Friday, 13 August 2010

Hetti Perkins opens 2010 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair

Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair
Darwin Convention Centre, 12-14 August 2010

The annual Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair provides a unique opportunity for art buyers within the industry and the members of the public to purchase Aboriginal art directly from the Indigenous owned and incorporated art centres. Visitors also get to see the work of emerging as well as established artists, to meet the artists and to find out about the variety of different cultural groups producing art, as well as the range of styles, mediums and products available.

Here is a clip from the opening yesterday:

If you get a chance, go along and have a look and let us all know your thoughts!

Darwin is overflowing with Indigenous art events this weekend. The weather is great and there are plenty of people and tourists around as Darwin comes alive in the height of the tourist season. There are also hundreds of Aboriginal artists from all over Australia in town as well as many of the industries movers and shakers.

Early annoucement of the Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards Winner

I'm not sure why the announcement has been made prior to tonight's official presentations on the lawns of the NT Museum and Art Gallery at Bullocky Point but the 27th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA) winners have been announced earlier than usual and

Seventy-year-old Jimmy Donegan with his first ever entrance into an art competition has taken out two prizes including the $4,000 general painting award, as well as the coveted $40,000 first prize for his artwork Papa Tjukurpa, Pukara.

Here is the winning artwork:

The media reports lit up shortly after midday and the winners were announced after what Crikey described as an "embargo" that was mercifully lifted after being put in place yesterday.

It was also apparently the worst kept secret around Darwin. Although i just spoke with prominant people within the aboriginal art industry who are in Darwin as we speak and they did not know who the winner was or that there was to be a premature announcement! I informed them after a google alert tipped me off!

See this article at Crikey. The reporter clearly knew who the winners were yesterday and was happy to brag about that. It would have been nice if they could have kept it under wraps until tonight's presentation. The media held off since at least yesterday, why not a few more hours? Was there pressure from the media to have the story out before close of business today? Did the organisers feel pressured to make the announcement at midday or risk the media doing it for them? I have no idea but it seems strange!

I have attended Telstra many times and whilst every year produced many rumours on the day before and in the hours leading up to the event, the "good mail" was often way off!

But I'd like to say, no matter when it was announced , congratulations to Jimmy on his win! I'm happy to see an artwork that embodies what i believe is a true reflection of Aboriginal Art win the big prize!

I think it is a very striking artwork and a worthy winner. I like it a lot but i want to see it in the flesh, and i look forward to doing so very soon!

Another article on the Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards at ABC online.

The SMH announced the winner of the Aboriginal painting award with this article titled Desert man wins indigenous art award not long after 12 today!

Interesting to hear the finer details of the timing of this announcement.

More to come............

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards Time

Well the 27th National Telstra Art awards are just around the corner again.

It will be very interesting to see if the award will continue to push controversial boundaries as it has in recent years or if a return to judging the Art on quality only will return, regardless of if it is traditional or something a bit more out there that can stir up some media interest and debate!

Details of the event can be found below.

27th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award

Image: 27th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award
Richard Bell, 2003 winner of the Telstra NATSIAA

One of the nation's premier prizes for art unfolds in the Top End.

Editorial Review

When: 14 August - November 7 2010; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; Sat, Sun & Public holidays 10am- 5pm
Where: Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
Tickets: Entry to the museum by donation

While Papunya Tula, or "dot painting", is the best known genre of Australian indigenous art, there is a good deal more to savour than these popular ancestral narratives. The Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award showcases work that can be arresting, surprising or just plain beautiful.

Now in its twenty-seventh year, this annual event scours the country to select 100 works for review. New Media, bark painting, general painting, 3D objects and works on paper are displayed with a prize in each category. Our awe is reserved, however, for the $40,000 Telstra Award which is granted to the artist of the year's most remarkable work.

Winners of the grand prize frequently go on to enjoy broad acclaim. In 2003, the extraordinary Richard Bell (pictured) took out the top gong for his Bell's Theorem. The notoriously defiant painter wore a lewd t-shirt to receive his prize. No one was particularly surprised. His work, after all, was an explicit critique of the competition. "Aboriginal Art", said the text on his work, "It's a white thing."

Artists do not hold back here to serve up a museum-friendly version of "Aboriginal Art". Likewise, judges for this prize do not withdraw when confronted with difficult work. The upshot for us gallery goers is one delightful shock.

Helen Razer, Citysearch

Event Schedule

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

19 Conacher Street, Fannie Bay

Get Directions


Start: 14-Aug-2010

End: 07-Nov-2010

Thanks to City Search

Sunday, 1 November 2009

PM's Wife Encourages all Australians to learn about Aboriginal Art

Interesting comments this week in a speech by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's wife regarding Australians learning more about Aboriginal Art, history and way of life. It is amazing how little many Australians know about the indigenous people of Australia and I think her comments are extremely positive.

Obviously it starts in schools and there is no doubt a broader and more thorough teaching of Aboriginal Art and history would be of great benefit to everyone.

Have a read of the article.

Embrace our indigenous people: Rein
October 30, 2009

THERESE REIN has called for all Australians to become literate in Aboriginal art, symbols, culture and history.

The wife of the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said the nation needed to understand Australia's indigenous culture better, so it could fully embrace all its people.

Her call was made in a speech to launch the Centre for Youth and Child, Health and Wellbeing at the University of Technology in Sydney this week. The centre's director, Professor Rosemary Johnston, has been urging Australian education authorities to make regional Aboriginal languages, history and cosmology a mandatory feature of all primary and perhaps early secondary education.

Ms Rein, a patron of the Indigenous Literacy Project, is becoming a champion for indigenous issues. Last year she was reduced to tears when she stepped in at a Parliament House function to read the emotional poem of 14-year-old Aboriginal girl's grief over the death of her mother. ''I was speaking with an indigenous person and she told me that she didn't feel like an Australian,'' Ms Rein said in her speech. ''I was shocked because I felt it was such an honour to be an Australian alongside that person.

''We have to understand better our indigenous cultures.''

Her speech this week comes as the intensity over the national curriculum debate rises. A nationwide curriculum is being developed to span kindergarten to year 12, starting with English, mathematics, science and history, for implementation from 2011. A second phase will be developed in languages, geography and the arts.

The NSW director general of education, Michael Coutts-Trotter, said the national curriculum debate was ''red hot and live … This is a highly contested area at the moment with huge debates about how much weight you give the Aboriginal perspective [in the curriculum].

''This is a big opportunity following the apology last year … We want a curriculum that allows Australia to understand and embrace Aboriginal people.''

Professor Johnston said the introduction of a national curriculum gave the chance to equip all children for the challenges of the new millennium as well as enhance the national identity.

''If we are truly serious about writing 'nation' into curriculum, this doubly rich distinctive country needs to have similar discussions - talk-story and listen-story - with Aboriginal elders about Aboriginal modes of learning,'' she said.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Art Sydney 2009

Art Sydney is under way this weekend at The Royal hall of Industries, Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park.

