history, Indigenous, landscape, people, roadtrip

on the road to Lajamanu

October 9, 2016

The three exhibitions that I have been involved in  —Weltraum, Abstractions x5 and Mallee Routes— are  over.

Tomorrow morning I drive to Mildura via the Mallee Highway  to link up with Judith Crispin and friends who are travelling from Sydney to  Lajamanu in the North Tanami Desert  in the Northern Territory of Australia.  It will take us approximately 3 days  to get to Lajamanu via Alice Springs from Mildura.We will  travel on  the Goyder Highway to Port Augusta, and then on the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. I haven’t been on the Woomera –Alice Springs section  of the Stuart Highway before, so this is new terrain for me.

In Alice Springs we  will meet up  with other photographers–Juno Gemes and Helga Leunig–and a poet–Dave Musgrave, who runs Puncher and Wattmann, an independent Australian publishing house that publishes Australian poetry and literary fiction. The third  day is then spent traveling in two 4 wheel drive vehicles  on the Tanami Road  to  the turnoff to Lajamanu, then along the Lajamanu track to the community based on the eastern side of Hooker Creek.  There is some background  on Lajamanu here and here. 

on the road

on the road

We are going to  see the Milpirri Festival, which  is presented by the Warlpiri people at Lajamanu in association with the Tracks Dance Company.  For one night only, every two years, Milpirri brings the whole Lajamanu community together in a  theatrical performance in Lajamanu itself. Milpirri began in 2005 and it is based upon a twenty-seven-year relationship between Tracks Dance Company and Lajamanu community that began in 1988.

Milpirri challenges the  narrative of  the Australian nation state that Indigenous societies embrace modernity (‘Close the Gap’) by leaving their homelands to gainfully ‘participate’ in the nation.  In this  narrative  the ‘remote’ is increasingly figured as disadvantageous, as well as unhealthy, for sustainable and productive lives to take shape.  The conservatives say that  these remote communities need to be, and should be,  shut down. The conservative’s  default position is assimilation.  

I plan to keep an old fashioned handwritten diary whilst I’m on the road– as I won’t be taking a computer with me because of the red dust.  I’ll be shooting both black and white  (medium format), colour (35 mim)  as well as digital. I presume  that  there won’t be much photography whilst we are  travelling to Lajamanu as we will be travelling  in  Judith Crispin’s  Land Rover Discovery for around 12 hours per day. I will be more or less  a cultural tourist at Lajamanu, and I guess that  my digital camera will be my main camera.

I really don’t know what I am going into and I don’t know how I will be photographing.

railway bridge, Port Augusta

railway bridge, Port Augusta

The Tanami  is the northernmost desert in Australia and the day temperatures  whilst we will be  there  will range between 35-43 degrees. The country consists mostly of sandy plains. A lot of it is covered in spinifex grass, low acacias (the yellow flowering shrubs), some spindly grevilleas and other small trees,  lots of termite hills and the odd water hole.

We will be there on the cusp of the rainy season,  and we hope that the rains haven’t arrived, since the floodwaters on the Lajamanu Track would make access very difficult, if not impossible. The only other access to Lajamanu is via Tenant Creek on the Stuart Highway,  along the Buchanan Highway from Dunmarra to Top Springs, along the Buntine Highway,  then  100km on unsealed road  to Lajamanu.  That  is around 500 miles longer,  and it would add another day to the trip.

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3 Comments

  • Reply to Lajamanu: Mildura | The Long Road to Lajamanu October 24, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    […] mid 2016  I accepted Judith Crispin’s invitation  to  join  her and her friends to travel to the northern Tanami Desert to see the Warlpiri people’s Milpirri Festival. The […]

  • Reply a softer light | poodlewalks October 24, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    […] just returned from 12 days travelling to and from Lajamanu in the north Tanami desert. I thoroughly enjoyed walking along the beach in […]

  • Reply Carwarp - Mallee Routes October 24, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    […] travelled along the Calder Highway between Ouyen and Mildura in order to rendezvous  with Judith Crispin to go  to Lajamanu in the northern Tanami Desert.  The Calder Highway runs […]

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