The Project behind the Film: Pintupi Dialogues

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.

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, provoking a poignant mixture of pleasure and sadness in encountering images of their past. Contradictory feelings sit alongside each other: nostalgia with feelings of loss; an admiration for the strength of the old people with an acknowledgement of incipient problems brought on by contact with Euro-Australian society that people continue to face.

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