Doolmarria Louise Mengil
Doolmarria Louise Mengil - curatorial issues, family and community [ORAL HISTORY]
Synopsis: Doolmarria Louise Mengil talks about her experiences curating for the Canning Stock Route Project. She speaks about the importance of old people, and speaks at length about the social and political importance of the Canning Stock Route people for both Aboriginal communities and non-Indigenous Australia.
Art centre(s): CSR Project
Language spoken: English
Catalogue number: CSROH_213_Doolmarria_Louise_Mengil
Location Recorded: Old Halls Creek
Cultural Protocols: Public Access
Full transcript: Carly Davenport: So do you want to talk a little bit, starting about this Kimberley trip, this next nine days, where we’ve come from and where we are now?
Doolmarria Louise Mengil: Okay, the first day I guess we flew in, meeting Bidyadanga trip, that was really nice. They actually drove in. I wasn’t expecting, like, old, old people I must say, their names sound like they’re very young, and through there paintings you’re like - okay I’m meeting like, maybe middle aged or people in their 40s/50s. It surprised me, Donald Moko, Jan Billycan – I thought she was actually like a 30 year old or 40 year old, but when I seen her I was like ‘Oh My God, we’re really dealing with old people’, so ... and that was great, that was great so …
That day I was like, ‘wow they’ve driven from Bidyadanga to Broome just to meet with us, that was something I can’t even explain in words basically, it made me feel so ... I appreciated every moment of that day, it was so hot, but so what, these guys travelled so far just to do this day, yeah I didn’t even recognise the heat basically.
CD: Can you describe what the point of our meetings are now like the approvals and the commissions?
LM: Yep, basically at this stage we’re showing the artists where there paintings are and how they’re connected and why we’ve put them in that section and making sure we have it corrected, and if the artists are happy, so getting their approval of where it sits and if the story’s correct and if they can sit next to a certain person and if we have the relationship with another artist corrected. I think the Bidyadanga was very happy, Jan kept talking about her story it was hilarious, Donald was very, very happy and his wife as well. The interpreters were great, I must say, the Fitzroy trip as well … being in Fitzroy was, I must say one of my favourites at this stage, I just felt SO welcome, so relaxed, so laid-back, and the artists were lovely. I admired Spider and Dolly, they are the most cutest couple I reckon. Yeah they are very, very happy I must say, we haven’t talked about the title with the Fitzroy mob but we eventually will. They were happy with how we’ve got it laid out, each trip we’ve done, each artist, each group had been just surprised on how big the project was, and that their story is going to be out there and I think they’re just like, ‘okay, it’s gonna happen’, so there’s no more doubts in their minds, they know it’s going to happen for real now, I think when they sign off those papers they sign off with such loving happiness in their hearts that were filled with telling their stories.
CD: That’s because their families are going to have access to these materials.
LM: Yeah, as well as hearing other people’s stories and recognising. Pulling into Derby to see Stumpy and it took probably the first 10 minutes, just like you know quiet, but then showing her paintings, showing her Rover and Billy’s paintings and then she was very excited when she seen Nyumi’s paintings, and listening to the song and the stories – it brought her back, she identified where she was from –she found her inner self—in that little time, in that little moment she centred. The nurses there as well could not believe what had happened in that little time.
CD: Do you want to talk a bit about the practical tangibles of some of the things that you’ve learnt along the way. We’ve had something like 12 curators meetings over three calendar years. Woo hoo! I mean, not to remember it all because that’s too much and we’ve been recording different things. But any highlights of working with Caruana and the defining of the collection—that was the first big job that the three of you had with Wally. And then that’s sort of one part, and then the second part is that the putting of the exhibition together with a big collaborative team and the National Museum.
LM: Well with Wally, we were well looked after I must say. Whenever we needed help he was there, he took us under his wing, he walked us through step by step, always guided us, tested us at some stage. It’s almost like he never let us down, we’ve learnt so much from him and I appreciate that, I’ve learnt more than I could of ever at Waringarri itself or at any art centre itself. It’s such an opportunity to be able to work one on one with a curator, with a curator who had curated so many exhibitions.
