Remembering Yayayi reflects on a pivotal moment in the history of Pintupi people through a body of archival film.
In 1974 filmmaker Ian Dunlop visited Yayayi, a remote community in Central Australia where Pintupi had recently moved to get away from the difficulties of living at the larger permanent government settlement of Papunya. Dunlop had come to Yayayi to follow up on the lives of people he had photographed ten years earlier as they were leaving their Western Desert homeland. He never made a film with the material he shot there and Yayayi has long since been abandoned.
In 2006 anthropologist Fred Myers – who appears in the Yayayi footage as a young PhD student — took the footage to show it to Pintupi now living on their own land at Kintore and Kiwirrkura. At Kintore, Myers linked up with Marlene Nampitjinpa, a woman who also appears throughout the footage – as a lively young girl. She was delighted to see scenes of her family as they had been living some thirty years earlier.
In this film, Marlene Nampitjinpa and Ian Dunlop share their memories of Yayayi with Fred Myers. In so doing, they look back at the important period of transition that the archival footage represents as Pintupi people struggled to take control of their destiny.
Remembering Yayayi draws attention to the value such archival material has for contemporary Indigenous people – provoking, as it does, a poignant mixture of pleasure and sadness in reliving the past. Here contradictory feelings sit alongside each other: nostalgia with feelings of loss; an admiration for the strength of the old people with an acknowledgement/witnessing of incipient problems that people continue to face.
The Project Behind the Film: Pintupi Dialogues
This film is one product of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant to use visual records to animate historical consciousness with the Pintupi communities of Kintore, NT and Kiwirrkura, WA. The grant — Pintupi dialogues: reconstructing memories of art, land and Community through the visual record (Australian Research Council Linkage grant – has extended from 2010-2013. Essentially a repatriation project, our efforts have involved not only returning to Fred Myers’s earliest ethnographic work in Pintupi communities, but also looking further into the historical context of self-determination as policy in Australia as it was elaborated in the early 1970s. The grant is a collaboration with the mainly Pintupi Aboriginal-owned art cooperative, Papunya Tula Artists Ltd., Peter Thorley of the National Museum of Australia, and Nicolas Peterson and Philippa Deveson of the Australian National University, and Fred Myers of New York University. Together with the members of these two remote Western Desert communities, we have been using film and photography to reflect on a pivotal period in the history of the Pintupi people with whom Myers began research in 1973. In 1964, internationally renowned filmmaker, Ian Dunlop accompanying then Patrol Officer Jeremy Long, had photographed Pintupi people as among the last Aboriginal people still living a nomadic life in central Australia’s western desert. He returned in 1974 to film these same people, now living at the government-supported Yayayi outstation where Myers was carrying out doctoral fieldwork.
Using these visual records as the basis for a dialogue with the living Pintupi descendants of those in the film and photographs, we are reconstructing an account of how the Pintupi sought to fashion their own modernity, with a particular emphasis on the great transition – sedentarization and incorporation into the Australian state — in their lives that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. We have produced a film that attends to this dialogue, focusing on Marlene Spencer Nampitjinpa’s reflections on the film, entitled “Remembering Yayayi,” Her reflections about herself and her family as they appear in the footage incorporate points of view from several other Pintupi consultants about the earlier film footage and the outstation. Bobby West Tjupurrula, Jimmy Brown Tjampitjinpa, Monica Nangala, and Irene Nangala have all consulted with us about the old footage. As another distinct part of this, Myers is writing a book on the early period of Pintupi living in this remote outstation community, significant as one of the first outstation or homeland communities established within the then-new policy framework of “Aboriginal self-determination” articulated by the Whitlam government upon its election in 1973. The policies of “self-determination” – an expression of international as well as local aspirations for colonized people.
Memory and Archive
How do people engage their past through newly available technologies of recording and archives? In Remembering Yayayi, we see the not so distant past of Pintupi Aboriginal people as it is interpreted in the present by the charismatic elder Marlene Nampitjinpa, who the anthropologist Fred Myers (her interlocutor) has known since she was a girl. As Marlene says to the filmmakers, “I had never seen any movies before with my family.” The conversation with Marlene, as we watch the old footage along with her, allows the viewer to learn something of how she relates images of her past to her present circumstances. In this way, Remembering Yayayi shows the value that such rare archival material has for contemporary Indigenous people who have few other visual or written records of their history. The voices and images of old people remembered, of youth seen again, bring pleasure as well as sadness at the loss. Health, leadership, joyous presence are resources for thinking about their political trajectory as the past is brought into contact with the present and the problems brought about by contact with Euro-Australian society are engaged.
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