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.
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.
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.