Living Culture

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Around 40 000 years ago, with one soft breath, a fine spray of ochre landed on the roof of a cave. This was the very first time that ochre was used in Australia for cultural or symbolic purposes. And one of the first instances of rock art painting recorded anywhere in the world. It happened here on Bunuba country.

From ochre painted rock walls, to screen prints and silk dyed scarves, Bunuba maintains a rich and diverse relationship with our artistic endeavours. A custom which has grown and flourished across thousands of years of practice.

The labyrinth of caves that course through our balili (limestone) has preserved our rock art across the millennia. Whereas the lighter coloured {winamu](lflp/words/6) (sandstone) of the Miluwindi Ranges , is functions as the perfect natural canvas to our gallery of art.

Our rock art is a living store of memory and knowledge. It speaks of social boundaries, connections to country and enduring interactions with our neighbours. Our paintings chart the diversity of our culture and reflect intricate exchange systems that connect us to other people from the desert to the sea. Our art binds us to one of the longest and most complex rock art systems in the world.

It would be remiss to think that our rock art is an artefact of our past. Rather it is a testament to the magnificence and longevity of our culture. Restoration and repainting have been ingrained in our practice since those first grains of ochre were directed upon the rock walls. Today our Cultural Caretakers Project continues this stewardship of our sites.

Our Ranger team and senior Traditional Owners, regularly travel out on country to care for our art sites. These visits are to ensure that our rock paintings are free from threats or damage. It is also the time that we come together in the remembering and retelling of our stories. It is in this way that our art transcends time. The memories and knowledge retained in our paintings are the life force of our culture. And in the practice of our culture, we are obligated to maintain, preserve, and protect these very same sites. As culture and art come one into the other, the lives, memories, and practices of Bunuba are sustained far across the generations.

However, country is not our only canvas. We have many talented artists that continue to colour and illustrate our world. Many of our artists work independently, selling their art at the local centre or at various markets across the Kimberley.

Local artists are further supported by 2 local art centres – Mangkaja Arts and Marnin Studio.

Operating since 1981 Mangkaja boasts a fine art gallery, speciality store and studio space. It supports all Indigenous artists who are based in Fitzroy Crossing.

Marnin Studio is a social enterprise that focuses on the empowerment of women by taking a therapeutic approach to art. This healing space weaves together environment, culture and community.

Both Marnin and Mangkaja strive to help their artists achieve financial security through the sale of their artworks. Both these centres are open to the public and are wonderful places to visit whilst in Fitzroy Crossing.

Photos courtesy of Penny Purdie, Bunuba Rangers, Mel Marshall, [RIFT photography] & Sean Scott