Ngarinyin Pathway Project

     

     

    Gwion Nyawarra

    Through their expert knowledge and evidence of place recorded by Pathway Project in Ngarinyin country, the munnumburra — Njarjno, Ungudman, Banggal and Nyawarra have educated an international audience.

    Through Pathway Project people are invited to learn about the complex art, law and society of Aboriginal Australia that originated with an artist and has continued for millennia.

    This table is a brief chronology of Pathway Project’s two decade history.

    Guloi Plum Tree

    Guloi Plum Tree

    PATHWAY PROJECT BEGINS, NORTH-WESTERN, AUSTRALIA

    In 1992, the same year as the High Court of Australia’s Mabo determination, four Ngarinyin munnumburra—law experts—Ngajno, Ungudman, Banggal and Nyawarra began the Pathway Project in order to record evidence of the origin of their culture based in the Wunan.

    Beginning at Alyaguma gorge beneath the Guloi plum tree icon—an ancient visual metaphor for education—they asked artist Jeff Doring to record and film on their dulwan ni mindi or pathway of knowledge.

    Art is both residue and resonance of human history. Accordingly, the photographic evidence and verbal testimony of the Pathway Project was only recorded in Ngarinyin country under the supervision of the four Ngarinyin munnumburra who speak before their rock art heritage.

    “We only gotta little time us older people …
 and when older people go …
 we got it already in a book or film.”  
Nyawarra

    “… so we want to try and show it to the white Australian … and that’s why this very important for us … we want to satisfy before we die that we did something for everybody in the country … to learn and understand who we are in this country.”  Banggal 

    “Gwion Gwion was a secret to protect man … blood … law”

    Ngarjno   Ungudman   Banggal   Nyawarra 

    ABORIGINAL ELDERS ADDRESS UNESCO ROCK ART FORUM, PARIS, FRANCE

    Bangall, Nyawarra and Njarjno - UNESCO

    Bangall, Nyawarra and Njarjno – UNESCO

    In 1997, Ngarjno, Ungudman, Banggal and Nyawarra addressed the UNESCO rock art forum in Paris, France. The forum focused on UNESCO’s mission to protect cultural heritage; particularly rock art. The munnumburra presented a two-hour Pathway Project film that revealed evidence of the origins of Wunan, and its system of governance throughout time.

    MUSÉUM  NATIONAL D’HISTOIRE NATURELLE, PARIS, FRANCE

    A Pathway Project exhibition of photographs and text evidencing the Wunan connections with Gwion Gwion and Wanjina art was held concurrently at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.

    The munnumburra opened the exhibtion and presented a Guloi plumtree as a gift. This was the first Pathway Project museum exhibition and was enthusiastically supported by Henry De Lumley, an archeologist and Professor Emeritus at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. However, the exhibition was the cause of controversy amongst museum staff as some felt that the munnumburra were not ‘ethnographers’ and therefore had no right to present within the museum context.

    LASCAUX CAVE VISIT, DORDOGNE, FRANCE

    While in France the munnumburra were invited by curator Jean-Michel Geneste to visit the, closed to the public, Lascaux Caves. While inside the caves Nyawarra commented that all the horses and cattle were expected subjects of French rock art because that’s how European invaders first appeared on the Kimberley plateau, but he then enquired tactfully, “Where are the human beings?”. The answer came later in a visit to a Lascaux exhibition where the munnumburra saw a reproduction of the only Lascaux human figure (which is located in a shaft too dangerous to visit). Confronted with the often reproduced ‘stick figure’ man falling and loosing grip on spear and spearthrower, Nyawarra enquired of his name and of course to some embarrassment there was none known. So Ungudman spoke up with “Well what about Yandama?”

    Munnumburra, Ungudman knew the name of the Gwion inventor of the nyarndu or spearthrower because the history is illustrated in paint on rock at Alayguma in Ngarinyin country. It is an extremely archaic painting of the earliest nomadic era in which the figure is distinguished by three fingers; reflecting ancestral links between bird and human and the original clan identity with bird titles. Pathway Project recorded Yandama’s icon on film. The painting is evidence of the actual inventor of this technological breakthrough, while as witnessed at Lascaux, for European eyes, nothing is recorded. Thanks to the expert Ungudman we can now say and celebrate his name today–Yandama.

    This real history of the world may be diminshed by dismissing this expert degree of detailed knowledge of Kimberley rock art.

    LINK – UNESCO PRESS ARTICLE 1997

    AUSTRALIAN ROCK ART ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

    In 1998, the Australian Rock Art Association (AURA) conference, ‘Making a Mark’, was held at the Australian National University in Canberra. At the conference Pathway Project photographic evidence of Gwion Gwion rock art illustrated a paper spoken by Nyawarra in which he revealed and explained the names and meanings of ancient Kimberley plateau artists.

