Michael Dillon, Film maker
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Mutawintji National Park aboriginal custodian Gerald Quayle tells us of the importance of Mutawintji as a meeting place and as an art site. He explains how the “hand” paintings on the rock walls were made.
In 1861 Ludwig Becker, the Burke and Wills Expedition artist, painted artworks he observed in caves as the supply party passed through Mutawintji. See his watercolour entitled: Small cavity in Mutwanji Gorge with native drawings and impression.
-My name's Gerald Quayle, and we're at Mutawintji Historic Site, which is situated inside Mutawintji National Park. This area is known for its artwork. The rock artwork and the ochre stenciling artwork. Well, Mutawintji, this area where we are, is a ceremonial area. You have several different groups from around the area that would congregate here for meetings, for ceremonies, for trading purposes, they'd invite people from the Adnyamathanha ra-- Adnyamathanha group and the northern Flinders. They'd invite Ngiyampaa people from the east around Cobar either for trading purposes-- And the ceremony that were held in here was initiation ceremonies, rain making ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, and all those different groups that was associated with this area, there were intertribal marriages between the group, and you weren't allowed to marry someone from your own group, you had to marry someone from another group, and that strengthened the affiliation of the group.
The artwork that are in these caves is the stenciling of hands, weapons, boomerangs. It's ochre, and ochre is just natural earth pigment, and it comes in rock form. When my ancestors wanted to do this style of artwork, they'd crush the rock and grind it up into a fine powder. They'd add water to the powder mixture. They'd mix it up, and while they're mixing up, they'll be chewing on animal fat. Then they would tip the water and ochre mixture into their mouth, swirl it around with the animal fat, so that the animal fat incorporates and binds the ochre together. And the animal fat also helps it adhere to the wall properly, and also waterproofs it. And they'd mix it up, tip the mixture into their mouth, put whatever object they wanted to stencil on the wall. If it was their hands, they'd put their hand up, then they'd blow the mixture from their mouth around the object, so that when they removed their hand, or the boomerang, the object is outlined on the wall. That type of stenciling is called negative stenciling.
The groups that would congregate in here for ceremonial purposes would stencil their hands up on the wall. The only groups that weren't allowed to stencil their hands up on the wall was a group that was invited in from outside of Barkindji country, and those groups would only be invited into here, mainly for trading purposes, like the Adnyamathanha people in the northern Flinders ranges. They'd be invited over here because they had a certain color of ochre, particularly the earthy red ochre that was sourced by mainly aboriginal people for their artwork, so the Barkindji people would send an invitation to that group to come across to trade that red color ochre for certain materials that they found around here, or certain materials that they got from another area, like a stone axe or something.
Well, the hands is one of the most significant bit of artwork that they could do. Because it signifies their affiliation to the land. It's more or less to say, I come from here.
To give you an idea of how important it was to have their hand stenciled, not only up in this area, but in areas around nearby this historic site area. Say, a baby's born, a Barkindji baby's born up near Bourke somewhere at the very top of the Darling river. When the baby's well enough and the mother is well enough to travel, the mother will bring that baby back, and only those two will travel, and father won't travel with them. But the mother and baby will travel from Bourke back to an area close by this historic site area, and the mother will stencil that baby's hand up on the wall.
And when the baby grows up, and he or she learns the technique of stenciling, they will stencil their hands up outside of this area, then when they come in here to attend a ceremony, maybe one of thei-- maybe their own ceremony. They will stencil their hands up in here. They will continue to do that until the day they die.