The Lessons of Ramo


The great artists of Bula’Bula working outside

We were lucky this week to have been trapped in Ramingining as roads were closed not long after we arrived due to traditional ceremony. What an opportunity it has been to immerse ourselves more in the beautiful community up here in northern Arnhem Land! However, I do feel this will be a hard post to write. While the peaceful atmosphere is palpable there is a feeling of long-lasting unfairness, visible resignation to ridiculous government Intervention, and deep rooted mistrust. Nonetheless, and more to the point, the ancient culture remains and thrives.

So where to start? We arrived in the town to excited waving and smiling faces. The locals were keen to help us with directions and send us off with more smiling and waving. When we found our destination, the Bula’bula art centre, we were greeted with curious eyes and fervent handshakes. A reception we haven’t experienced anywhere else, and much in contradiction to what we subsequently heard and discussed with locals and relative newcomers.

Ben, the Bula’bula art centre’s curator, has his heart in the right place. Not only did he put us up for a night (with camping not permitted within the Ramo shire), he has shed much light on the history of the town, despite having been here only two years, expressing to us a sardonic account of the recent and historical government failure, gross mismanagement and exploitation of the people of Ramo.

The artists remember when the unauthorised use of a sacred design by David Malangi was distributed in 1966 on the one dollar note. A copyright action was pursued and Malangi received comparatively poor compensation, however, his family (thriving in Ramo today) is nonetheless proud of his medal, recognition and the significance with respect to copyright of Indigenous art. Right through to the 2007 Howard Intervention which brought nothing to the already ‘dry’ town of Ramo but a superfluous police presence and welfare that in hindsight has been destructive to welfare! To present day, where the art centre battles to find commercial galleries that play fair. “There are some great galleries that really care for and respect the rights of the artists, but sadly these seem to be an exception to the rule” Ben says. Bula’bula has had some bad experiences in the past, leaving behind a history of broken relationships “and it has affected the artists trust”. Despite all this, the artists of Ramingining are continuing to produce amazing work and beginning to regain the attention and respect they rightfully deserve.

What remains is a community that is thriving in traditional law and culture. Who benevolently welcomed us from day one, imparting stories, invaluable learning and a positive outlook on how the whitefella and blackfella can learn from each other to move forward.  Bobby Bununggurr, a senior painter at Bula’bula, who appeared in the movie ‘Ten Canoes’ (2006) and whose renown extends to New York where he has performed with his band, says “we need to keep our culture, that’s what we teach our children. We need to grab with both hands. We love you to come here, we want to learn from you, and you learn from us, this is how to go forward”.




The images of today’s Kakadu visit remain vivid in my mind and oddly give me a deep sense of satisfaction – whether that’s to do with the inspiring scenery or witnessing the most prehistoric of predators that is the estuarine croc, I can’t say, but as the sun sets on another jam-packed day, my thoughts quickly return to the weeks that have been. The priceless things we’ve learnt, the people we’ve met, the things we’ve seen, all working together not only to challenge the way I’ve thought in the past, but pose the question of what will happen next.

We knew this was going to be a fun trip, and we knew we’d learn a great deal about one of the world’s most ancient living cultures, but this trip has had some sobering moments and nothing could have prepared us for what was coming (and what I’m sure will come!)

The greatest example of passion and effective action that I can impart to you is illuminated in our Vlog #3, and I can not stress to you enough the feelings of privilege I felt as I listened to the words of Johnathan’s celebration speech. Jonathan, a local Indigenous man who works with Red Dust, leads ‘The Men’s Shed’ which provides a space for Indigenous men to share, discuss and progress when it comes to healthy living. Might I add that it’s brilliant to hear any man talking about health, so this was a new experience all round (fella’s get inspired)! The Vlog is dedicated to the Men’s Shed celebration, which was attended by the Mayor of Alice Springs, Tagentyere Council CEO and various local media. I was struck with force by Jonathan’s passion, by his powerful words, by his deep belief in making change and this has provided us with the wave of positivity that we’re still riding on up to now!

While reading current affairs online over this same period (particularly in the recent week) a buzz of words have been raging surrounding racism – particularly resulting from the unfortunate ‘incidents’ (in the AFL world) post-Indigenous round week. Despite the obvious negativity associated with this word, and the heated debate on various media snowballed over the week, and indeed despite the very many negative opinions, even statistics surrounding the Indigenous cause that we encountered prior to undertaking Dreamtime Drive, I can report back nothing but positivity from the outback. Granted, when undertaking a charitable endeavour, it is likely that the people you encounter are always going to be positive, passionate and agreeable, but take note, things are happening out here, great things.


Travel In Progress

ImageWe are soon celebrating our first month into the Dreamtime Drive and for those who want to catch up with what we’ve been up to, we have updated several sections of our blog:

  • Read about our third painter, the great Raymond Walters Japangka
  • Learn more about life in a remote community and about the Red Dust programs in our 4th video diary
  • Have a look at where we’ve been and the things we’ve seen on our Live Itinerary
  • And of course, if you like the idea and the stories from our journey, don’t be shy and Support Our Cause