    Gwion Gwion – artists as inventors of hunting technology and painting techniques

    Munga.nyunga  – artists as visionaries of legal concepts and social structures

    Jenagi Jenagi – artists as messengers importing and exporting sacred objects along exchange routes or pathways dulwan.

    Of these three common titles for artist, the singular Gwion also retains the historic link with the cultural origin of the painting tradition with the Gwion Gwion bird.

    Jeff Doring supported Nyawarra’s paper by presenting the significance of Gwion Gwion rock art in its context as Wunan evidence. The munnumburra’s knowledge presented by Nyawarra and Doring through the Pathway Project transcended and eliminated any association with the colonial term ‘Bradshaws’ which had previously branded Gwion Gwion rock art throughout ‘the literature’. With this, the ‘Bradshaws’ title was removed as an inappropriate neo-colonial term.

    Despite the truths presented at the conference some academics refused to acknowledge the munnumburra’s evidence arguing that it was outside ‘the literature’ and therefore unworthy. Still, today, some continue to reference Gwion Gwion art incorrectly thereby refusing its relationship with the Wunan and sustaining the ‘terra nullius’ attitude of colonial law.

    1999 AUSTRALIAN ROCK ART ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE ALICE SPRINGS, NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA

    At the 1999 AURA conference in Alice Springs Jeff Doring presented a paper illustrating the mudurra headdress of Gwion figures, which distinguishes Gwion Gwion human images from other images. Doring’s paper described the significance of mundurra as a graphic motif in Gwion paintings depicting wigs made from human hair associated with Wunan districts and cultural resonance in Ngarinyin and neighbouring languages. The mudurra can be known as an extension of the human form, both as an icon of the local associations for the resident family and their ancestors plus an indication of legal connections within the wider cultural region.

    Doring told the conference that some Kimberley paintings show solitary Gwion wearing mudurra and that, during Pathway Project recording, the munnumburra interpreted these as signifying that the figures portrayed are in a private state of being with their ancestor’s homeland; also that, when considering the direction they face, other intereptations of their orientation are possible including sentinel relationships to a local boundary or other mamaa or restricted sites on dulwan–pathways of cultural evidence.

     

    PATHWAY PROJECT BOOK PUBLISHED BY KÖNEMANN, COLOGNE, GERMANY

    Gwion Gwion Dulwan Mamaa

    Gwion Gwion Dulwan Mamaa

    In 2000, the four munnumburra’s evidence was published as multilingual photographic book—Gwion Gwion Dulwan Mamaa: Secret and Sacred Pathways of the Ngarinyin Aboriginal people of Australia.

    The publication aimed to establish the principles of the links between rock art and law. It is drastically restrained in content to maintain some discretion against the risks of exposure of the secret and sacred, and by no measure reflects the extent of local knowledge of the rock art or the extensive archive the munnumburra have recorded through the Pathway Project.

    BOOK LAUNCH, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

    Gwion Gwion Dulwan Mamaa was launched at the Manning Clark Centre, Australian National University in September 2001. Dr Brian Kennedy, Director of the National Gallery of Australia and Mr Russell Taylor, Principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Straits Islander Studies (AIATSIS) spoke. Nyawarra and Ungudman attended the launch, as did Mick Dodson, Chair of the AIATSIS and Senator Aden Ridgeway who was at that time the only Aboriginal member of the Australian Parliament.

    2002 EXHIBITION, AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

    In 2002 the six screen film exhibition Ngarinyin Pathways Dulwan was the premiere exhibition at the opening of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne and remained on exhibition at ACMI for 9 months.

    Ngarinyin Pathways Dulwan is one expression of the Pathway Project. It is a multi-screen audio-visual installation that invites the visitor into Ngarinyin country to watch, listen and learn from four Ngarinyin munnumburra – experts in traditional law, culture and art. The munnumburra reveal the durable themes that have sustained their cultural continuity for millenia, and through the disruptions and dispossession of the past century. They instigated and guided filming to record historical narratives and orations spoken by them in the presence of ancestral and living evidence on their dulwan nimindi – pathway of knowledge and law. (ACMI  Ngarinyin Pathways Dulwan publication, 2002)

    LINK – ACMI – NGARINYIN PATHWAYS DULWAN

     

     

    NATIVE TITLE 

    Gwion human images of identity are considered legal documents. Their existence at specific locations on the plateau signifies each of over forty inherited districts or dambun–land by law defining everyone’s social identity with characteristic local motifs and symbols.

