September is here. First day of spring. Winter has officially left the building. I’m in Melbourne, the once capital of this contradictory landmass of red dust lost generations and skyscrapers. These days the skyscrapers minimalist interiors covet vast paintings by the parents of that same lost generation. Aboriginal art. I once went to an aboriginal art workshop in the interior. It was for a BBC Radio 4 documentary Songlines of Steel.
After two days driving and one night under the stars we found a little dust road like most routes in the interior. A dozen or so parakeets hopped in the driveway and I entered the dusty enclave to interview a huddle of radiant aboriginal women skilfully dotting various canvases. Hundreds of pieces were proudly undressed, hanging from the drying lines that circled the inside of the workshop. Aboriginal art drying must sound like whispers. I am tempted to put my ear to one.
Though it wasn’t stated I could see that it was a workshop for women by women. Same as you might find in Manchester San Fransisco or Johannesburg. And it was a generational thing, skills being passed on. The work from the unassuming place finds prestige all over the world in banks and galleries and on the sleek walls of millionaires. On a shelf amongst all, an ultra modern sleek 21st century bicycle helmet adorned with aboriginal designs. I am told that It won best bicycle helmet design in San Fransisco. Now they were inundated with orders I had to ask what the pieces cost. I can’t remember but what I do remember is that I could not afford to buy one in English currency, by visa, or by cash. Wonderful.
But here in the modernity that is Melbourne what are complex demonstrations and artistic interpretations of a communities lineage are simply a display of colour meant only to contrast the greyness and to break the monotony of the walk between one land acquisition and another. The paintings serve only to break the monotony between the corridors of power. The past has been pasteurised and is consumed so unthinkingly that we never think it as the stolen mothers milk.