'We share the land'



 Above: Mervyn Rubuntja, Noel Ross, Eva Nelson, Kay Rubuntja, Dan Murphy (chair of Watch This Space), Janie Nelson, (absent: Frieda Ross). All photographs by Alexandra Hullah.

“The land’s there for everyone,” the artist Mervyn Rubuntja told the audience gathered for the opening of a new exhibition at Watch This Space. “We share the land.”
p2255-Mervyn-RubuntjaHe and his fellow artists, family members in a group show at Watch This Space, share the land through their art, but Rubuntja (right) was also extending generosity to non-Aboriginal painters who are drawn, like him, to painting The Centre’s landscapes.
He paints in watercolour, in the tradition of Albert Namatjira, but with his own robust drawing style and colour sense.
He visited China last year, on an artists’ exchange through Desart: way too many people and too little space for him, and everything seen through a haze of pollution. He came back more certain than ever of how he paints, of the strong clear colour he uses: the way he sees the landscape in unpolluted light.
He holds the images in his head; memory sheds what is not relevant. For instance in the view from his home, in Larapinta Valley town camp, towards Honeymoon Gap (below) there is no intrusion of the man-made. It’s a representation rather of an ideal of what has always been and will remain.
Other artists in the show use the dot painting style. Rubuntja wanted the show to embrace the two styles, following in the footsteps of his father, the late W. Rubuntja, who used both.
A particular attraction in this show is seeing several works by each artist. Individual vision or talent can often be overlooked in the context of large group exhibitions where each artist may only be represented by one work. Thus I became aware for the first time the work of Frieda Ross (Untitled, below left), appreciating it for its fine detail and muted palette. Also showing are Noel Ross, Janie Nelson and Kay Rubuntja.
p2255-Frieda-RossFor Watch This Space, an artist-run initiative, this might be the first, or at most is one of very few shows devoted to Aboriginal artists. This reflects the local culture around exhibiting Aboriginal art, where responsibility is taken by others, whether art centres, private gallerists, or the public galleries at Araluen. On this occasion Rubuntja wanted to be in charge – “to start doing it for ourselves”. He’s giving it a try and then will see “how it’s going to work, doing our own business”.
The benefit will hopefully cut both ways: for the artists themselves, in terms of self-empowerment, confidence-building and sales; and for the local arts culture, a step across what has become an entrenched division in the way art is taken to audiences.

– Kieran Finnane

Watch This Space is at 9 George Crescent. Wed-Fri, 12-5pm; Sat, 10am-2pm. The show has been extended till Friday, 24 July.


  1. I’m very impressed with what Mervyn Rubunja had to say, that the land is for everyone.
    And this man is doing something worthwhile, and is not wallowing in self pity. If I get the chance I will go and have a look at his paintings. Other indigenous people could take a leaf out of his book.

  2. “The land is for everyone” – spoken by a traditional owner. Lefties, Greenies take note!
    It’s about time we heard from real Aboriginal people like Mervyn Rubuntja instead of their un-elected voice-overs.
    Thank you Mervyn for your considerate comment. This is what real reconciliation is about – sharing.

  3. Merwyn, in true Aboriginal style, followed the tradition as his father shown him, with wisdom, humour but his own personality: “The town grew up dancing, and still the dancing is there under the town. Subdivisions spread, but we still keep going. We still have the culture, still sing the song.
    “It’s the same story we have from the old people, from the beginning here in the Centre.” (Rubunja 1994)
    Yes, the land is THERE for everyone, but let’s not forget that we do not own the land, we belong to it: Ngapartji Ngapartji – meaning reciprocity and co-operation, as it takes two to tango.
    @ Henri S: Why only the “lefties” and the “greenies”? The majority of us should take note. You said it “is about time we heard from real Aboriginal people …”
    Maybe you have not listened, may be you should start reading the books of those Aborigine writers who have tried to talk to us for quite a long time. (The father of Merwyn is one of them).
    We should listen to the voice of Katleen Kemarre Wallace who tells us “Listen, listen well, listen deeply. Let the stories in.”

  4. I take issue with Evelyne Roullet re Henry’s comment.
    Henry made the comment that he was pleased to hear the REAL voice of an Aboriginal person, namely the eloquent Mervyn Rubuntja. It should have been left at that, for it is Henry’s considered opinion and he is entitled to it.
    Then comes the ‘voice over’ from Evelyne Roullet telling us what we ‘should’ do and think (two ‘shoulds’ in one sentence there Evelyne).
    There are two lessons to be learnt here:
    1. If Aboriginal people want a favourable outcome in the referendum – be caring and sharing like Mervyn Rubuntja.
    2. If not, then continue to allow ‘voice over’ people to speak for you, for what ever words come out of their mouths, will represent what you stand for.
    Think carefully upon it.

  5. @ DT: I was merely taking issue “A point or matter of discussion” with Henry S giving an order to Lefties and Greenies: “Lefties, Greenies take note!” that is an order
    I am a “Greenie” and I was wondering how he came to his conclusion that only the two above mentioned groups should take note.
    In English, there is a difference between should and shall: You shall do what I tell you. (I am commanding / ordering you to do what I tell you to do. Will is also possible here.)
    You should do what I tell you. (I am giving you strong advice.) I never give order, it is not in my personality
    I take note that your “voice over” represents Henri who cannot speak for himself.


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