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Wednesday, 20 April  2005  Aboriginal Art

Find out about Geoffrey Bardon, a white art teacher who worked with Aboriginal people in the early 1970s.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: There's evidence of painting everywhere at Kintore, an Aboriginal community in the Gibson Desert more than 500km west of Alice Springs.

Kintore, home to about 450 Pintubi desert people, was established only 20 years ago.

And it was only just over 30 years ago that these people began painting on boards and canvas.

The Western Desert art movement, as it's become known, is a remarkable phenomenon of contemporary art history.

TIM KLINGENDER, SOTHEBY'S: These paintings are collected internationally, quite broadly now, in America and Europe and elsewhere.

These paintings really stand up on a world stage against any art.

They are truly profound, extremely beautiful at times and very, very sincere and important paintings and indeed political in some ways, too.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: The Western Desert art movement owes its beginnings to Geoffrey Bardon, an art advisor who was posted to the central Australian community of Papunya in 1971.

Back then, Papunya accommodated around two and a half thousand Aboriginal people who had been rounded up from the desert.

Geoffrey Bardon encouraged them to lift depictions of their stories from the desert sand to paint on permanent surfaces.

Those early painting days were haphazard.

GEOFFREY BARDON, FILE FOOTAGE: They would use anything.

They'd even use my shoe polish, white shoe cleaner, when we ran out of white and painted on floor tiles that were just lying idle where the tilers had left them.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Yet out of that adversity flourished the now-famous Papunya Tula School of Painters.

Geoffrey Bardon put the operation on a fully commercial basis, owned entirely by the artists themselves.

Most of the Aboriginal families who were forced into Papunya have now retreated to desert communities like Kintore.

Papunya Tula these days has 150 artists on its books, their work now worth many millions of dollars and appreciated around the world.

VIVIEN JOHNSON, ABORIGINAL ART HISTORIAN: During the '80s, some of the institutions started to appreciate what was occurring in the middle of Australia, one of the most extraordinary art movements of the 20th Century.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Painting has become not only a way of life for these people, but now a means of sustaining lives blighted by diabetes and heart and kidney disease.

The people in Kintore have opened a dialysis unit paid for by the proceeds of an auction of some of their paintings in Sydney four years ago.

TIM KLINGENDER: We had an enormous dinner at the Arc Revenue New South Wales where people came and paid $150 per head to attend the function and we auctioned the paintings.

Our intention was to raise $400,000 and we raised $1.1 million.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Till now, 16 citizens of Kintore with acute kidney failure have been cooped up far away in Alice Springs for dialysis treatment.

The auction of paintings means kidney patients from the Western Desert will now be able to have occasional treatment and respite at home - a tangible benefit of the legacy of Geoffrey Bardon whose time at Papunya was short but whose legacy will be long.

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English Bites - Aboriginal Art
story notes

Began is the past tense of the irregular verb begin.
more information: begin

Western Desert art movement
Here, a movement is a trend, a course that a certain field takes. So an art movement involves a certain style of art, or the people who make a certain type of art.
Examples of art movements are impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, and Bauhaus. The art movement in today's story is the Western Desert Art Movement.

rounded up
gathered together in one place

Example: The cattle were rounded up for slaughter.
For more on the phrasal verb round up, follow the link.
more information: round up


If something is permanent it lasts for a long time or forever.

early painting days
The term days refers to a period of time or activity. You might hear phrases like these days or those were the days.
These days means 'at the current time'. And those were the days is used to mean that life was better in the time you are talking about.

If something is haphazard, it's random. It means not having any order.

Notice that when the word spelled u-s-e (use) is a noun it is pronounced differently. Follow the link and listen to the difference.
more information: use

ran out
To run out of something is to have no more left.
more information: run out

An institution is a large, important organisation. An art gallery or a university might be called an institution.

To appreciate means to recognise or start to see that something is important.


Extraordinary means unusual and special.

way of life
The term way of life describes the way a person or group of people act and live.

means of sustaining
way of keeping alive

Blighted means spoiled.

paid for
To pay for something is to give money for it.

Example: I've paid for the food.
Follow the link for other meanings of this phrasal verb.
more information: pay for

Came is the past tense of the irregular verb come.
more information: come

Paid is the irregular spelling of the past tense of the verb pay.
more information: pay

tangible benefit
real benefit

A legacy is something left behind, often a gift that people leave when they die.

We spell whose this way when it is the possessive form of who.
more information: whose & who's

Painting is a versatile word.

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