If you see rubbish on the ground, why pick it up when you can set it on fire? If there’s a chair in the way of the TV, why move it when you can burn it to the ground? Just about every problem in Milikapiti can be solved by covering it in petrol and reducing it to ashes.
During burning season, you are woken up on Sunday mornings by kids in nappies walking around your backyard with a 1.25 litre plastic coke bottle full of petrol and a box of matches hoping to find some tiny shrub or blade of grass that hasn’t already been burnt to a crisp. Every house in Milikpiti has an iron drum constantly billowing smoke out the front, and the community dogs have to get up on hind legs and look into the fire for the less burning things to eat. Most Milikapiti dogs have burnt noses and tongues.
“History is subjective, people can pick out events and stories that they think are important.” And that is what Hayes is referring to by making up past dates to accompany the images in this body of work. This painting (above) was painted in Milikapiti. The artist’s local neighbours would visit him at work, an easel set up under the house. This painting was quite popular. Someone suggested it should be on display in the community club; another neighbour found it funny , stating it reminded her of how it used to be when she was a child. The community now has strict regulations regarding alcohol consumption, no alcohol was permitted at football matches while the artist was there. Hayes says of this work: “The main part of the story is how white Australian culture tries to order Tiwi life. In the background rubbish is burnt (Tiwi) rather than collected – rubbish pile burn offs, and this helps to explain why they are all over the field. One as an aesthetic device and two to reinforce the theme of the picture. Two ways of handling a problem in concert. Football is another analogy for white culture trying to order Tiwi life according to their rules, in this case footy rules. Here the whole team is standing on the mark, opposing team members are hugging. The rules work to a degree, but are adapted by the local culture, not fully accepted.
The beer cans I’ve used as an aesthetic device too. They are quite easily understood as they were everywhere, and on the footy field, the sun fades them and they become aqua in colour, they actually look quite beautiful. And when I was there it wasn’t a judgement that there were beer cans or that it was an embarrassment.”
This work was also included in the local art competition The Footy Art exhibition in 2005, where Kevin Sheedy (Essendon FC Coach at the time) awarded it First Prize. – M. Soni, June 2012.
“The humour found in the incongruous meeting of cultures has also been used in the soft sculpture installation The Hunters, 2012. Three elderly women are going hunting. They are wearing inappropriate t-shirts. Those who have ever lived in remote communities would recognise such a scene. Often there is only one shop with limited stock, usually the clothing range is t-shirts featuring popular rap bands, song titles and slogans, or multi-national brands. Here Hayes has used the lyrics from a song called “Horny” (yes, really) by Mousse T, a ludicrously banal pop song that was very popular on Australian radio. The figure is also carrying a ‘Hello Kitty’ bag, one of the world’s largest brands it has permeated nearly every remote corner on earth! The incongruity of the cuteness, the inappropriate slogans, the blood, and carcases – it displays the unique way of life, the idiosyncrasies of the Tiwi people. Hayes also uses this simple, funny scene as a metaphor for what he describes as an ‘ill-fitting culture’. The European choices, the white Australian lifestyle just doesn’t quite meet the women’s needs.” – Marielle Soni, June 2012
Hardly anyone believes in promised wives and just about no one would use it as an excuse to hurt a child. Hundreds of nappies are brought in on the barge every fortnight. It’s hard to dispose of them, so some people throw their dirty nappies on each others roofs. Once I was sitting under the tree, waiting for the shop to open with some children, when the one still in nappies wanted money. She kept trying to sit on my lap and put her arm around my neck. It felt like when you’re unexpectedly falling and tasted like a mouthful of your own blood. Hardly anyone believes in promised wives, and just about no one would use it as an excuse to hurt a child.
When a fight breaks out everyone is so related and allied that you can’t predict who will take which side even in football games. Whenever you’re talking to a Tiwi about other Tiwis you’re always thinking, am I talking about his brother, uncle, nephew, son…
The anthropologist Baldwin Spencer in the 1920s said that when there was a Tiwi battle, people kept changing sides so everyone just went home.
