Wednesday, October 13, 2010


This is Shorty Jangala Robertson. Jangala is his skin name, telling us which family group he belongs to. This belonging is more important than money, possessions or anything else for that matter. It is at the core of a complex mutual obligation system here in Yuendumu. Hang around Warkurlangu Aboriginal Arts centre long enough and one of the old women might give you a skin name. It will be used to greet you.

Every day Shorty comes to work. He waits at the gate for the centre to open. He waited on Christmas day. He waited on the day of the riots. He likes to work. He sits outside on the veranda by a fire and paints Water Dreaming. He is a legend. He generates income for the whole community. His paintings have been collected by the AGNSW and the National Gallery.
Shorty’s dreaming country is Mt Theo. He sings the sacred chant that protects and nourishes the kids who stay at Mt Theo whilst they detox from petrol sniffing. The program there is world renowned because it works. Dedicated local elders and white fellers set it up ten years ago and it has saved generations of teenagers’ lives. Mt Theo works because they construct and maintain strong relationships with the kids, elders, teachers, parents, youth workers, health professionals and government bodies bridging the gulf between black and white.

You can stay at Warkurlangu as a volunteer. You have the privilege of making Shorty a cup of tea and help him to collect wood for his fire. He will allow you to mix his paints and help to protect the canvas from rain drops, fire sparks and the occasional dog. He is one of the Old People who receive a hot lunch of chops and potatoes each day from the Old Peoples Centre. He is one of the last of the ‘First Contact’ blackfellers who knew life in the desert before white people came and brought plentiful food, destroyed their waterholes and killed his kin in the Conniston massacre. In this massacre he lost his mum. She walked hundreds of kilometres to find him and bring him home.

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