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HomeVolume 28Nationally acclaimed artist records initiation

Nationally acclaimed artist records initiation


 Each summer I’d been urged to go through “bush business”.

“Opens your mind, Rod.”

Though curious, I vacillated considering the painful incision to my penis and my absence for weeks from family responsibilities.

The nightly song and dancing had all the power of Sufi ceremonies I’d participated in during travels in Turkey in the 1970s.

I’d had repeated requests to document it from guys my age. Despite hesitating about something I regarded as intrusive, eventually I agreed when Arranye asked me.

It wasn’t the sacred secret aspect anyway.

But how to condense these hours pictorially?

I reconstructed, in graphite, the final morning of “making men” ceremony showing successive stanzas of a young man re-entering his community after weeks of instruction in the bush.

Four elders sit at left, Bernard Neal, Arranye, Bruce Purvis with initiated Joey Hayes on his lap, and Edward Neal. Blanketed Joey has been led from the bush by Jude Johnson.

The two pass the chanting trio, Jamesy, David and Jude Johnson. Petrina Johnson touches him, welcoming to his new status within the families.

Then Benita Oliver taps the stick he holds prior to Jude escorting him to the sitting men. Song drives the process.

Bernard took me aside.

“What you see today, [is] like old people do. Same way we do today. We don’t know what you do with your young men. Maybe rock n’ roll? Then fence ‘em in house. Our young men do Law then free to go.”

I brought Arranye and Bernard home in Alice Sprigs to see the finished drawing on the lounge wall. They looked and looked in silence and teared up, Arranye saying: “You got it right, Sonny boy.”

In matters art, I’ve never been more gratified.


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