More information can be found here

Here is a look at Aranda Aboriginal Art galleries stand for this years show.

Aboriginal Art In the Big Apple

New York is currently playing host to the 'Icons of the desert' Aboriginal Art Exhibition. The Exhibition is being held at the New York University and runs until December 5th. The article below is from the Wall Street Journal and gives an excellent overview of this exhibition in one of the worlds great cities of art.

So if you are going to New York or you are from there, pop down and have a look at a fantastic Aboriginal Art Exhibition!

From a Primitive Present

New York

Imagine that you could travel back in time to meet a Stone Age hunter-gatherer, that you could hand him a paintbrush and ask him to paint something on a board or canvas—not warpaint on his body or daubings on a cave, but a proper picture, one that gave us a glimpse of his inner landscape and his aesthetic universe. This is precisely what happened at Papunya in 1972 near the remote outpost of Alice Springs in the heart of the Australian outback. The products of that early encounter gave rise to the internationally celebrated phenomenon of Aboriginal art, an école of sorts, that we all recognize today. Many of those seminal paintings are now in "Icons of the Desert" at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University. The show, dedicated to those early years, is composed of works from the private collection of John Wilkerson, former president of the American Folk Art Museum, and his wife.


How to look at Aboriginal painting? If we knew nothing else, the sheer joyous vitality of the images themselves—with their dot-pattern chiaroscuros, elemental colors and buzzing lines—would amply satisfy the eye. But as the exhibition shows us, there's a great deal more to know, a host of backstories that deepen and illuminate our sense of the art—and often leave us baffled by its mysteries. The paintings themselves are full of embedded narratives connected to the Dreaming, the Aboriginal genesis mythology—itself a series of disparate narratives, as most genesis mythologies are.

Then there's the genesis backstory of how the art form was born, a pivotal moment of Australian social history when blacks and whites first tentatively bonded through art. The show features videos chronicling the story of the groundbreaking Papunya painters and their "whitefella" mentor, the now-famous Geoffrey Bardon (1940-2003), who acted as midwife to their talent in the early 1970s. Bardon's own life reads like a moral fable: A sensitive schoolteacher and art student, a pioneer spirit, he befriended the Aboriginals, supplied them with materials, encouragement and funding despite resistance from his own kind, and finally suffered a nervous breakdown for his exertions.

Many of the show's paintings have attained iconic status in Australian popular culture. Works such as Shorty Lungkarta's "Tingarri Ceremony," with its multicolored vorticist whorls, and his more austere "Children's Water Dreaming" lay out the basic codes of the art form. In the latter a concentric circle at the core links to similar circles through black lines, and the entirety forms a kind of memory map of waterholes connected by rivulets from the artist's region. A black cross-cum-stick-figure on the upper left is part of a ceremonial object, according to Prof. Fred Myers, a consultant to the show who lived with the Papunya artists in the 1970s as a young anthropology student. Sacred objects feature regularly in Aboriginal painting but are often considered taboo and need to be disguised.

Icons of the Desert

Grey Art Gallery, New York University

Through Dec. 5

Perhaps the show's masterpiece, its most renowned painting according to Prof. Myers, is the intricately webbed and dotted "Water Dreaming at Kalipinypa" by Johnny Warangkula. Complicated and beautiful, the painting creates a line-and-dot pulse effect common to the genre that Prof. Myers compares to the effect of firelight on painted bodies during ceremonial dances. In this and in paintings that give off similar optical illusions, such as Cifford Possum's "Women Dreaming About Bush Tucker," the artists show how "ancestral beings, in their creation of the landscape, entered the ground and traveled beneath its surface before emerging elsewhere," Prof. Myers says.

To the Western eye the visual patterns often seem oddly familiar, and one wonders if any mutual exposure occurred between Papunya painters and, say, Paul Klee or Jean-Michel Basquiat. No one has proved any such cross-pollination yet; certainly the Papunya artists had no access to foreign images at that time, and Paul Klee, at least, came and went too soon. One is left with the baffling conclusion that the poetic déjà vu sensation sparked by works such as Mick Namarrari's "Big Cave Dreaming" and Uta Uta Tjangala's "Medicine Story" is an accident. Perhaps the works simply remind us that our species shares a limited range of coherent visual motifs and that disparate cultures can stumble on them independently.


Shorty Lungkarta, 'Children's Water Dreaming' (1972)

A lot remains mysterious in the genre, not least because Aussie whites and Aboriginals at its inception could barely understand each others' languages. Deepening the mysteries are the confusing codes of taboo and secrecy that the artists suspended temporarily during the first paintings and reimposed soon after. Some customs of the aborigines seem distasteful to Westerners, such as the exclusion of women and children from adult male power rituals. Breaking such taboos can still be punished by tribes with death or excommunication or spearing.

As a result, the exhibition even has a secluded lower floor with a vivid culture-clash backstory. The paintings displayed there, when conceived, had revealed a great deal of the artists' sacred ceremonies. The artists originally thought only the Aussie white man would see the art—which they didn't mind. We, too, are free to see them—but, to this day, women and children from the artists' tribes may not. For this reason, the exhibition catalog includes a detachable insert of those works, which gets removed from any copies sold in Australia. On the lower floor, Mr. Possum's "Emu Corroboree Man," for example, looks like a graphic guide to animist rituals and the use of sacred objects. One could compare the phenomenon to the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Athens or the Villa of Dionysian frescoes in Pompeii, which were secret in their time and still remain suggestively opaque to us.

In looking at Aboriginal art, we are, after all, looking back at our species in a more primitive state, though it sounds politically incorrect to say so. The asymmetries between the sexes, the guarding of male power with secrecy, the tribally enforced segregation and the like should not detract from our enjoyment of the art. Such things do present a painful quandary to strict multiculturalists who would like all genders and cultures to be interchangeably equal when, alas, many of their favored subcultures don't see things that way. But for the rest of us, the show offers a chance to enjoy a glimpse of how, eons ago, in an ancient landscape, our species was able to find patterns of beauty in nature.

—Mr. Kaylan, a columnist for Forbes, writes on culture and the arts for the Journal.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Renowned Aboriginal Artist Passes away

Sad news today with the passing of a one of Australia's most prominent and decorated Aboriginal Artists. The articles below go into detail of his achievements but it is certainly safe to say he will be remembered as one of the countries finest Indigenous artists and an absolute master of traditional rock painting.

The family has asked that the name he is most commonly known by not be published and for him to be referred to as Wamud Namok.. We will also respect that wish at this time however i invite readers to email me for Wamud's details as many will know his works but not be familiar with this traditional name.


Renowned Aboriginal rock artist dies

By Adrienne Francis

Barrk, the black rock wallaroo
A 2004 rock painting by the artist, showing Barrk, the black rock wallaroo, being speared by a mimi spirit. (Warddeken Land Management)

One of the nation's most renowned Aboriginal rock artists has died.

The 83-year old Northern Territory elder passed away on his country at the West Arnhem Land outstation of Kabulwarnamyo.

