Tanami Track, WA
By Joe Mortelliti
The Tanami Track heads off to WA from just outside Alice Springs.
This dirt track is around 1170km and finishes on the western side of Australia at Halls Creek.
After an eleven hour drive out of Alice Springs were at the turn off to Balgo Hills whos community is located about 37km off the Tanami Track. The locals from Balgo refer to the turn off as “down at the corner”
Can you imagine the reality of this?…get your head around it.You work and live at Balgo Hills,you need to do some serious city shopping.You leave Balgo and drive 37km to the corner, turn right on the rough dirt Tanami Track, you drive straight on, there are no turn offs, and around eleven hours latter you arrive at Alice Springs to shop,asssuming no punctures or breakdowns.
Balgo Hills (Wirrimanu) is one of the most important Aboriginal art centres in Australia and is famous for its artists’ cooperative,creating indigenous art for local and international galleries.
Warlayirti Artists, the art centre cooperative in the community, promotes the evolving work of the artists.
Balgo artists are renowned for the brilliance of the colour and strong forms in their most frequently used medium of acrylic paint on canvas. Works have a uniqueness and vitality that are dynamic and daring using strong iconic imagery
Balgo paintings and Balgo glass are sought after by collectors.
This remote location has a basic airport and galleries from around the world visit and select works for their use.
Balgo Hills is a former Catholic Mission for the local Aboriginal community. The Catholic Church still supports the community of around 400 with education programs and assists adult students to enter university level education.
My wifes sister was stationed here in education for 6 years and we were lucky enough to be granted permission to stay a week in this restricted area through her efforts.
We met many of these internationally acclaimed artists whos works hang in the galleries of our major cities and throughout the world.
We saw them at work sitting in the large studio on the concrete floor creating wonderful pieces that depicted their Dream Time stories.
Their works earn them tens of thousands of dollars, yet within weeks of selling works they find themselves without any money to buy the following weeks food supply.
This is due to Aboriginal culture that allows extended family to ask for a share from those who have financial resources, and as a result their personal earnings simply slip away from them.
We watched and cringed as a young Aboriginal child spun a $3,500 displayed glass bowl with his finger as it sat on the shelf,no one had a concern.
Marion’s sister planned for our arrival date to be on a full rising moon.
We sat on the edge of the escarpment and the sun dropped behind us, the sky golden and red, at the same time a huge moon rose in front of us reflecting the golden sun…an awesome sight.
The Balgo area landmarks are all defined and relate to the Aboriginal culture with area designated as “women’s business” and other areas as “men’s business”
Mesas cover a vast area of what was once an inland sea. These types of mesas are rare and only seen in some parts of Australia and America.
Image beow: Looking across at 1 million year old inland sea to rare messe.
Balgo has a fuel station, supermarket, where kangaroo tails are the specialty, a Catholic Parish School, Adult Education Centre, Clinic and Police Station and features wonderful stone church.
Access is restricted and petrol vehicles are not allowed to drive into the area as petrol sniffing has caused many deaths within the community.
The Balgo Hills Mission in its early days operated as a major outback cattle station.
Below:Some original rock art we located within the vast area of Balgo Hills