As I prepare my entry for this year's Kimberley Art Prize, I'm reflecting back on our time in Derby, a small town in The Kimberley region of Western Australia. Derby is a most incredibly strange and significant place. It sits on the marsh of the King Sound, around two hours from Broome, and is the entry or exit point for the infamous Gibb River Road, which stretches north-east to Kunanurra. A job came through for Nic to run the Emergency Department at the Derby hospital and, to be honest, I was expecting something VERY different. I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I had romantic ideas about fishing with the kids off a bustling jetty (insert muddy, croc-filled death pit and scorching heat)!
It was my first time living in a predominantly indigenous community. There was a lot of action at night on the streets which took some getting used to. At first, I thought we had bitten off more than this small-town white girl could chew.
But... what came out of it was the most incredible experience. Derby and its surrounding community of Moanjum are extremely significant as a cultural place. The art and stories there are some of the oldest in the world and this community is the birthplace of traditional aboriginal symbolism transformed into more conventional media. The first Wanjina was painted onto canvas here (these cloud and rain spirits are meticulously painted into hidden caves around The Kimberley).
As we fumbled our way through community events, starting school and playgroup, we were exposed to a new way of life and with it, we were lucky enough to breathe this history in.
Artistically, it was life-changing. I was compelled to write and paint and produced a lot of work in our house and under the boab trees in our little backyard. I met some incredible artists and expanded my vocabulary for storytelling and my knowledge of the importance of art and culture for all communities.
It was a rich experience, filled with heartache about the brutality towards the aboriginal people and the destruction of their way of life.You can't hide from it up there. Just being able to stop and listen to these stories and see with my own eyes builds compassion and helps me understand the complexity of the issues we now face.
There are often more questions than answers, but I see now that it is only in asking those questions and more that we will come to a better future.
I can't wait to go back. Next time I hope I can give something to the region in return for what it gave me.
I thought I would share some the poems I wrote from my time there.
bougainvillia and broken glass
red dirt builds up in the corner,
spurs creep in the kitchen,
praying on unsuspecting tiny feet.
the nuts keep falling
velvet ovals splitting and rolling
a watercolour of yellow oxide and deep olive
lost nutrients in an unkempt backyard.
the bougainvillea that stands like a beacon at the gate
at once ~ the slightest breeze summons the brazen fuchsia petals
to dance across the ochres ~ the peaches
across the flattened dry grass ~ etched now with broken glass
more and more each day.
jagged lines worn smooth under bare feet
a puzzle of diamonds no one can solve.