For cultural reasons, his name cannot be published.

His family has asked that he be referred to as Wamud Namok.

He was one of only two Indigenous Territorians to be made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to the arts and Indigenous land management.

He worked in the tin mining industry and served in the military during World War II.

He went on to become a consultant to anthropologists, art historians, botanists and researchers.

The Member for Arafura, Marion Scrymgour, says he leaves behind a significant legacy for not only his people but for all Australians.

"He leaves a void," she said.

"His legacy is going to be hard for, he leaves it and that is a fantastic thing that I think you know there was still so much wisdom and guidance that was needed."

The Jawoyn Association says his death is a great loss to Australia and the world.

Wamud Namok was helping the association record the stories of thousands of rock art sites on their traditional lands.

The association's Wes Miller says the elder held a wealth of cultural knowledge and understanding.

"He was one of the last of those old people who've physically walked the country, participated fully and grew up in a very traditional lifestyle," Mr Miller said.

"He lived his lifestyle and culture right through this life.

"And enormous knowledge that he had not only in his country but down in Jawoyn country as well and other places as well."

Article courtesy of the ABC

Aboriginal rock artist dies

16:15 AEST Fri Oct 16 2009
By Tara Ravens

One of Australia's grand old masters of Aboriginal art has died in Arnhem Land.

Bark works by Wamud Namok hang on walls in every major art gallery in Australia and feature in several international collections.

But despite his success in the elite art world, the renowned rock artist was a man of the bush who lived for the land.

The 83-year-old died on his country at the remote West Arnhem Land outstation of Kabulwarnamyo, where he has been preserving the past for future generations for almost 60 years.

"Wamud Namok has been one of the region's most important and loved artists," said a statement issued by the local community on Friday.

"He has been extremely generous with his knowledge, taking on an important role as teacher."

Born on the Arnhem Land Plateau in 1926, Wamud Namok worked in the tin mining industry and served in the Katherine region with the military during the Second World War.

But he also spent much of his life traversing the traditional walking tracks of Arnhem Land.

It was on the rocky escarpment, tropical savannas and coastal wetlands that he met with extended kin, hunted and took place in ceremonies.

And it became his vision to bring his people back to care for their traditional lands.

The statement, issued by Warddeken Land Management, described his knowledge of the land and rock art as "unparalleled".

"(It) represents a link with the past and a particular way of life which has now changed forever," it said.

Wamud Namok is believed to be the last Aboriginal artist to have painted works on the rock walls of western Arnhem Land and his early work, with their intricate and particular X-ray style, can still be found in sandstone shelters today.

In his later years, the ceremony man's knowledge was sought by anthropologists, art historians, botanists and other researchers.

He was also a regular speaker at regional land management conferences.

"Through this spirit of generosity he was able to share his knowledge of the Territory with both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians," said NT Arts Minister Gerry McCarthy.

"His knowledge of Territory history, places, land management and available resources and religious significance has become invaluable."

In 2004, Wamud Namok was one of only two indigenous Territorians to be made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to the arts and indigenous land management.

He was also commissioned to paint a large mural at Darwin Airport while another painting was used on the Australian 40 cent stamp, issued in 1982.

A funeral will be held in his home of Kabulwarnamyo.

Article from Ninemsn News

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Sotheby's Auction House Sold in Australia

Here is another good article specifically about Tim Goodman's purchase of the Sotheby's Auction house in Australia. I would expect we will hear a lot more about this in the following weeks. Stay tuned!

Fine art of a deal maker

Gabriella Coslovich
October 3, 2009

IF YOU were looking to buy an auction house, you couldn't aim higher than Sotheby's. As prestige brands go, only arch-rival Christie's - owned by French tycoon Francois Pinault, who paid $US1.2 billion for it in 1998 - compares.

Sydney-born auctioneer Tim Goodman is no billionaire (yet), but he has long coveted the Sotheby's name - and the kudos that comes with it. Since his first encounter with Sotheby's as a 22-year-old on work experience at the auction house's fashionable London office in 1974, he has dreamed of working with the multinational.

He has gone one better. In a move that astonished the Australian auction world, Goodman this week bought the licence to Sotheby's Australia, ditching his own company, rival firm Bonhams & Goodman, in the process. The terms of the sale are confidential, but The Age believes Goodman got himself a bargain, snapping up Sotheby's Australia for a figure in the low millions.

That Goodman would so desire the name of Sotheby's says much about the circles he moves in, a world where image and status mean everything.

The selling of art on the secondary market is a trade, but it is a trade that cloaks itself in a fine cashmere coat of exclusivity and noblesse. Auctioneers are essentially salespeople - but what they sell is luxury goods, trophies for those with enough disposable cash to display a Brett Whiteley or John Brack or Albert Tucker on their wall. Auction nights are like select social events, alcohol is served - sparkling, white, red - and white-gloved assistants, generally beautiful and young, delicately bring out art works over which begins an adrenalin-pumping contest for possession. Which is not to say that people don't collect art for the passion of it, but at the highest levels it is ego and competition that keeps those bidding paddles popping up in pursuit of that rare and luscious object everyone wants.

It is no coincidence that Pinault, owner of Christie's, also controls a luxury goods group whose brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen. Nor is it a coincidence that Sotheby's Australian headquarters is in the blue-chip terrain of High Street, Armadale. There is an almost geographical hierarchy in the positioning of auction houses - Bonhams & Goodman is situated in slightly less chichi territory, in Malvern Road, Prahran.

But Timothy David Goodman, 56, who has said he had visions of being "the next Kerry Packer", was never going to be satisfied being a minor player in the bullish, macho and image-conscious game of art auctioneering. Three out of four of Australia's most expensive paintings were sold at Sotheby's. The wealthiest and most conservative of art collectors, those who want to be associated with a brand oozing aristocracy and tradition, sell and buy at Sotheby's. Goodman desperately wanted a slice of that action.

He is not the first auctioneer who has made a play for Sotheby's Australia. Others have pursued the brand name - but their timing was not right. With a nose for opportunity, and wounded prey, Goodman made Sotheby's Holdings an offer too good to refuse.

He is driven, determined, autocratic, tough, a man who lives and breathes his business, whose job is his world. This week he revealed the extent of his ambition.

The news stunned the art world for two reasons. It is no secret that Sotheby's Holdings, whose headquarters is in New York, has been profoundly affected by the economic downturn. Shares and profits have plummeted (June-quarter figures showed that Sotheby's profits were down 87 per cent), and the company has been reviewing its operations and regional offices worldwide. If anything, industry observers were expecting the financially troubled Sotheby's to pull out of Australia as Christie's did in 2006. They did not expect Sotheby's to sell the licence to the brand name "Sotheby's Australia". They certainly did not expect Sotheby's to sell the brand to Tim Goodman and the other directors of First East Auction Holdings Pty Ltd.

"Obviously the culture at Sotheby's is somewhat different to what he's accustomed to," says Goodman's fiercest competitor, Rod Menzies, of leading Australian auction firm Menzies Art Brands.

