Warnayaka Art Centre at Lajamanu

We arrived at Lajamanu at 2am Friday morning from Alice Springs via Yuendumu having driven for 6 hours at night through the  Tanami Desert  along the Tamani Road,  then turning onto  the track to Lajamanu after the gold mine at the Granites (operated by Newmont Mining)  and at Tanami.  I wondering how mining on Warlpiri land, with its establishing and fixing boundaries for mining exploration  was changing the Warlpiri’s conception of country. Mining, after all,  commodifies the country and it associated conception of owning and gaining profit from it is a very different from the way  that the Warlpiri define place, looking after country, and custodianship.

We were lucky as  the wet season hadn’t started and, fortunately for us,   the dozen or more  floodways along  the Lajamanu Track were still  dry. We stayed in the back room of the  Learning Centre, which is supported,   and run by,  the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. A key gathering place at Lajamanu is the Warnayaka Art Centre where Warlpiri artists  preserve, protect and pass on the cultural significance of Warlpiri culture to the younger generation. The context is the tragic realisation  by the Walpirri elders that  the youth were losing direction, community stories were not being shared and interest in learning and education – both mainstream and Indigenous – are  decreasing.

The Art Centre, which provides a significant source of income for the community,  is one way the Warlpiri are grappling with the difficult issues associated with coming up with a compromise  between traditional culture and modernity. The painter’s  compromise, for instance,   is  premised on  preserving  some traditional elements and incorporating  innovation from white art  culture in the form of  the techniques of  modernist abstraction.  

 Warnayaka Art Centre
Warnayaka Art Centre

These are  desperate times for  the Walrpiri as they become modern through their fractured experiences:  they  need to get all these stories out  but some of these stories have only one or two elderly people still looking after them.

One feature that  differentiates Warlpiri  culture from our western one is  the continuity with local landscapes or countryscapes. These countryscapes are viewed from above–eg.,  the  perspective of the eye of the eagle.  The entirety of country, including its environmental features, its topography and landmarks, its flora and fauna, its water sources, was (and for many, still is) deeply etched and encoded with meaning, and connected by powerful narratives.


One response to “Warnayaka Art Centre at Lajamanu”

  1. […] focus. It is about walking in northern South Australia, and the earlier road trips to Andamooka and Lajamanu can be seen as precursors to walking in the northern region of South […]


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