Still Saturday. Once back at the hotel after the memorable trip to Kata Tjuta, I found the next bus to Uluru departed soon after. Forget my feet. Forget the exhaustion. Forget the heat. No other time to visit the Cultural Centre except this afternoon.
I never tired of the views of the big red rock as we bussed along the highway.
The Cultural Centre was the final port of call after the shuttle bus’s circuit around the rock dropping off and collecting others at the various car parks. It was to be the last time I would circumnavigated Uluru. This time when I reached the Cultural Centre and once off the bus, I followed directions to the entrance ready to experience these pavilions in the order as intended by the designers.
I looked out over a red land and followed the curving wall of a freeform structure that led me into mud brick walled spaces. The design concept was based on Tjukurpa ancestors Kuniya (the woma python-southern building) and Liru (the poisonous snake – northern building). Kuniya is built within its shape. Her body is made of mud and the roof is her spine.
In the Pitjantjara language of the Anangu people, I was welcomed. Pukulpa pitjama ananguku ngurakutu. By entering the Tjukurpa tunnel, visitors learn about the traditional and ancient culture of the area. The Cultural Centre represents four major Tjukurpa stories associated with Uluru. Kuniya, Liru, Kurpany and Mala are all ancestral beings who help form the basis of traditional law and custom for Anangu today. They connect Anangu with country in all directions around Uluru. Kuniya comes from the east and is still present at Uluru. Liru came from the southwest and returned to that country after the battle with Kuniya’s nephew. The Mala people arrived for ceremonies from the north. Kurpany was sent in from the west and chased the Mala people through Uluru itself and then into South Australia.On this second visit to the Cultural Centre, I had more physical energy but insufficient mental reserves to spend time in the Tjukurpa tunnel, Touch Wall and information area. I realised that many hours could be allocated to a visit here and I did not have sufficient time to see and absorb it all. In addition, I could see that a fresh mind was essential.
Again I went to the Ininti café for lunch. Then I perused the products in the adjacent shop; interesting and unusual souvenirs many of them useful. I coveted a number of items but resisted making any purchases. My rule is to never take luggage that is too heavy for me to handle, and I knew my suitcase was heavy enoughwithout adding new weights.
I wandered out into walkways around a courtyard, and looked in on an art studio and shop, Walkatjara Art. I was drawn in when I noted half a dozen Anangu women painting canvases.
I asked two painters if I could sit on the bench in the middle of the room, and watch them paint. They agreed. I sat for over an hour mesmerised by their dedication and immersion in their work. I was hesitant to ask questions and break the flow of their practices. Besides English was their second language and I found it difficult to understand their accents when they spoke. Mostly they painted in silence; when they talked occasionally with each other I assumed it was in the Pitjantjara language. Over time, I felt released to look around at the hundreds of canvases hanging on the walls and in piles of unstretched canvases. I made determinations of what seemed to me to be the more successful paintings; but those judgements were based on my background of western aesthetics since I had no idea of their cultural connection to the Tjukurpa law and their value for Anangu customs.
This Walkatjara workshop is the Mutitjulu Community’s Art Centre, a not-for-profit enterprise where 60% of sales proceeds goes back to the artists while the remaining 40% is recycled to support the running costs of the studio workshop. ‘Walkatjara’ in the Pitjantjara language means having designs or meaningful marks. If I took photographs here I felt I would be intruding. I felt it was not appropriate. So I was delighted to find this website page (http://www.walkatjara.com/contact) which includes photographs of artists at work in the studio. From these you can derive some appreciation of how I saw the experience.
I had no intention to buy a painting, but then I found a small picture in one of the many piles. As the sales woman processed the transaction, she remarked that the artist was in the room. Already she had given me a generic information sheet that could explain, in general terms, some of the imagery. I wanted to know more specific information. ‘Let’s ask her’, the sales woman suggested. Valerie Brumby sat at a table working on a new painting. I found it difficult to understand all her answers, but my eyes lit up when she told me the pink/purple dots represented the Parakeelya flowers in the local desert. Blog followers might recall my earlier posting where I talked about seeing these plants during my walk on the Liru Walk from Mala to the Cultural Centre, that time when I felt I nearly perished in the heat. It was a serendipity that I had chosen a painting containing something special that connected with me directly. Other marks referred to waterholes in the area and the medicinal plant Irmangka Irmangka.
Artists working in the studio asked me to hold up the painting; ‘that’s a good painting’, was their response. I thought so too.
Other tourists came and went without making any connection with these women. By stopping and sitting silently in their presence for a considerable time, I began to feel something of the thousands of years of existence emanating from some. Strange to say, and perhaps difficult to accept, some seemed as old as Uluru and Kata Tjuta and beyond. It was a depth I found hard to fathom.
My painting on canvas was unstretched, and the sales woman rolled and packaged it safely to fit into my suitcase. While I was delighted with my purchase, I felt the richness of the entire experience more.
From the Walkatjara studio I proceeded to the Maruka Arts outlet, but information overload and the impending arrival of a bus to return me to the Resort, shortened my visit there. The photographs of specific artists can be seen here – when you look at these perhaps you will gain a sense of the connections between the shape of the land and the faces of the people; plus a sense of immense age and antiquity.
I bussed back to the Resort with my head brimming with ideas and questions while my fatigued body yelled at me to sleep and recuperate.