Short, well-padded and ruddy-cheeked, Goodman is one of the few auctioneers in town who does not affect an Oxbridge accent. He takes to the auction stand with an affable, bossy and unashamedly Australian manner and cadence, a robust sense of humour, and a salesman's gift of persuasion.

He plays as hard as he works. By all accounts he is fond of a drink, has a keen eye for the ladies, and has been known to frequent the sorts of gentlemen's clubs where one's social class and alma mater have no bearing. Some find his character bordering on the boorish, others see it as refreshing in an industry rife with pretensions.

"He is one of those great Australian characters," says the loquacious Sydney art dealer Denis Savill. "He's like the John Singleton of the art world. That's a compliment, by the way. John's a friend of mine, but he's a wild one, and I know when to avoid him."

After his year of work experience with Sotheby's in London, a world he described as a Dickensian fantasy land, Goodman returned to Australia in 1975 and became the youngest fine art auctioneer in NSW, working for Geoff K. Gray. When Gray was bought out, Goodman lost his job and struck out on his own. After a varied and at times financially perilous career dealing in art, and running an art gallery, a jewellery auction house and even a publishing venture, Goodman established the Goodman auction rooms in the posh Sydney suburb of Double Bay in 1992.

His self-described "big break" came in 2003 when he was approached by Robert Brooks, chairman of British auction house Bonhams. For the past six years, Goodman has been the chief executive of Bonhams & Goodman auction house, which has been trying to establish itself as one of Australia's main players. But allegiances come cheap in the cut-throat world of art auctions. In buying the licence to the Sotheby's Australia name, Goodman has severed ties with Bonhams and his long-time friend Robert Brooks. Goodman will terminate the licence to use the Bonhams' name on December 22. Sentiment was never going to get in the way of Goodman's dream.

On Tuesday night, a furious Brooks was flying to Australia to sort out the mess Goodman had left him. He has launched action in the NSW Supreme Court to ensure that Goodman continues to use the Bonhams brand in Australia until December 22.

The next few months will be interesting. With three more Bonhams & Goodman auctions scheduled for the year, and two more Sotheby's auctions, where will Goodman's loyalties lie?

Meanwhile, Damian Hackett, an executive director of Deutscher and Hackett, is rubbing his hands at the thought of fewer competitors. "Yesterday I was competing with Bonhams & Goodman and Sotheby's and in the very near future we will be competing with just one of those firms, and that one firm will have quite a different nature," he says. "I will certainly bounce out of bed tomorrow morning with a renewed spring in my step.''

In the art auction world, trust is everything - and Sotheby's art specialists, such as head of Aboriginal art Tim Klingender, head of Australian paintings Georgina Pemberton, and chairman Justin Miller, come with a reputation for integrity and expertise.

Goodman himself this week spoke of his ''enormous respect for the brand, the company and the staff'', adding that "at this time" he had no plans to make any changes to staff.

But it would be naive to think that there will not be cuts, and Sotheby's Australia staff, who were only told of the takeover on Monday, are worried about their futures, and about working with a man whose managerial style is markedly different to that they know.

But something had to give at Sotheby's Australia.

"Sotheby's performance over the last 18 months suggests that it may have been under threat from its overseas masters. Tim Goodman may well be regarded as a white knight," says Sotheby's Australia's former managing director Mark Fraser.

LAST financial year, Sotheby's Australia made a profit of $1.2 million, down from 2007's $5.08 million. Its sales revenue from auctions was slashed by more than half to $24.8 million, down from $49.5 million in 2007.

But all Australian art auction houses have been doing it tough in the economic downturn. The major players, in order, are Deutscher-Menzies, Sotheby's, Deutscher & Hackett, and finally, Bonhams & Goodman. Their greatest difficulty has been competing for quality stock - in uncertain economic times collectors have been holding on to their art, unless forced to sell.

Last year the total turnover in Australian art auction sales was $114 million, down $60.9 million on 2007, a fall of almost 35 per cent. In future years, the total sales achieved in 2007 of $175.6 million may be viewed as a market aberration.

Rod Menzies, of Deutscher-Menzies, says that a contraction of the industry was necessary. "There are too many auctions houses … there is no doubt that one player had to exit this year," he says. "From an Aussie's perspective it's interesting that the two multinationals clearly no longer desire to trade here."

Is that a bad sign for the Australian art market?

"I don't know. I think there have been other issues for Sotheby's and Christie's worldwide. But it's certainly survival of the fittest. I think Tim's got a good chance of making a go of it. I am looking forward to the competition. Tim's a serious competitor and so am I."

Gabriella Coslovich is senior arts writer.

Bombshell Hits The Aboriginal Art Auction Marketplace!

There has been a Massive shake-up in the Australian Art Auction marketplace with the announcement that Tim Goodman of Bonhams & Goodman has purchased the licence to Sotheby's Australia. This is not an acquisition of the two companies with Tim leaving the auction house that bears his name.

This is a major change in the playing field and there will be many interesting times ahead as Tim and his former partner work out how this changeover is going to work.

There are a number of good articles about this major announcement. I will post them up here on the blog. The first is by Aboriginal Art expert and former Head of Aboriginal Art for Lawson~Menzies and Managing Director of Menzies Art Brands Adrian Newstead. It's a great article by a man who knows the Aboriginal Art Auction market better than most.

Have a read......

Deutscher and Hackett Aboriginal and Oceanic Art Sale looks ‘Back to the Future’.

By Adrian Newstead, on 02-Oct-2009

What a difference a day makes! On the same morning that the Deutscher and Hackett Aboriginal and Oceanic Art catalogue arrived on collectors’ doorsteps, Tim Goodman announced that he had purchased the Sotheby’s Australian franchise. Two unrelated events to be sure, however both are likely to impact on the direction of the Aboriginal art market during and beyond the current economic downturn.

At the peak of the market in 2007 Aboriginal art sales comprised $23.7 million of the $175 million art auction market in Australia. However following poor sales and the closure of Joel Fine Art, the market dived 50%, prompting both Sotheby’s and Menzies Art Brands to reduce the size of their Aboriginal offerings while attempting to lift their minimum lot value to $6000.

The less than impressive results that followed, saw Sotheby’s hold their least successful sales of Aboriginal and Oceanic art since the new millennium while Menzies Art Brands Aboriginal sales shrunk from $9.1 million in 2007 to less than $1million per quarter in 2009.

Aboriginal art has been a centre piece of Sotheby’s Australian success since the mid 1990’s, and the Goodman purchase will have been in part informed by their flagging fortunes. An number of industry insiders have been wondering more and more openly, how much longer Sotheby’s and MAB could continue to recycle high end works with indecent haste in order to maintain market share, without loosing credibility. This has been a particular problem for Sotheby’s given the dearth of high value quality material, and their acceptance of such a narrow band of provenance for Aboriginal artworks.

What any of this has got to do with the current Deutscher and Hackett offering? In my opinion, just about everything!

