Name: Putuparri Tom Lawford
Putuparri Tom Lawford - Personal background and the CSR Project [ORAL HISTORY]
Synopsis: Putuparri Tom Lawford talks about his personal background, his work with the Kimberley Law & Culture Centre, and his work as a cultural advisor and translator on the Canning Stock Route Project. He speaks about flying with KJ Kenneth Martin from Fitzroy Crossing to Kunawarritji for three weeks on the Canning Stock Route trip. Tom talks about hearing both good and sad stories from his grandfathers as a kid. Tom also speaks about the Beijing launch; he says it was a good feeling to bring his daughters along so they could see his name on a painting.
Language spoken: English
Catalogue number: CSROH_198_Putuparri_Tom_Lawford
Interviewed By: KJ Kenneth Martin
Location Recorded: William Street, Northbridge
Cultural Protocols: Public Access - Verbal Consent
Full transcript: KJ Kenneth Martin: Can you introduce yourself?
Putuparri Tom Lawford: My name is Tom Lawford, I come from Fitzroy, Fitzroy Crossing, I’m a Walmajarri Wangkajunga tribe, my black fella name is Putuparri and my skin is Tjakamarra, Jakarra.
KM: What do you do in Fitzroy?
TL: I work for KALACC, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre. Everything. I’m a field officer, we go out on trips. Mainly, the youth, Aboriginal youth, trying to get youth back into culture.
KM: What age groups?
TL: From twelve upwards. Eighteen, nineteen. ‘cause these days they losing it, culture, and I want to get them back into it.
KM: What sort of things to you guys do?
TL: We go on camps, on trips, take a couple of boys out, girls out, old people out. Teaching them how to dance or sing, hunting.
KM: What's your role here?
TL: At the moment I’m a cultural advisor. Making sure that everything’s done properly, you know. Like people say, make sure it’s the right thing, not the other way around. Mainly interpreting from language in English, stories from the Canning Stock Route, old people’s stories, putting them into English.
KM: How did you get involved in the CSR project?
TL: Me and KJ we got on a plane from Fitzroy and flew to Kunawarritji, Well 33. And, oh I had good fun on the Canning Stock Route, three weeks.
KM: How did you hear about it?
TL: Karen, Karen Daymen, she was on the team and she asked me, we done too many trips, Karen and I and other people, on the Canning Stock Route and off the Canning Stock Route, so she asked me if I could come on this trip – the Canning Stock Route trip. And … yeah.
KM: Do you have any association with the CSR?
TL: Yeah. Like, grandfather Country, you know, area. My grandfather used to roam the Canning Stock Route, before Wills, he travelled everywhere.
KM: Do you know any stories from the CSR?
TL: Couple of stories, yeah about people being killed and … good stories, and good stories, some sad stories, funny stories.
KM: Have you been hearing these stories from your grandfather?
TL: Yeah, from kid.
KM: What about that old man who was born under the Spinifex?
TL: No, that’s another. My grandfather’s cousin. Yeah, he’s from Gudal [?] area. He’s been recorded, one bloke recorded him, and he said that he was born in the desert and born under the Spinifex. How the bloody hell do you get born under the Spinifex? He must have been talking about dreaming or something. ‘I was born in the bush, I was born under the Spinifex’. Funny, you know. Old people in those days.
KM: What did you think of the launch yesterday?
TL: Good. Good feeling. Like, you can feel different when you’re walking through all the paintings, you think you’re on the Canning Stock Route. Different to how white people see it. They just see colours on the piece of paper, but the painting is a story, it has meaning, it’s not just dots or something different, them dots, they represent something. Even them lines they represent something.
KM: I noticed you brought your children to the launch
TL: Yeah, bring them along, so they can see …
[Talking about his children]
Yeah, I brought my children to see the history of the Canning Stock Route. Not through stories, through the paintings, because kids like drawing.
KM: Do you get to see your kids much? How many kids have you got?
TL: No, not much. I got four girls.
KM: So do you want to teach them about the culture?
TL: Yeah. They have to. Because I’m a Country man. My grandfather is a Country man, to be like him.
KM: What do you do when your not working?
TL: Socialise. Go to the local, with the mob. Sometimes go hunting, go fishing. Killer, stolen, paid for, anyway.
[Talking about hunting]
More better than buying. I like eating kangaroos and turkey, You got seasons, like the season you got now in Kimberley is turkey season. Because it’s cold and they’re fat and green grass about and insects and that. Turkey eat insect and kangaroo eat grass, after wet, after rain.
KM: When you see these paintings, do you know what they're about?
TL: Yeah. They’re about people’s life, their Country, their story, their dreaming, their culture. Like, we got no stories written down on paper, we got an oral history. We’ve got a history in our head, they tell you stories, pass on from them and now they start painting, they can paint their stories and their dreaming and their culture in their paintings.
KM: Do you do any painting?
TL: Not much. I do mainly sketching, drawings. That big painting there, we painted the wells from 33 to 39 and I did a little bit of painting on that. One well and a couple of lines. It was good. Painting with the old people they … when they’re painting they tell you stories about the place when they’re painting, funny stories, or one of us get up and do this or do that.
KM: Do they tell you what to paint? [The old people]
TL: Yeah. They tell me what to. Do this and that and … The old people tell me what to do. Like, I didn’t go and just paint, like, you gotta have a reason to paint, like you can’t just go out and paint. Because what people say, you can’t go in and paint other people’s area, Country, you’ve gotta have the OK from the people. And they asked me to give them a hand, help them paint it, so … Oh, it was good because … seeing the paintings last night at the opening and with my little name written on the piece of paper, I was happy.
KM: How do you feel about your name going overseas?
TL: Yeah, good, I might be famous.
KM: Is this your first show?
TL: Yeah. First time seeing my name on a piece of cardboard next to a big painting. And I had my little girl with me and she said, ay, Dad, I see your name on the paper, did you paint it? And I said yeah.
KM: How was the food? [At the launch]
TL: Food? Them little snacks? Yeah, it was alright. But the alcohol was more better.
KM: What did you do after the show finished?
TL: Oh, we went to tea. We went to a place near the river there, we had a feed and a few bears and then went back home.
KM: Have you been out at all this week?
TL: Yeah. Me and the boys, KJ, Clint and one of our T.O.’s Murungkurr. We went out, we had a good time, we didn’t do anything silly or stupid, we just had a good time.
KM: Did anything fun happen?
TL: Yeah, laughing at a couple of my mates that were funny on the dance floor. And one fella he nearly hit the roof ‘cause he was jumping to high.
KM: You reckon you can show us some dance moves?
TL: Later on. Next time I think we need to have a hidden camera. Just to record us having fun, we gotta have fun, we don’t want to be working.
KM: What’s all this about a pole?
TL: This fella, he likes to dance … pole dance, you know. He kept looking for a pole but he couldn’t find one, so … We have to bring him a pole. With lights. I think he’ll make a good pole dancer. With g-strings on, it’ll be just right.
Video recording: Tape 35
Rights: Cultural Owner & Storyteller: Putuparri Tom Lawford; © FORM, transcript only
Provenance: This material is sourced from Ngurra Kuju Walyja — the Canning Stock Route Project, which was initiated in 2006 by FORM and developed in partnership with Birriliburu, Kayili, KALACC, Mangkaja, Martumili, Ngurra, Papunya Tula, Paruku IPA, Warlayirti and Yulparija artists and art centres.