracting attention from the business of managing the larger community. White advisers, if needed, are now employed by the Aboriginal councils and are responsible to them. While accepting goods such as television sets and services that, to the outside eye, are alien to a romantic concept of a 'traditional' lifestyle, the outstations are ensuring their continued viability by taking from the dominant culture only what is useful, attractive or entertaining, while maintaining their religion and its practices in ceremony and art.
The increase in production of traditional arts and crafts on the outstations and homelands centres is not only a direct response to life in the bush, an adequate supply of good materials, and a renewal of ceremonial contact with the power of the spirit ancestors; it has also become a most essential factor in the cash economy. Depending on location, hunting and gathering can supply up to sixty per cent of the food requirements, but cannot supply cash. This must be obtained by the sale of art and from social security benefits. Cash enables food to be bought from servicing trucks and light aircraft. Over 150 outstations and homelands have now been established throughout tribal Australia and most of these produce some form of art for sale.
The continuation of traditional arts in remote communities also has an enormous effect on their pride and self-reliance. In many ways, art is the most important way in which tribal people communicate with the wider society. When their great works of painting, sculpting, caring or weaving are appreciated, shown in galleries and bought for high prices, the artists feel that thee is a simultaneous appreciation of their world view, their great Dreaming designs, their songs and ceremonies. In recent years the beauty and strength of Aboriginal art in all its forms have been recognised in the international arenas. Aboriginal artists, musicians and dancers now form part of every Australian contingent participating in international cultural festivals.
Many researches have asked whether the sale of traditional religious art necessarily leads to its downgrading and eventual destruction. But, as already mentioned, in all their art forms Aboriginal communities do not see that they are selling the designs themselves; they are merely transposing them into forms that are portable for Europeans and receiving some payment for sharing the designs. Extensive legislation is under discussion to protect Aboriginal copyright just as the artists se it as protected through their own moral laws.
Generally, traditional Aboriginal art is sold from centrally based communities. The satellite outstations produce most of the work but it is collected and fed through larger depots such as Maningrida, Ramingining and Yirrkala in Arnhem Land, and Papounya and "Amata in central Australia. Most of the Aboriginal councils have formed artists' companies or co-operatives, which employ local craft advisers by means of government subsidy. These advisers have many duties, including assistance with collection of paints, ochres, barks or canvasses, timber for making weapons. They act as both buyers and sellers of the art, travelling through extremely inhospitable areas during the wet season, carrying bark paintings in trucks over creeks flying in small aircraft to collect the works. The logistics of providing a continuous device for the artists are such that the prices that the art must eventually fetch in southern cities are substantial. The vast distances between Australian capital cities and the remote outstations where Aboriginal families now live mean that freight bills, on top of the community arts and crafts costs, are high. The craft's advisers also negotiate prices and deal directly with galleries and the government-subsidised network of arts and craft outlets.
The result of the upsurge and increase in quality in traditional Aboriginal arts has been their acceptance and adoption as part of the contemporary mainstream of Australian art. Critics are now unanimously reporting on Aboriginal art exhibitions; this was unheard of in Australia twenty years ago, when only major exhibitions, sponsored by the principal state art galleries, rated mention. Not only does the new acceptance of Aboriginal art increase the status of Aboriginal communities in the eyes of Australian society in general, it also, as mentioned, considerably assists communities in gaining economic self-sufficiency. Very good individual artists are able to earn large incomes from the sale of their paintings. Exhibitions now tend to be organised in an attempt to recognise individual artists rather than clans and to show the meaning of the works as well as their visual appeal. In that process, older artists are now achieving some recognition. Their work may not be as technically proficient or perfect as that of younger artists, because of age and poor eyesight, but on the other hand their ceremonial knowledge is recognised and their illustrations of the meaning of the landscape to them through ceremonial series have been received with interest in the wiser community.
Younger artists whose paintings are innovative and yet traditional have also achieved recognition in their own right. Some are able to maintain their own crafts centres and are successful businessmen. In a few instances, and these are quite spectacular success stories, one-man shows have assisted artists to set up their own homeland centres.
There is a continuum in Aboriginal art that stretches directly from the first and most ancient scratches on rock deep in the Koonalda cave under the Nullarbor Plain through to modern works on canvas done by desert masters. Lines and symbols have remained the same for thousands of years, and, even in modern works by young artists, this essential view of life has been retained. There is a new and very strong sense of pride in being Aboriginal among Australians of aboriginal descent, and in most parts of the country, a cultural revival is asking place. many younger Aboriginals who might not have grown up within traditional religious principles are seeking to retain or regain what they once had. Aboriginal art is not a relic of a primitive culture usurped by an invading race; rather, it is a living tradition held with great pride and love in the minds of all aboriginals and which should be respected and appreciated by all others. It should be allowed to take its place as the expression of one of the important philosophies of the world.
Aboriginal religion has permitted its followers to live on the Australian continent following its principles for the longest span of any culture now surviving in the world. Although it is an ancient culture, so old as to be almost beyond our imagination, the very nature of the practice of Aboriginal art, its role at the centre of life itself and its multifaceted nature, incorporating as it does all aspects of performance, painting, constructions, body painting, song, dance and ceremony, as well as painted and sculptured images, allows these ancient arts to slip easily into any modern definition of great art and to be truly considered as treasured of Australia.
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