While the production, scholarship, and quality of the D + H catalogue is as good any that has been presented to the market during the last decade, only two works in the entire sale have a value in excess of $100,000 and only 11 fall between a lowly $20,000 and $100,000.

However the sale turns the general auctioneers rule of thumb that 80% of the value of a sale should be in 20% of the works completely on its head. Here just two works, or 0.7% of the offerings represent 23% of the total value on low estimates.

D + H specialist Crispin Gutteridge has defied conventional wisdom by selecting no less than 259 works under $20,000 of which a staggering 230 are worth less than $10,000. The result is a sale containing 277 individual lots with a total value of just $2.04 million on low estimates.

I cannot remember a sale presented so lavishly with so few works of major importance or distinction. Generous essays of the length generally reserved for works worth in excess of $100,000 are afforded to paintings carrying estimates as low as $20,000.

Estimates are however conservative and, as a result, I expect the sale to kick off with a bang with a 90% + clearance rate for the first 50 lots and up to 85% for the next. Whether this success rate can be sustained thereafter however, will be the acid test for this approach.

The highest priced work in the sale has a very fine pedigree, and is illustrated on the catalogue cover. Yillimbiddi Country, 1988 (Lot 26) by Rover Thomas was originally sourced through Warringari Arts in Kununurra and was shown at the Adelaide Biennale in 1990. It was loaned to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2000 and included in three different curated exhibitions between 2000 and 2003. When sold by Sotheby’s in July 2003 (lot 127) the painting achieved a price of $376,750 including BP. Carrying an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000 this time around it would appear to be good buying.

The impression of success or failure for the sale depends on the need to get this work away. The failure of this single lot would reduce the success rate by value by 17% and make an otherwise successful result appear mediocre.

In a most unusual move, the second most valuable work in an entire sale, Paddy Bedford’s Mendoowoorrji Medicine Pocket 2001 (Lot 10) is placed very early in the catalogue. The provenance is excellent, as this large work is included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné published by Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, this will be the third time it has changed hands since originally purchased. While it could not be described as one of the artist’s finest major works, it is nevertheless good example. Major paintings by Bedford are very hard to come by. He painted relatively prolifically for no more than 6 years and his paintings are much loved and tightly held.

Only two early Papunya boards appear, and once more they are early in the sale and estimated keenly. Both were illustrated in Geoffrey and James Bardon’s landmark publication, Papunya, A Place Made After the Story.

Johnny Warangkula’s Water Dreaming at Kalipinya 1972 (Lot 7) is estimated at $35,000 to $45,000, and sold for $38,050 including BP when last offered in July 2001 at Sotheby’s (lot 74). While a work on this theme created during the same year holds record price for the artist at $486,500, and another has sold for $206,000 these records were set prior to 2001, and the majority of his best prices were achieved during the 1990’s. The $35,000 to $45,000 estimate is conservative and this work should sell well.

Mick Namarari’s Untitled (Dingo Ceremony), 1971/1972 (Lot 8) is an iconic work that has appeared at auction previously on two occasions during the last decade. It achieved a price of $35,750 against a presale estimate of $25,000 to $35,000 (lot 133) in Sotheby’s July 2001 sale but is recorded as having failed to sell two years later when offered once more at the same estimate. Once again it carries a low estimate of just $25,000 and at this price would seem to be exceptional buying.

Lot 9 however, a very fine work on cardboard, A Pair of Wanjina, by Charlie Numbulmore, (Lot 9) has been in the current vendor’s family since first purchased in 1970 and is entirely fresh to the market. Only 25 works by this artist have ever appeared at auction, and all but one has sold resulting in a 96% success rate. His very impressive figures at sale make him statistically the sixth most successful artist in the secondary art market in the history of the Aboriginal art movement. The catalogue entry includes a very good essay on the Numbulmoore by Kim Ackerman, and estimated at $40,000 to $60,000 this work should be very keenly contested.

Despite the large number of works estimated below $20,000 there are many nice pieces worthy of mention. They include the three works by Freddy Timms, all of which were originally purchased from Frank Watters. These include two of his earliest colour field paintings, and another from his 1999 solo exhibition that focused on the story of the early 20th century Aboriginal rebel, ‘Major’.

Other works that deserve attention are the lovely Jungura and Jambin, 2002 by Rusty Peters (Lot 83) and the large collaborative painting by the artists of Ampilawatja (Lot 99).

Crispin Gutteridge will have been delighted to have secured, the iconic image Sexy and Dangerous (Lot 17) by urban artist Brook Andrew. Andrew has been feted as one of the most successful Aboriginal urban photographic and graphic artists of recent times but, in common with Tracy Moffatt, he has proved, at least in the secondary market, to have been a bit of a one trick wonder. While 18 of the 27 works that have been offered at auction have sold, variations of this particular image hold all of his 4 highest records.

Bonham’s and Goodman set a record price of $84,000 for a copy of Sexy and Dangerous in August 2007 (lot 111). However the next three highest prices all fall between $33,400 and $36,000.

Another artist in the same boat as Brook Andrew in this regard is internationally renowned Tracy Moffatt. With a widely diverse oeuvre Moffatt’s peevish reaction to the fact that works from her iconic Something More series, made as early as 1989, hold 9 of her top 10 results at auction, has been to refuse permission for their reproduction. Hence, Lot 19, estimated at a very reasonable $30,000 to $40,000 is not illustrated in this, or any other, catalogue.

Collectors would be wise not to overlook the works on paper by Kitty Kantilla, whose solo retrospective was held at the Ian Potter Centre during 2007. While Untitled, 2001 (Lot 14), a work on canvas exhibited in the retrospective carries an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000, it is hardly bigger or any more accomplished than the work on paper Jilamara, 1999 (Lot 63) estimated at just $5000 to $7000. Jilamara, 1997, (Lot 67) another fine work on canvas would appear inexpensive at just $14,000 to $18,000.

Amongst the many other works, those bark paintings most worthy of attention are by the North East masters, Mawalan Marika (Lot 33), and Mungurrawuy Yunupingu (Lot 32) and Western Arnhem Land’s Lofty Nadjamerrek (Lot 5).

The sale abounds with paintings from Balgo Hills though the majority it appears, are owned by a single vendor. All were collected in the mid 1990’s and created during James Cowan’s tenure at the art centre. Cowan delighted in using the art coordinator’s residence as a de facto art gallery and after wining and dining visitors he would sell the works directly off the walls of his home.

Unfortunately, while some of the works do stand out, the majority are not representative of the artist’s finest, nor do they represent the most important early period in which they painted. All however appear keenly priced and represent good buying at their estimated values.

This D + H offering makes a most fascinating sale. While commercial galleries appear to have lost customers to the tourist galleries for works under $15,000, and are surviving on fewer sales of high end pieces, this D + H sale may well turn the auction market on its head.

