An exhibition this summer in Roebourne celebrates the Elders and history of the Yindjibarndi nation through their art and memories.

Thaanggangarli-Yarndu, or the History and Heroes Exhibition, is a collection of works by Juluwarlu artists, historical images, songs held in Juluwarlu’s Yindjibarndi Archive, and sounds recorded at Yindjibarndi artist camps on Country.

CEO of Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation Lorraine Coppin said the project was about teaching the youth the experiences and history of her people, paying it forward and caring for Country and future generations; a value summed up in the Yindjibarndi word nyinyart.

“Nyinyart is the Yindjibarndi word that is one of our principles that we must take in our everyday life: I look after you, you look after me, we look after Country, and Country looks after us,” Ms Coppin said.

“Everything we do in our daily lives we must always put people first. Community always comes first.”

Roebourne isn’t Yindjibarndi country, but Yindjibarndi people have been living in the area on Ngarluma Ngurra (Country) since the early 1900s, when a large number of Yindjibarndi people moved into the Roebourne Aboriginal Reserve from the Tablelands.

The project was developed through five three-week artist residencies in the area over
the past year.

They brought together ancestral, historical and Yindjibarndi lived experiences to inspire young people with the stories of their thaanggangarli, or heroes.

The exhibition features visual works as well as soundscapes recorded during camps on Yindjibarndi Country by artist Dimitri Kapetas.

Yindjibarndi Elder Uncle Harry Mills is a featured artist in the exhibition.

“Harry is one of the oldest Elders we have left,” Ms Coppin said.

Uncle Harry was taken away from his family as part of the Stolen Generation and had to relearn his culture when he returned to his people as a young man, Ms Coppin said.

“He’s teaching anyone who wants to learn (culture), but he also puts all of it into his artworks.”

Harry Mills. Photo by Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation.

Guruma and Yindjibarndi Wayne Stevens is a birlagurda (craftsman), and another featured artist.

Stevens has been carving cultural artefacts since he went through traditional cultural ceremony and Lore, and his Ngunda yarndu gundu (corroboree masks) are displayed in the exhibition.

“As a birlagurda, I craft and make artefacts, boomerangs (warrgundi), spear thrower (wumara), hunting spears (gudiyarra) from wood that come from the trees that comes from my Country,” he said.

“I do not carve in night-time: I treat the trees with respect. It is a living thing, that feels and breathes in the same way that I do.”

“Without the respect for each other we can’t exist, and if I were to behave improper to that tree and don’t follow my cultural protocols to how I must take a piece from its body, it will be like taking a person’s limb off while they’re sleeping.”

The exhibition is on at Juluwarlu and the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation’s Ganalili Cultural Centre and Gallery, the town’s old Victoria Hotel.

The hotel was bought by the corporation in 2019 and refurbished.

Ms Coppin said the project was about remembering the past, but not dwelling on the negative things that had been done to her people. She said that was reflected in the gallery’s past life.

“It was the old Victoria Hotel, where a lot of bad things that happened that we have today in our community, drinking alcohol, smoking.

“It’s an area that breaks up families, it’s an area that’s just troubles for Yindjibarndi people,” she said.

“We wanted to switch the centre as a positive for people.”

The centre also houses the City of Karratha Library, Roebourne Visitor Centre, Mission Australia, MacKillop Family Services and the Remote School Attendance Strategy.

By Sarah Smit