Halfway to Milikapiti from Darwin the old Tiwi man admitted they were lost – 29th July 1964

Halfway to Milikapiti from Darwin the old Tiwi man admitted they were lost – 29th July 1964, 2005, oil on linen, 213.5 x 198 cm

This painting depicts young Irish Catholic nuns on their way from Darwin to take daunting missionary roles on Milikapiti. To add to their trepidation, their guide has just admitted that they are lost at sea. The four little Irish girls, still wearing their sweaty, itchy Irish outfits, started crying when they got out of the sip from Ireland at Darwin and gad to get in a canoe to Milikapiti. 15-year-old girls from Ireland, whose parents wanted 15-year-old boys, often ended up in Milikapiti teaching middle-aged Tiwi mothers how to be good wives and how to pray. None of the six thought to ask direction. The four nuns were recorded as lost somewhere between Ireland and Milikapiti, 9th April 1962.

The show is about the Tiwi adoption of Catholicism, as well as the Catholic adaption of Tiwi-ism, and the bravery of the often young (and ill-prepared) nuns and priests who persisted then (and now) the most non-white of all communities. – Cameron Hayes

The Missionaries themselves are a good example of this type of displacement, from various angles. Half way to Milikapiti from Darwin the old Tiwi man admitted they were lost – 29 July 1964. “The nuns come in to try and help, and overall they probably did, but there were a lot of casualties along the way.” Hayes doesn’t judge these individual missionaries, on the contrary he seems to have a real affinity for their sense of adventure and bravery, in essence their own displacement. But what does it achieve all of these good intentions? A perceived superiority of technology, values, lifestyle, or belief systems – what happens when people meet, groups combine, cultures collide, and one inevitably has more power than the other? – Marielle Soni

“I would go one step further than the author though on one detail. Again it
relates to the romanticizing of indigenous peoples by white liberal
society. It is the painting on the boat with the caption about sailing
from Darwin and the old Tiwi admitting they were lost. Along the lines of
the author of the article’s early point, our society is not presently
ready for such a provocative, yet completely reasonable statement: in this
case that ultimately native people are, nonetheless, people and therefore
capable of getting lost (like anyone else!). Presently white liberal
society can only cope with indigenous peoples who can, by mystery
incomprehensible to Europeans, find water in a desert by walking a 1000km,
or find a spec of land in a vast ocean…both by some intuition…and both
in the sure knowledge that no indigenous person ever failed at such a
task.” – Peter Nestor

Detail

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