It is more than a decade since so many works with age and values under $10,000 were on offer and promoted through a catalogue of such quality. Its results should be studied closely by industry observers especially Sotheby’s Australia’s new owner Tim Goodman, as they will prove to be the single most valuable barometer of the market yet, as we head in to 2010. With other recent Aboriginal sales failing to excite the market D + H may well be leading us ‘back to the future’

About The Author

Adrian Newstead is an Aboriginal art specialist, dealer, and commentator, based in Bondi, New South Wales. He co-founded Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery in 1981 and until 2002 worked closely with Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. In 2003 Adrian became the Head of Aboriginal Art for Lawson~Menzies, and in 2007, Managing Director of Menzies Art Brands. He resigned from this position at the end of 2008, to return to working once again with artists and art communities.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Aboriginal Art in the American Capital

Australian Aboriginal Art goes to the American Capital with an exhibition featuring some of Australia's leading Aboriginal Artists. Details below:

Washington Museum Exhibits Australian Aboriginal Painting

National Museum Of Women In The Arts, Washington will run an exhibition "Lands of Enchantment: Australian Aboriginal Painting" on view from October 9, 2009 to January 10, 2010. In recent years, Australian Aboriginal art has captured the attention of the global art market.

Collectors and museums worldwide relish the striking color and intricate patterning of Aboriginal paintings created by artist’s in the nation’s central dessert region in particular. The works’ nuanced expressions of Aboriginal history and culture reinforce their significance as rich cultural artifacts.

Lands of Enchantment: Australian Aboriginal Painting presents 26 masterworks by some of Australia’s best-known painters, including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Dorothy Napangardi, Abie Loy Kemarre, Mitjili Napurrla, and Eubena Nampitjin. These works of art, which have never been exhibited publicly, are drawn from the collection of Ann Shumelda Okerson and James J. O’Donnell of New Haven, Connecticut and Washington D.C. They are avid world travelers as well as passionate educators, and are devoted to sharing their collection with the public and ensuring the legacy of Aboriginal artists.

In 2006, NMWA presented the ground-breaking exhibition, Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters. Since then, interest in Australian Aboriginal art has soared, with collectors working assiduously to acquire desired works and auction sales routinely profiled in arts magazines. Lands of Enchantment builds on Dreaming Their Way by including works by male artists in order to demonstrate the broader context of contemporary Aboriginal painting.

Lands of Enchantment also explores how contemporary Australian Aboriginal paintings are expressive representations of Dreamings—ancient Aboriginal stories about creation and ancestral spirits who inhabited an undatable past called Dreamtime. Contrary to the prevalent Western view that draws clear distinctions between nature and civilization, Aboriginal culture holds that all living beings and elements of geography have been inextricably related through time.

Aboriginal artists have long been noted for their work in traditional media such as bark painting and wood carving. Although these art forms are still practiced, many contemporary artists working in central and north Australia—including those featured in Lands of Enchantment—choose to work with the modern medium of acrylic paint on fabric.

They extend the ancient tradition of drawing ritual designs on the body or into the earth by rendering intensely colored, semi-abstract symbols of plants, animals, and features of the landscape on their canvases. Through these alluring images, the artists seek to share a part of Aboriginal culture. The paintings are also powerful political acts— statements of the Aboriginal people’s rights to the land and assertions of their enduring cultural presence in Australia.

The picture shows Eunice Napanagka Born 1940, Language: Pintupi, Tjukurla - other side of Docker River, 2001, Acrylic on linen, 48 x 66 in., Collection of Ann Shumelda Okerson and James J. O'Donnell, Ikuntji Artists Aboriginal Corporation, Copyright remains with the artist. --

Thursday, 24 September 2009

New Custom Google Search added to Aboriginal Art Blog

We have added another new feature to Aboriginal Art Blog to help better increase your ability to use the blog to find out anything and everything you want about Aboriginal Art.

In the right hand column we have added a Google search box so if you want to search anything from the web or from just within this blog you can do so now from any page. Once you enter the search term you will be taken to a custom Google search page where the results will be displayed and you can choose to click on a result or a relevant ad, or you can search again.

You wont have to worry about clicking back to view Aboriginal Art Blog as the search page open in a new browser tab.

This custom Google search engine has been specially modified to help assist better with searches related to Aboriginal art whilst also being able to handle searches on any subject just like the regular Google can.

Give it a try!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Aboriginal Art News feature added

Aboriginal Art Blog has added a Google News feature. You will see it in the right hand side column. This feature displays the latest news articles that are about Aboriginal Art. They provide a small description with the ability to click on the headline if you wish to read the article in full.

There is also a"related articles" link under some of the news items which allows you to view articles that are related to the featured one.

Feel free to click on the articles for more information and don't worry, you wont be taken away from Aboriginal Art Blog, all articles will open in a new window.

We hope you enjoy using this new feature.

Update on the Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship program

Last month Aboriginal Art told you about a unique program to foster indigenous art curating

See the original article here

We have some further information about this very exciting program below.

The Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship will focus on the professional development of Indigenous people in roles supporting the visual arts such as curation, marketing, exhibition management, art handling, registration to publishing, imaging services and fundraising.

The Fellowship will encourage the sustainability and longevity of the Indigenous arts/cultural industry by creating opportunities for Indigenous professionals to work throughout the sector. It is a prestigious and professional program that will foster the next generation of Indigenous leaders in the visual arts.

The National Gallery of Australia and Wesfarmers are seeking input from a range of people involved in Indigenous arts professions and education across Australia to help develop the Fellowship program.
Cox Inall Ridgeway has been contracted to run consultation workshops which will be facilitated by respected Indigenous leader Aden Ridgeway.

Please find below a discussion paper on the Fellowship which we will refer to in the workshops:

Overview of Australia’s Indigenous Visual Arts

The value of Indigenous visual arts to the Australian economy is estimated to be $400
million per annum. While there is a significant focus on supporting and nurturing
Indigenous artists to participate in the creation of art, much of the professional support and management (administration, marketing, curatorial) is provided by non-Indigenous people.

In June 2007, the Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information
Technology and the Arts undertook an inquiry into the Australian Indigenous visual arts and crafts sector. The resultant report Indigenous Art – Securing the Future included a significant focus on the role of education and professional development in ensuring the sustainability and profitability of the Indigenous visual arts sector.

The report states: “there appear to be some very pressing skills development needs in
this industry, particularly in relation to such areas as business management and
planning, accounting, marketing and governance”.

This sentiment is echoed in Making Solid Ground – Infrastructure and Key Organisations
Review, carried out for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board (Australia Council for the Arts) in November 2008. The report identified ‘improved investment in people’ as one of ten necessary platforms to support the sustainable development of the arts industry.

The Making Solid Ground report “strongly suggested that there needs to be greater
investment in and improved access to training and professional development
opportunities” for Indigenous people in a range of positions in the arts sector.

However the Senate committee concluded that while “the case for education and training is strong, the preferred mechanisms to deliver it successfully are not clear at this stage”.

The Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship

In 2009 a formal partnership was formed between the National Gallery of Australia and Wesfarmers Limited to create a Fellowship Program which would contribute to filling this gap in Indigenous professional development.

