Part 2: Week 1 - 3

After 8991 miles, I arrived in a cold 14 degrees Perth on the 3rd October, after leaving Europe with around 20 degree Celsius. I didn’t sleep much on the plane but was making sure to arrive back in Leonora with some energy and my jetlag behind me. Like many outback places it is far and distant to anything. Whilst in Perth I decided to book in for a hot bamboo massage and yoga (I don’t usually indulge, but it was so worth it) and it surely drove the jetlag out of my body. Over 5 days with various meetings with IAS and my Aboriginal Cultural advisor Ron Bradfield Jnr., as well as revisits with old friends and a chance to go to the Pinnacles and Lancelin sand dunes I finally arrived in Kalgoorlie on Sunday 8th October. Elaine Labuschagne from the Shire of Leonora and my host for the project picked me up at the airport. Now a 3-hour drive awaited us through the red desert landscape. The road was littered with road kill such as kangaroos, cows and the odd lizard/goanna. The heat is already getting beyond comfortable of 35 degrees, what did I complain about in Perth?

Elaine and I became close friends in my last trip to Leonora, so we had lots to catch up on. Elaine is the Heritage Manager in Leonora, responsible for the large locale that is the Leonora Shire, and in particular for the Gwalia ghost town and former mine preservation. She arrived in Leonora 4 years ago, herself being a native South African. Whilst I was in Leonora last year she was in the process of organising  a display of the local Wongatha woman Geraldine Hogarth’s OBE award for life-long work in hearing health and language, which I was included in to materialise. This gave me a closer understanding and exchange with Geraldine and her mother Luxie, who I very much was looking forward to seeing again. So upon arrival we quickly arranged a dinner and I cooked roasted chicken with veggies and a Swedish style apple crumble. It was wonderful to see them again and despite Luxie having become a bit frail with hip problems we laughed throughout the evening. All I can say is that I love these women. The first week in Leonora included a re-acquaintance with the school, the youth centre and its new employee Rene Reddingius Jnr., the Medec centre, alongside arranging to move into a space where I could work for the next 4 weeks - the old Community Resource Centre (which had moved to a new flashy building elsewhere in Leonora together with many other business and organisations).

It is great that the Shire made sure I could have such a central space to work in as it makes it easier for people to come and find me even though Leonora is small, only one short high street.

On the Wednesday I attended the Women’s group with Elaine where we learnt basket weaving from a lovely woman called Leonie, a new temporary teacher at the school.

That first weekend I was invited to go to Sandstone with Elaine to attend a meeting of museums in the area and the opening of the Sandstone WW1 exhibition Remembering Them, which celebrated Marge Landy’s work in Sandstone over the last 8 years. 

I will come back to Sandstone later, but my initial perception of this little town was filled with eeriness, despite lovely company. The town only has 53 inhabitants but a brand new observatory- and my oh my, were the stars bright out there! We could very clearly see the Milky Way.

On our way back Elaine took me to see the famous ‘London Bridge’ and the brewery in a cave on Sandstone heritage trail. We then drove through to an old mining village called Agnew, now a ghost town, onto Leinster, a small town built in 1976, where we stopped for a lovely lunch.

Back in Leonora hitting week 2 we arranged a meet and greet in the CRC building (my studio) for Tuesday 17th October. It was a very successful introduction of this 2nd stage of my spaced 3: north by southeast project with 23 adults and around the 15-20 children popping in and out. It was a great mix of people both of Aboriginal heritage (such as Geraldine and Luxie) but also some new faces like Vicky Abdullah and TomTom (Dennis) Simmons, my artist assistant to be, and many from the community, even some new arrivals.

I made a large roasted pumpkin and chickpea salad and a pasta salad with apple cake and kärleks mums (love nom noms) and introduced my light and language project using bendable LED lights to create a large-scale outdoor installation, and the cyanotype printing technique using UV rays and water as its components, to make an image and develop it, I wanted to deliver a visible, fun and thoughtful project for Leonora that sits between dark and light, light and shadow, the visible and invisible.

By merging new and old technologies my project also engages with thinking about circularity in cultures and how things on the verge of disappearing can become illuminated and brought back. In the language project we will have four Kuwarra words noting North, East, West and South and in-between these we will try and tease out less colonial languages (English) and try to consider heritage both as indigenous and as immigrant through layers of time. Hopefully we will be able to see the breadth of languages within Leonora, still simmering underneath the English.

Following the meet and greet I have organised a few workshops and started working with TomTom my assistant for the remainder of my stay. TomTom is a young Aboriginal man and a great asset to have onboard.

We made all the wooden structures together with help from Gerrit, Elaine’s husband. Tomorrow (Tuesday 24th October) we are holding a light /language workshop from 3pm-8pm.

On the weekend I held a workshop between 2-5pm but it was pretty quiet due to the local election, 37 degrees and car boot trail… a bit of a collision. On Sunday Elaine and I went out bush. We headed to the Terraces / Breakaways and to Lake Raeside, a nearby salt lake. We drove through a big thunderstorm. It was great to get out.

Today (Monday) I have been filming Donna Reid’s painted objects in Gwalia Museum. I am attempting a stop frame animation series that will accompany my interview with Donna who now lives in Adelaide, and to who I am visiting after my stay in Leonora. Donna lived here in the 1970’s and stayed for 12 years after arriving from Nebraska. She and her husband set up the Gwalia Museum and initiated that as a wonderful preservation of different times of immigration in Australia.

I am trying to lay bare the difficulties of working on the ground with no local arts centre in a community that is quite jarring, but simultaneously a place where change could really happen if…If.

This week is jammed packed and hopefully I get to go out bush with Geraldine and Luxie as we spoke about on Wednesday.

Fingers x.