    In 2003, the recorded film, sound and text of Pathway Project were accepted as evidence in the Federal Court of Australia Wanjina Wunggurr Willingin case. The evidence was the subject of one of four judgments announced by Judge Sunberg when in 2004 he recognised Ngarinyin possession “against the world” over all rock art in the region including specifically Gwion art of Wunan law.

    Sunberg abstracted pages 120-121 of Gwion Gwion Dulwan Mamaa: Secret and Sacred Pathways of the Ngarinyin Aboriginal people of Australia which reproduces a sequence of still frames of 1999 digital video of Nyawarra spontaneously painting a Gwion Gwion figure when remarking a territorial boundary between three dambun regions according to Wunan law.

    These paintings are no longer recognised as ‘dreamtime lore’ but graphic legal documents of Wunan law by Australian law.

    The court’s legal acknowledgment of this ancient endemic figurative art as connection with country was at the core of the Native Title judgment. This legal reality finally transcended the popular belief that the Ngarinyin were ‘nomads’ and put to rest the persisting colonial notion that the Ngarinyin could not have a cultural connection with the Gwion paintings.

    LINK –  FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA GWION GWION BOOK RULING

    2004 INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF ROCK ART ORGANISATION CONGRESS, AGRA, INDIA

    At the end of 2004, ‘Changing Paradigms’, the Tenth Congress of The International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO) was held in Agra, India this was also the first International Congress of the Rock Art Society of India (RASI).

    At the conference Pathway Project presented a paper titled Kimberley (Australia) rock-markings: contemporary significance in the context of tourism. As part of this presentation ‘Gwion: a film of education through art’ by Nyawarra and Doring was screened.

    “This [film] included accounts of Ngarinyin cultural knowledge holders discussing meanings of various rock paintings and stone arrangements, and demonstrating that the Gwion motifs, along with the more familiar Wanjina, are an integral part of continuing Ngarinyin cosmology, and that, like the Wanjina, continue to be painted and re-painted. Many Kimberley sites are the subject of tourism, and the filming provided a basis for the discussion of the related matters of Ngarinyin cultural heritage ownership, and protection of places from the impacts of visitation. The intellectual resonance of this artistic tradition has implications for future custodianship, research and management.” (G WARD Rock Art Research 2010 – Volume 27, Number 2.)

     

     

    MUSÉE DÉPARTEMENTAL DE PRÉHISTOIRE D’LLE-DE-FRANCE, NEMOUR, FRANCE 

    In 2005 GWION GWION a single screen DVD exhibit of 22min22sec duration with french titles was screened at the Musée départemental de Préhistoire d’Ile-de-France Nemours.

    Gwion Gwion French Titles

    Gwion Gwion French Titles

    Gwion Gwion French Text

    Gwion Gwion French Text

     


     

     


    FIGURING LANDSCAPES INTERNATIONAL TOURING EXHIBITION

    In 2008, the Pathway Project short film Mandu was part of Figuring Landscapes an international touring exhibition curated by Pat Hofie and Danni Zuvela from Griffith University and Cate Elwes and Steven Ball from the University of London. Figuring Landscapes opened at the Tate Modern in London and toured to eight venues in the United Kingdom. In Australia it was shown at Ivan Doherty Gallery, Sydney; Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne

    Mandu - film still

    Mandu – film still

    FIGURING LANDSCAPES SEMINAR PRESENTATION

    In 2009, Jeff Doring presented a two hour film program at the Australian Cinemateque, GOMA and a one hour lecture about the origins of the Wunan at a seminar co-inciding with the Figuring Landscapes exhibition in Brisbane.

     

    MUSÉE  DE PRÉHISTOIRE DES GORGES DU VERDON, QUINSON, FRANCE

    From May until December 2010 a Pathway Project photography, text  and audio exhibition was held at Musée de Préhistoire des Gorges in Verdon, France.

    Installation - Quinson

    Installation – Quinson


     

    PAPER PUBLISHED BY AUSTRALIAN ROCK ART RESEARCH ASSOCIATION AND INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF ROCK ART ORGANISATIONS

    In 2014 a paper by Jeff Doring in consultation with Paddy Neowarra was published in ‘Rock Art Research’ – the international journal published by the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA) and the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO)

    GWION ARTISTS AND WUNAN LAW: THE ORIGIN OF SOCIETY IN AUSTRALIA* Jeff Doring in consultation with Paddy Nyawarra

    Rock Art Research 2014 – Volume 31, Number 1, pp. 3-13. J. DORING with P. NYAWARRA

    KEYWORDS: Kimberley – Ngarinyin – Gwion (artist, inventor) – Wunan (law and land tenure)

    * Images of Ngarinyin persons and ancestral sites are reproduced in this paper; persons of Aboriginal descent may decide not to view the contents of this publication.