At first impression the landscape of Mount Allan is somewhat uninspiring, with the flat terrain and the seemingly endless mulga scrub dominating the eye. It is when the outcrops of red stone are approached that one begins to appreciate the diversity and adaptability of the native vegetation. Climb onto one of these outcrops, and a stunning vista of rocky islands on a sea of mulga is revealed. The native pines respond to the sun’s golden probes with the most exquisite display of colour changes – green, blue and golden – with their dark twisted trunks locked in an ancient dance against a backdrop of rainbow pastel.
The receding sun in the late afternoon reflects off a billion facets of stone, and the non stop display of colour changes amongst the vegetation culminates in an awesome array of fiery red before the orb sinks below the razor edge of blue hills, and the first twinkling star heralds the display yet to come. From this magical desert landscape comes a wealth of artistic expression that is rich in ancient folklore and is unique to the rest of the world.
Mount Allan Station
Mount Allan Station, 300 km from Alice Springs off the Tanami Desert Track, is an Aboriginal owned and operated cattle station. There is a community store providing food and fuel for travellers and for the 250 people who live on Mount Allan, and a Primary school .
The successful promotion of the art and culture of the Anmatjerre people provides a substantial source of revenue for the painters and the community as a whole. Whether the paintings are telling of a dreamtime act of creation, or of food-gathering or ceremonial events, they always relate to particular physical sites known to the artist, of immense importance to the bonding they feel for the rugged countryside of the Mount Allan district.
Ancient Art – Modern Materials
Acrylic paintings have replaced the ochres, clays and chalky pastes used for colouring in by-gone days, and canvas, stretched on wooden frames has all but replaced the fleeting images told in sandpaintings. It is for ceremonial occasions only – initiation ceremonies and corroborrees – that traditional colouring ingredients are still used for the creation of the sacred, fleeting, sandpaintings. For acrylic paintings, instead of the traditional twigs of yesteryear, the flat top of a paint brush is used to make the dots so prevalent in Western Desert art, but the stories and symbolism remain the same. Circles, depicted in rings of dots, denote important sites such as trees, waterholes, camping sites, or other physical features.
Curves in the paintings indicate groups of people camping, or gathering food together, while small oval shapes and stick-like figures denote the tools used during food gathering. The tracks of animals feature often in the stories, as well as body decorations worn during ceremonial occasions. The paintings are map-like in their depiction: i.e. there is no “top or bottom ” to the scenes they portray. Aboriginal desert art is the newest, yet oldest, art form in the world today. Each painting is a combination of tradition and innovation. The symbolism is both complex and ambiguous to the uninitiated. In contemporary art terms, they are incredibly dynamic and cosmic in their geometric abstraction.
The increasing demand and recognition of the Aboriginal desert art form by Western culture is helping to ensure that the skills and the stories survive, while at the same time helping to bridge the gap between the two cultures. The financial reward for the art produced at Mount Allan is an important component of the community’s viability as the Aboriginal people enter their third century of European occupation. Having no traditional written language, the art is the means by which the dreamtime stories have been passed on for thousands of years. It is fitting that the recognition for this work has never been higher, and ironic that white society’s belated interest may be the crucial ingredient necessary to keep the dreaming alive forever.