The Ngan’gikurrunggurr people first began fighting for a return to their homeland and re-establishment of the community of Peppimenarti in the 1960s. However, it was Regina Wilson and her husband who initially decided to leave their mission and return to their country. Durrmu Arts in Peppimenarti was then officially established in 2001, with Regina still holding the position of Chairperson today.
Robin Hodgson, Peppimenarti Basketweavers, 1988, Northern Territory
The old days
Harold Junior____ Harold [Senior] got taken away from the Daly mission and got sent to Melville Island on the Tiwi Islands. He had no choice – he was part of the Stolen Generation. And Cornelia [Tipumantimirri, renowned Tiwi artist] grew him up. So he spoke Tiwi, different language from here. But he also learnt the languages from here, when he was young, before he was taken away.
Leon Pungily____ Back in the old days, people were also making art for selling – dilly bags, bark paintings, and weavings like Regina and the other artists make today. But these and many more objects were also made for other purposes. Dilly bags were made for walking through the swamp, collecting eggs – people would put them on their heads. Some men would make dilly bags, fish nets and syaw (airbell fish traps) in those days, and also wommera, fighting shields, didgeridoos, dug out and bark canoes, shovel spears, hook spears … they used to put paintings on that one. You don’t see hook spears being made anymore. The mat weavings and hair belts, they were a bit different from dilly bags – made from hair. Then they moved to cotton when the missionaries came. They are used for ceremony, women’s ceremony.
Harold Junior____ Harold was probably in his late 20s or 30s when he started the community here [Peppimenarti] in the early 1970s. He had to get the skills up first so he went droving. He got a job leading a chain gang at Timber Creek. Then came back and married my mum and they went to Port Keats. When I was born we went to Bathurst Island, then we came back to Daly River. He had a problem with the missionaries, with the culture changing and starting to break down.
Peppimenarti started off as a cattle station. There were 500–600 people in the community then, and the station employed just about everybody. My Dad was the boss for that. The majority of people who came here, Peppimenarti was their country, or their country was around there.
He established the school at Peppimenarti in the early 80s. He was a hard man to live with, Harold, but if he wanted something, he wouldn’t let you sleep until he got it.
At the start there was just a tin shed. Someone from the education department would come out from Darwin to teach the kids. Big mob used to go to school in the mornings. Then the demountable [classrooms] came on the barge, and were dragged 50 kilometres down the coast. The old fellas went there with a grader and bulldozer to tow them back here.
Nowadays there are about 150–200 people here. A lot of them move around in the dry season, go back to outstations, when it rains come back in, or move on to another community.
Establishment of Durrmu Arts
Regina Wilson____ Most of them art things they [the community] were doing already, without knowing it was art. These days most of the prints we do here are from the dilly bag, and people did a lot of dilly bags before, and basket weaving.
We used to have big mobs of tourists coming, back in the 80s, and they bought dilly bags, woomera, didgeridoo … We used to have big corroborees, every night, and make damper. The tourists would come and watch.
We had corroborees just for family too. That sort of teaching, sitting around the fireside, it was a natural thing. Either getting ready for ceremony or something else coming up. So that culture teaching was natural, in everyday life.
In the early days, in the mission, you weren’t allowed to talk language. And now that teaching is not happening at the school for us. Kids today speak more pigeon; there is a problem with losing language. I teach the young girls every Tuesday. It is important I do this before I pass away, also so the kids know how to do weaving, so they will keep it up. It’s important to keep that strong.
- ^ The Austrian Jesuits commenced missionary activity in the Daly River region in 1886 and continued through to 1899. In 1956 a mission was again established by MSC just short of the Daly River Crossing. (Owen Stanley, The Mission and Peppimenarti: An Economic Study of Two Daly River Aboriginal Communities, North Australia Research Unit Monograph, Australian National University, Darwin 1985, pp. 8–9).
- ^ Harold Wilson was born in 1938 at Peppimenarti. His mother was a Nganiwuwumeri woman from the Moyle River area and his father was a European (Stanley, 1985, p. 29).
- ^ In 1969 Harold and Regina Wilson, their children and four others left the mission to establish a permanent camp at Peppimenarti. After a set back they returned again to start the Peppimenarti community (Stanley, 1985).
Regina Wilson is Peppimenarti’s most acclaimed artist. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, and is represented in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, touring the USA and Canada in 2016–19, Destinations include: Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, New Orleans; Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, Miami; Nevada Museum of Art, Reno; The Phillips Collection, Washington DC and Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
In 2011 the Peppimenarti Association formed the Durrmu Arts Aboriginal Corporation, representing a now internationally-renowned group of weavers and painters, working with durrmu (dot body painting) designs. | www.durrmuarts.com.au