In Milikapiti the dogs hang out in packs. When two packs meet each other, the two lead dogs, instead of fighting each other, lie on their backs in acts of total submission, while their three or four bitches stand behind them chewing nappies.
The white men in Milikapiti are all called Les, and their way of being friendly is to convince you that they are not threat to you in any way. One of the white men in charge of water said – when I asked him a question – “What would I know? I’m just a fucking dumb cunt.”, while his wife stands behind him nodding approvingly. When two white Milikapiti men meet, it is a race to see who can degrade themselves as quickly and as completely as possible.
It took the nuns a couple of months to realise that more girls would attend PE class if it involved less netballs and more shotguns.
When a really old Tiwi woman took all her clothes off and danced naked on the stage at the club, another really old Tiwi woman yelled at her, “Put your clothes on Joan, Your possum’s dead”.
This is Dr Clyde Fenton. In the early 1930s he brought his own broken down old plane and made himself the first flying doctor in the NT. He attended Xavier College, and although he did graduate as a medical doctor in 1925 from Melbourne University, he was a self-taught pilot. A disaster to the Civil Aviation Department, but a hero to the Tiwi people, as he was their only hope for medical assistance at the time.
Despite having a free medical clinic, most Tiwis won’t get help until the absolute last minute. In Milikapiti there are 2 nurses and a doctor flies in on Mondays. Just about everyone walks around with something bandaged.
This is Doctor Clyde Fenton. In the early 1930s he brought his own broken down old plane and made himself the first flying doctor in the NT. According to his autobiography, Clyde Fenton’s sister died in China in 1936 while being visited by their mother. On the day he heard, Fenton flew from Katherine to Darwin, welded an extra fuel tank to his plane, put another fuel tank in the passenger seat, and flew from Darwin to China across the Timor Sea during cyclone season, while Japan were fighting with China, without any landing permits or visas, and without telling anyone or bringing any one, and anyone who complained was some kind of “blasted dim-witted bureaucrat”.
tonight on the 7.30 report cherly hall will do a story on my show. here are some photos of me and marielle soni (the art centre co-ordinator at the time i was in milikapiti ) being inyerviewed for it.
Cameron Hayes’ extensive body of work created over the past 8 years – The Incomplete History of Milikapiti – will be on show at Dark Horse Experiment gallery in Melbourne from tonight until the 2nd September.
Come and visit the show. If you have any thoughts or questions, contact Cameron. He might even be in the gallery some days.
Have a read of this article about the body of work before you go. It’s pretty interesting. And, if you can’t get to Melbourne to see the show check out this blog and the Dark Horse Experiment website for the full catalogue.
The Incomplete History of Milikapiti
When all the Whites came to Milikapiti, they gave all the Tiwis sugar, flour, beer and the dole. The Tiwi hunters – famed for their ferocity and courage – were no longer needed to hunt and kill food for the community. The Tiwi hunters had no purpose, so they lost their self-esteem and just sat around the club drinking beer.
Because the Tiwis ate only flour and sugar their teeth started to fall out. The government provided only one size of too big false teeth for everyone.
When the Whites gave all the Tiwis ladders, everyone could get their own mangoes, so the best tree climbers in the community lost their jobs and their importance, and drank beer. Because the Kookaburras got ladders, they no longer felt they needed to fly, so their wings shrank and they put on weight.
Which was fine until they met the King Brown snake, who remembered how things used to be and killed the kookaburras, whose now tiny wings could not fly their fat bodies away from King Brown’s bite.
King Brown’s poo covered the ground all over the Tiwi Islands and was a constant embarrassment to the people and the animals.
Is there anything more humiliating than seeing your father humiliated? When the government gave everyone the dole, the proud Tiwi warriors got the same amount of money as the obnoxious baseball-cap-backwards-wearing teenagers, who got the same amount as the old Tiwi women, who got the same amount as the guy who just sleeps in the broken-down old car all day.
When the Whites gave all the Tiwis glasses, the owls with the best eyesight felt valueless. They started stealing everybody’s glasses in the community, and sometimes this created domestic violence.