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HomeVolume 28Sacred site, nuclear target are neighbours

Sacred site, nuclear target are neighbours


At the distant point of the track is the Joint Defence Facility, colloquially known as the Space Base or Pine Gap. Prior to awareness of Kweyrnpe, I’d joined peace activists in the 1980s, protesting at its gates about its role in war, surveillance and nuclear targeting.

Not until the mid nineties did I understand the significance of Kweyrnpe to the Hayes families when Patrick senior asked me to take him there to talk about the paintings.

He’d mentioned it was a sacred site when, as its TO, he’d been toured through the defence facility.

His grandson, Vernon Alice had accompanied him. The base was honouring an agreement with the TOs whenever new installations occurred though the family remain none the wiser about its inner workings.

Some of the younger men had spent time in Big House, the correctional centre, visible to the south of Kweyrnpe.

Whatever privations they’d endured, several admitted it wasn’t too bad as, unlike many inmates, they’d been on their own country which possibly explained the casual acceptance of many of their sentences and recidivism.

Initially it was the rock formations that fascinated me and those and the sky were painted first. But it wasn’t finished with me. Or me with it.

Some weeks later I imagined, then added, a wild dog pack lurching stealthily towards the viewer over; intruders beneath that apocalyptic sky.

The ridge to the right separates the initiated men’s site, with its overhang of protected paintings, from the women and children’s side which is adorned with native pines / alukerrwe.

Though no signage existed in the small car park at the time of this painting, a visitors book and a board with brief information about its significance for Arrernte has been erected advising on appropriate behaviour. A simplified story about the place also fronts the paintings.

PAINTING: Dogs at Kweyrnpe, 1991. By ROD MOSS.


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