CD: What was some of the things you learnt, like when you were talking about what makes a strong painting with colour?
LM: Well I think it’s more to do with looking beyond the painting, he taught us to be able to see beyond the painting itself, listen to the artist and its story and then recognise the place and then put it into the painting, sort of thing. So not just seeing the painting but going beyond the painting itself. So, that’s kind of a really hard technique to teach someone – but we all, we all – the three of us were able to adapt really quick, and at some stages Wally would quote, you know, ‘Who’s mentoring who?’ [laughs] But yeah, I think because we’re having so much fun we learnt really quick and became a really, really tight team. I think one my favourite moments working with Wally was actually ... in Perth, we were in Northbridge, on the other side of Northbridge, yeah up in there, and we were going through ... and he was teaching us to gather paintings and hang ‘em up and you know what would go with what, and then he’d come behind and say, ‘okay that looks good, but in reality … it wouldn’t go together’. So it was, it was good. I liked it when he actually tested us – it showed that, you know, we were listening or, you know, if we needed more help in a different area, he would do that, and he’d work with us sometimes one-on-one. It was great.
CD: That was a hard job because you had something like, you know 100 and …
LM: Ninety …
CD: Yeah ... paintings, and then out of that you chose 113 different things.
LM: Yeah, it was very hard, I must say even to this point now it’s been … the most difficult thing yet [laughs]. They’re all beautiful stories, all beautiful paintings, but for this show to be able to attract so many viewers and make its point across Australia and national wide we need to be able to pick the strongest paintings and the appropriate paintings as well and artists in order for us to tell the story and get the message across the world ... I think [laughs].
CD: That’s good.
LM: So yeah, that kind of made it a bit easier.
CD: What do you think about young professionals, say you’ve got all the multimedia team on the project, and the curator team, and working with Tom and Nola, it’s sort of been a real posse of people from the different communities with all these different skills.
LM: It’s like my second family a little bit [laughs].
Nicole Ma: Can you just sit back a bit please Louise.
NM: That’s cool.
CD: I guess professional space, I’m trying to look to see leadership, and talent.
LM: Okay, Terry and Haley definitely they’ve been ... professionally, I admire them for their artwork, they’re artists themselves, and to be able to take another role as a curator. As well as being young leaders for their mob. Tom Lawford, working with Terry, him being sort of one up from Terry, and guiding Terry as well and also guiding us. Nola for guiding Haley, as well as guiding us as well, for being a young emerging elder. You know, it’s at that stage where we all need to find our place in our community and step up to the plate, and I think Tom and Nola have well and truly emerged to that. As well as professionally in this project, they’ve been great and they’ve taken on their roles and I think out of 100 I’d give them 99.9. You know, they’ve done every single thing by the books as well, in our terms, as well as their terms – the bush terms you know, their community terms. So yeah, with this project it’s just – with the guys from the multimedia group, I can see Morika going a very long way, she has the most wicked eyes – I think she can see beyond the people itself – sees right through you, she captures the most perfect moments I reckon, the most beautiful photos – yeah I love the one of Jakayu that she’s taken, it was just a moment where you can see strength, happiness and … you know ready to strive. With Clint Dixon and KJ they capture kind of movement, unique moments, very special moments. I think with them – they can read your body language so they know that the next time something good’s gonna happen, there already lined waiting. I think KJ’s a bit of a storyteller too and he’s gonna one day be an elder [smiles].
CD: Gorgeous. Do you want to talk a little bit about your favourite part in the exhibition itself?
LM: Okay …
CD: … or anything from the show and the design that has a strong message.
