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To fight a uranium mine, remote desert artists paint a grand statement together

Emma Ruben -

Home to several Martu communities, Karlamilyi National Park straddles the Rudall River, where the waters' edge is lined with river gum and coolibah, while rock wallabies and greater bilbies hide amongst the rocks.

On the edge of this natural wonderland is the Kintyre uranium ore mine project, established without approval from Martu people.

Martu strongly opposed the uranium play. Now, the land's artists have come together to protest the now-lapsed project through a grand collaborative painting named Kintyre.

Currently on display as part of the Tracks We Share exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the artwork brings together stories of Jukurrpa, pre-colonial Martu life, personal histories and the impact of contemporary mining interference.

Under the tutelage of their elders, 23 artists over the course of 18 months laid the groundwork such as the lines of the river and trees. Elders added layers of detail and knowledge to the painting's foundations, bringing it together into the piece it is now.

Martu artists Curtis Taylor said the cultural importance reflected in Kintyre dates back generations.

"Me personally, I have a lot of memories of being on the river and being in the Kintyre area because my people, Wanman people, belong to that place," he said.

"They taught me a lot about the country around that area and how the water flows through creek systems, and then underground back into Karlamilyi River.

"And in this painting, the story is about fire, water, food, connection, ceremony, love, death, memories from our people and our old people."

In 2002 the Martu were awarded native title rights which recognised 136,000 square kilometres of land, including the Kintyre mining area.

However, in 2015 the Federal Government gave conditional approval for the Kintyre uranium mine.

Mr Taylor said the artists of Kintyre wanted to put across what's been lost from the Martu community as a result of the site.

"Our identity, stories, creation stories of our ancestral heroes about how they formed that country, what they left behind and that's the stories we are taught and we continue to teach our young people, that's what will be lost" he said.

"If they continue on this destruction of that part of the country, animal habitats, seeds, grass, plants from that area, endangered animals like the marsupial mole, will all be lost.

"And all those species and plants have not disappeared yet but have become scarce in that area."

kintyre painting by martu

The Martu people in surrounding towns like Parnngurr, Punmu, Kunawarritji have also experienced complications with water sources and water holes in this area.

"Our wirrkuja, a non-permanent water source is a place that provides water for animals and people, they tend to be around for two, three weeks and then dry up really quick," Taylor said.

"But now we're seeing these water places, they're drying up really quick and they're not there when they should be because of the disturbance in the ground.

"This water source we worry about because it's part of our creation story and we always think about how we can protect that or look after it and make sure it's still there."

Taylor said returning the land into the hands of the Martu people has continued to be a significant issue within their community.

"We in our hearts and minds, we never really lost that land but I think it's really important for us to have a sort of official document or event to mark this event," he said.

"So the new generation coming up, know where their homeland is and know where they are connected to, where they come from and their family ties.

"And also not just for Martu people that are living within the country but also living in the diaspora in other places, Martu that have been stolen or their families have been stolen and they are reconnecting to their birthplace or birth right."

Taylor said the Kintyre painting should be seen as a statement from the Martu people.

"This artwork is like a statement or a document like the Bark petition they did up in Northern Territory," he said.

"It's a statement but it's also documenting our country and our ties to that area, not just the old bushman but also the younger generation that have their living memories of being in that area, swimming in those place, hunting in those place.

"We want that block of land to be reinstated into our park but also in the Martu determination so that we can co-manage with different agencies and our partners within the region.

"So that we can look after it together for the benefit for all Western Australians or anybody who want to enjoy travelling through Karlamilyi National Park."

The Kintyre painting will be displayed at the Art Gallery of Western Australia as part of the Tracks We Share Exhibition until August 28.

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