The partnership represents two iconic Australian organisations committed to the long
term development, training and mentorship of Indigenous people and will present a high quality professional development opportunity for the visual and Indigenous arts sector.

The Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship will focus on the professional development of Indigenous people in roles supporting the visual arts such as curation, marketing, exhibition management, art handling, registration to publishing, imaging services and fundraising.

The partnership will run for five years, and has identified the following objectives to
achieve by 2014:

Four exceptional Indigenous people will have graduated as Fellows of the
Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship at the National Gallery of Australia
Up to 32 Indigenous people will have participated in the Wesfarmers
Indigenous Fellowship as Associate Fellows at the National Gallery of

The Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship will create opportunities for Indigenous

professionals to work throughout the Indigenous arts/cultural sector.

Ultimately, the program will foster the next generation of Indigenous leaders in the visual

Consultation workshops

The National Gallery of Australia and Wesfarmers are seeking input from a range of
people involved in Indigenous arts professions and education across Australia to help
develop the Fellowship program.

Cox Inall Ridgeway has been contracted to run consultation workshops to feed into a
suggested Fellowship structure. These workshops will be facilitated by respected
Indigenous leader Aden Ridgeway.

The consultation workshops are designed to provide input to the following areas of the Fellowship:
a) Fellowship program content and breakdown of areas of focus, including
distribution of time across disciplines over the 2 years
b) Effective recruitment strategies and channels to attract suitable candidates
c) Selection criteria and process for fellowship program
d) Associate Fellowship content and proposed structure
e) Mentoring requirements and logistics of a two year Fellowship
f) Identification of additional investment and/or costs required to implement fellowship

In preparation for the workshops, participants are asked to consider the following

What are the key enablers and barriers to Indigenous participation in your
What paths have been successfully pursued by Indigenous professionals in your
What are the aspirations of new and emerging leaders in your field?
What would make your field more attractive to new Indigenous participants?
What role does your organisation play to encourage the development of
Indigenous professionals?
What combination of skills are necessary to your profession?
Workshops are being held in the following locations:

Sydney Monday 17 August
Melbourne Tuesday 18 August
Canberra Wednesday 19 August
Cairns Thursday 20 August
Adelaide Tuesday 8 September
Alice Springs Thursday 10 September
Darwin Friday 11 September
Perth Tuesday 20 October
Broome Wednesday 21 October

Input from each workshop will be developed into a report and provided to workshop
participants. If people are unable to attend any of these workshops, we welcome your
input via phone or email.

Interested participants are invited to contact John Saulo at Cox Inall Ridgeway for further information or 02 8204 3876

Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship – Discussion paper
©Cox Inall Ridgeway

Friday, 11 September 2009

Top award for tradition

After the controversy over the winning artwork at this years Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards, there was far less controversy at the Togart Awards wit the winner being a traditional Aboriginal Artist.

More information below:

Top award for tradition

September 4th, 2009

A TRADITIONAL Aboriginal artist won the $15,000 top prize at the third Togart Award.

Maningrida weaver Anniebell Marrngamarrnga was on hand to collect the award for her striking large Yawkyawk, meaning young woman or young woman spirit.

One of the judges, National Gallery of Australia curator of Australian painting and sculpture post-1920 Deborah Hart, said the judges had some "pretty intense debate" before reaching a decision.

"Every single person, indigenous and non-indigenous, has a very distinctive style and that really stands out," she said.

The winner, and the approach taken by at least one of the judges, is strikingly different to last month's $40,000 Telstra Aboriginal art award.

The winning piece at that show, a large drawing with pencil, crayon and glitter pen, had many observers scratching their heads.

One judge talked about her desire to push the boundaries of what is Aboriginal art.

But rather than pushing boundaries at Togart, Hart said she wanted a winner that would stand the test of time. "Will you look back in 50 years' time and say that's still holding up as a meaningful work?" she said.

"It's not what makes a great impact or what's fashionable - it's what will stand the test of time. It's also the presence of the work, the inventiveness, the way it's made."

Hart said by the look of the Togart finalists the Territory's art scene is in strong shape.

"People are doing their own thing," she said. "Perhaps that's a Territory thing - people aren't thinking they have to follow a particular fashion or trend."

The 2009 Togart award is on show in the Great Hall of Parliament House.

Outback art code draws line in the sand

Interesting article about the upcoming code of conduct for the art market here in Australia. Whilst there are parts of the code that concern me, I believe anything that can improve the industry and rid it off unscrupulous operators could be a good thing. However, just implementing a code will not do this. It needs to be workable, realistic and enforced fairly without agendas from different sectors within the industry adversely effecting this happening.

Whether this can be accomplished is yet to be seen.

Outback art code draws line in the sand

Ashleigh Wilson | August 21, 2009

Article from: The Australian

ART dealers will be able to pay artists with alcohol or secondhand vehicles but will be forced to declare their agreed value under a wide-ranging code of conduct for the Aboriginal art business.

The final copy of the code, obtained by The Australian but still to be signed off by federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett, sets out minimum standards for dealers, agents and artists in an attempt to freeze out unscrupulous operators.

It prohibits dealers from "taking advantage" of artists or their representatives, acting in an unfair, bullying or threatening manner and exerting undue influence. Dealers must act in good faith, which includes not promoting the "dealer's interests to the detriment of the artist".

"A dealer must not engage in unconscionable conduct towards an artist or an artist's representative," it says.

The code, updated from a draft version released in December, still accommodates non-cash transactions between dealers and artists. This includes paying for paintings with used vehicles and alcohol. The original draft would have prevented dealers from remunerating artists "with drugs or alcohol". The reference to alcohol has been removed from the revised code, which states that unprofessional conduct includes paying for work with "drugs or illegal goods or services".

As a result, alcohol cannot be used as payment in remote communities where it is illegal.

Rules concerning alternative forms of payment have been tightened in the final version, which says a dealer must state the "reasonable market value" of non-cash payments in writing.

That provision is enough to satisfy Australian Commercial Galleries Association president Beverly Knight, who had been concerned about the non-cash payments, but now endorses "the code at this current point".

However, Ms Knight said, the code's success depended on who was appointed to a committee to oversee its operation.

The code was a key recommendation of a 2007 Senate inquiry into the Aboriginal art sector, established in response to reports in The Australian about unscrupulous conduct in the business.

Gabriella Roy, who runs the Sydney gallery Aboriginal and Pacific Art, said it could provide certainty to investors.

Ahead of an exhibition that opened last night featuring the work of artists from Tjungu Palya, a tiny art centre near the border of the Northern Territory and South Australia, Ms Roy said she hoped to be able to sign up to the code when it was released.

To sign up, dealers would apply to the Code Administration Committee for approval. They would have to declare if they were under investigation over breaches of trade practices or fair trading laws, or had been convicted of an offence or declared bankrupt.

The committee could remove dealers who breached the code, and publish their names.