LM: Okay, I don’t actually have a particularly favourite part. My favourite part is the whole thing and how it fell together and how it melted like butter and bread basically. But I must say the Rover Thomas story as well as the [XX - ?] story - they’re one of the stories which really could capture a lot of people. So, with the Rover Thomas story it will show people that this artist is not originally from the Kimberleys, but he was taking from [XX - ?] and, you know, travelled up to the Kimberleys where he had lived, and um, where his brother had walked up to Well 41 and saw a massacre, and turned around, and in his heart believed that his brother was still alive. I think that’s magical and spiritual in every kind of way. And with the [XX - ?] part it’s a very sacred part, it’s an area where the people itself look after and is also protective of, it’s a place where you can only talk so much about it. And it shows people that it’s a boundary that even the TO’s or the traditional owners for that Country will not break or will not trespass itself, so the amount of … it’s … really hard to explain really, but I think this is one of the things we have worked towards and we’re still working towards, is how about we would go in telling our viewers about [XX - ?] itself, where you can only say a certain part of it and not say another part of it.
CD: About the Aboriginal clause …
LM: Yeah, yeah.
CD: That’s good … Nicky can you think of anything?
NM: I guess I’d just like to ask that again, from the whole exhibition, you know you worked so hard on it and everything - and a lot of different types of people are coming to see it - what would be the one thing you would hope that they would take away from it?
LM: One thing I hope that the viewers take away from it is that, to acknowledge that these people have come from so far, have lived a long life, have lived past the history itself and have adapted to the life that we live today. And also to see that we don’t interpret with English, there’s so many ways that we can interpret and these artists are interpreting through their paintings as Clifford Brooks has quoted. It’s hard to be able to tell their story because it’s not that easy, no one’s gonna understand their languages. They are telling their stories through their paintings so I think that’s one thing that we all need to acknowledge. To be able to say that we are different and we’re never going to be the same but this is our story about the Canning Stock Route and this is how we’re telling it, so ... I mean even if people just take away that little bit, it’s a huge step, ‘cause they’ve gone into that exhibition and they’ve taken something out – even if it’s the most tiniest thing – but it’s most important to see that, it’s not one way of interpreting or telling a story it’s so many different ways and this exhibition explains so many levels and so many hard years of working with artists and everybody itself. So yeah [smiles].
NM:Yeah, that’s really good.
LM: Cool [smiles].
CD: Anything else you wanna say?
LM: [shakes head and laughs] Nope.
CD: When’s lunch! [laughs]
LM: I’m not really actually hungry, I don’t eat in the heat.
LM: Yeah, I drink more water though.
NM: Can you just talk a little bit about the fact that this is going to be a capsule of history, you know, that’s going to be conserved by the museum and if you think that’s important and why?
LM: Well it’s important in both worlds, in the Aboriginal world and the [kartiya] world. I mean, it’s the advantage for Aboriginal people to tell their story. And it’s also the advantage of Aboriginal people in teaching their younger people in a different way … their traditional way, as well as the modern way in which they have adapted to and it’s also telling [kartiya] people that it’s a story that should have been told a very long time ago. And it had destroyed, and had not destroyed so many families, I mean it had its advantage and its disadvantage. It’s also telling everybody that these old people are willing to do whatever it takes to show them that they’re still here and telling their story, that 100 years ago this had happened and we remember, and it has knowledge been passed from one person to another, you know their great great grandparents have told them their story, you know, some of these old people are 80, so some of these old people have experienced this trip, some young people haven’t, so we have young people like Clifford Brooks, who haven’t actually experienced it, but have heard it, and took it into account and put it onto a canvas, and … public programs, I mean, I myself had finished Year 12 and not had not heard any part of this Canning Stock Route and I think it should be told ... [smiles] … yeah.
CD: That’s good.
CD: This will help us to keep track of people’s thoughts and then weave this together into one special story next year.
Video format: DVD/MiniDV/Quicktime movie
Video recording: 106 Kimberley Approvals, Tom, Louise IV's, Nov 09; 107 Kimberley Approvals, Louise, Hayley IVs, Nov 09
Rights: Cultural Owner & Storyteller: Doolmarria Louise Mengil; © 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.