Art and technology are coming together in more ways than one in the Indigenous Northern Territory community of Lajamanu.

Story By Sarah Aitken

Locals who run the Warnayaka Art Centre in Lajamanu, 580 kilometres south-west of Katherine, NT, are the children and grandchildren of those who remember seeing white people for the first time. Lajamanu, formerly Hooker Creek, was established as a welfare settlement in the 1950s. These days it is home to about 900 Warlpiri people who are descended from those who were moved there by the government of the day.
A strongly Christian community, Lajamanu is predominantly alcohol-free. It sits on the edge of the red Tanami Desert, near the Northern Territory/West Australian border. It is known for its relatively traditional values, its beautiful semi-arid setting and its art.
Warnayaka art is bold, colourful and diverse. Traditional canvases sit next to others featuring neon colours and there is even a pair of Blundstone boots, covered in intricate yellow and red dots, advertised on the centre’s website.
The Warnayaka Art Centre is a meeting place within Lajamanu. The community proudly describes it as “a place for a cup of tea and a song and dance, and then a trip into the spinifex desert to look for goanna and lizards or to collect bush coconut, bush banana, yams and bush honey from native bees”.
It hasn’t always been this way. Following a rocky period about 10 years ago, the centre shut its doors and didn’t reopen them until 2006. Since then, it has gotten stronger and more profitable every year.
Lately it has been buzzing even more than usual. A three-month visit from Germany-based Australian digital artist Gretta Louw brought excitement as well as equipment, skills and opportunities to the art centre and the community’s school. Gretta was given an Australia Council and Northern Territory Government grant to teach multimedia art to a single class at the school and she also worked at the art centre.
She taught students how to create films and photographs of their interests and lives. They learnt to film, interview, edit and, most importantly, have confidence in themselves and their abilities with the technology. “It’s a town of less than 1000 people and if you make a video that has Lajamanu in the title or description and put it on YouTube it gets 10,000 hits because people want to watch it over and over and over again,” Gretta says. “I think that’s such a strong sign that there is a need for this kind of work.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #85

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2012