Marlbatharndu Wanggagu: people telling their stories
Marlbatharndu Wanggagu- Once Upon a Time in the West is a project that integrates storytelling and intangible cultural heritage with distinctive contemporary art. This exhibition is the outcome of a collaboration with the IBN Aboriginal Corporation and Yinhawangka, Banyjima and Nyiyaparli people whose traditional lands are in the high country of North Western Australia; a region whose modern development was driven by the pastoral industry. There is no simple story to this history, but dispossession left a legacy, the effect of which continues to this day. The industry was dependent on Aboriginal labour, which sustained and built the stations. This exhibition is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of the pastoral industry across the state, but rather focuses on the direct experiences of people as they lived it. During this project many of those interviewed reflected on the station days fondly as a time when they worked on country with their family, developing into champion horse breakers, rodeo riders and kings of the gymkhana. Energy, action, risk and adventure were part of this life. Despite not being financially rewarded for their knowledge, skills or hard work, respect and status was bestowed from the community on exceptional horsemen and women. Women were just as accomplished as men in the saddle, and, whilst employment in roles on the station was gendered, with women’s primary role as domestic labour, when it was required women also did fencing, horse breaking, well sinking, mustering, and ‘gun slinging.’ Rather than a narrative of victimization and struggle, the voices are courageous and heroic. Yinhawangka, Banyjima and Nyiyaparli people created intentional communities of refuge; through culture, family bonds, laughter and love, whilst strict discipline maintained kinship and tradition. Being in Country, connected to place and family, provided strength and a sense of shared belonging.The pastoral industry is a part of the identity and history of many Aboriginal people. These stories have been told through an equal and sustained partnership with the IBN Corporation alongside Sharmila Wood (FORM Curator) and Andrew Dowding, Anthropologist. The exhibition features the artwork of Reko Rennie, Jetsonorama and photographer, Claire Martin. Marlbatharndu Wanggagu translates as ‘people telling their stories’ in Banyjima.