Andrew Bolt's take on the Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards

Andrew Bolt is known for his strong opinions, well here is his unique point of view regarding the recent Telstra Aboriginal Art award winner and the the Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship winner.

Let me know what you think :)

White fellas in the black

Danie Mellor

Danie Mellor and Mark McMillan Source: Herald Sun

AS you see, the two men on the right are from a tribe of people who face terrible racism just because of the colour of their skin.

So you'll be thrilled that both have won a rare opportunity - one offered to their race alone to end such injustice.

The man to the right, Sydney arts academic Danie Mellor, this week won our richest prize for Aboriginal artists - the $40,000 Telstra Award.

Have your say at Andrew's blog

And the man to the left, Sydney law academic Mark McMillan, has won one of our richest prizes for Aboriginal students - the Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship.

If, studying the faces of these two "Aboriginal" men you think this is surely the most amazing stretch of definition, you're wrong.

McMillan has gone one better still: he's also won the Black Women's Action in Education Foundation Scholarship, originally intended to help educate black women, not white men.

But that's modern race politics at our universities and anywhere else where grants and privileges are now doled out.

Hear that scuffling at the trough? That's the sound of black people being elbowed out by white people shouting "but I'm Aboriginal, too". Hark! - is that a man's voice I now hear bellowing: "And I'm an Aboriginal woman."

You see, Mellor and McMillan are representatives of a booming new class of victim you'd never have imagined we'd have to support with special prizes and jobs.

They are "white Aborigines" - people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that's contributed least to their looks. Yes, the Aboriginal one now so fashionable among artists and academics.

Let McMillan himself describe the torture he's faced as a result - the shocking pain of having not been discriminated against for being black.

"I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Aboriginal Australian . . .

"As a child, I grew up expecting everyone to be like me, to look like me - with the blonde hair and blue eyes.

"Clearly, my naive ideas about how Aboriginal people were 'supposed' to look were wrong. But being Aboriginal and fair and blonde was normal to me and I grew up in a world where I was treated 'normally' . . .

"Impeding my growth from that young person into the adult I wanted to become was the profound issue of identity. I was a white black man . . . I was becoming a victim."

You'd swear this was from a satire -- a local version of Sasha Baron Cohen's jive-talking routine as the fashionably aggrieved white rapper Ali G, complaining: "Is it cos I is black?"

But no, this is meant seriously, and serious perks and Aboriginal-only benefits flow as a consequence.

McMillan - whose confusion about his identity leads him also to declare he's both a "proud gay" and a "proud father" - has received all the special help you once thought, when writing the taxman another cheque, would at least go to people who looked Aboriginal, but which is increasingly lavished on folk as pink in face as they are in politics.

This trained lawyer has not just won several prizes intended for Aborigines, but has worked for Aboriginal groups such as ATSIC, and is the Aboriginal representative on several boards, including that of a local land council.

Now he's a researcher at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney - an "indigenous" outfit run by the very pale Prof Larissa Behrendt, who may have been raised by her white mother but today, as a professional Aborigine, is chairman of our biggest taxpayer-funded Aboriginal television service.

The blue-eyed and ginger-haired Mellor has been similarly privileged, despite having an "American-Australian" father and a mother with only part-Aboriginal ancestry in her otherwise Irish-Australian past.

He now lectures on "Indigenous and Western perspectives of culture and history" at Sydney University and his indigenous art now hangs in most of our national and state art collections.

Nor are Mellor, McMillan and Behrendt atypical or even rare as "white Aborigines".

St Kilda artist Bindi Cole, raised by her English mother, explored her own pain at being too white in a Next Wave Festival show, Not Really Aboriginal, for which she photographed herself with black powder all over her distressingly white face.

Blond Annette Sax, daughter of a Swiss immigrant, also identified herself as a "white Koori", which fortuitously allowed her to make the shortlist for the Victorian Indigenous Art Award, alongside other Aboriginal artists as pale as a blank canvas.

T HE auburn-haired Tara Jane Winch was just as lucky. She needed to write just one book -- and say her dad had Afghan-Aboriginal ancestry - for the Australia Council to snap her up as its Indigenous Literacy Project ambassador.

I've written before of a dozen similar cases, several even more incongruous.

For instance, how can Graham Atkinson be co-chair of the Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group when his right to call himself Aboriginal rests on little more than the fact that his Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman?

Yes, yes, I know. What business is it of anyone else how we identify ourselves? In fact, we're so refreshingly non-judgmental these days - so big-hugs-for-all - that the federal Human Rights Commission wants our laws changed so a man can even call himself a woman, should he feel like it.

Hear it from the HRC itself: "The evidentiary requirements for the legal recognition of sex should be relaxed by . . . making greater allowance for people to self-identify their sex."

Lovely! Soon there'll be no end of white men claiming prizes meant for black women. And don't dare then tell the HRC's anti-discrimination police you object.

Yet I do object, and not just because I refuse to surrender my reason and pretend white really is black, just to aid some artist's self-actualisation therapy.

That way lies madness, where truth is just a whim and words mean nothing.

I refuse also for two other reasons that should be important to us all.

First, of course, is that the special encouragements and prizes we set aside for Aborigines are actually meant for . . . well, Aborigines. You know, the ones we fear would get nothing, if we didn't offer a bit extra, just for them.

So when a privileged white Aborigine then snaffles that extra, odds are that an underprivileged black Aborigine misses out on the very things we hoped would help them most.

Take Mellor's art prize. This white university lecturer, with his nice Canberra studio, has by winning pushed aside real draw-in-the-dirt Aboriginal artists such as Dorothy Napangardi, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson and Walangkura Napanangka, who'd also entered and could really have used that cash and recognition.

DOES this make sense? What's an Aboriginal art prize for, if a man as white and cosseted as Mellor can win it, and with a work that shows no real Aboriginal techniques or traditions?

What's a black Aboriginal artist from the bush to think, seeing yet another white man lope back to the city with the goodies?

Same with McMillan. When a man as white as I, already a lawyer with a job, wins a prize meant to encourage and inspire hard-struggle black students, what must those Aborigines conclude?

And here's my other objection.

Seeking power and reassurance in a racial identity is not just weak - a surrendering of your individuality, and a borrowing of other people's glories.

It's also exactly what we have too much of already.

The noble ideal of Australia, that we judge each other by our character and deeds, and not our faith, fortune or fatherland, is breaking down. We're not yet a nation of tribes, but that's sure the way we're heading.

I've never before seen so many Australian-born people identify themselves by their ethnicity, whether by joining ethnic gangs, living in ethnic enclaves, forming ethnic clubs, demanding ethnic television, playing in ethnic sports clubs, or grabbing ethnic prizes and grants.

Why is that a problem? Because people who feel they owe most to their tribe tend to feel they owe less to the rest. At its worst, it's them against us.

Feel that fracturing yourself?

So when even academics and artists now spurn the chance to be people of our better future - people of every ethnicity but none - and sign up instead as white Aborigines, insisting on differences invisible to the eye, how much is there left to hold us together?


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