In late May, Juluwarlu, Cheeditha and Ngurrawaana Artists welcomed our first Artist-in-Residence, Fiona Gavrino. Fiona first learnt her Australian grass and fibre weaving and net-making skills with Aboriginal community weavers in the Northern Territory where she returns regularly. Over the years, she has worked with mentors, and mentored other fibre artists from many cultural backgrounds and exhibited her fibre crafted artworks nationally and internationally. Her gift for working in community and on country was hugely appreciated by Roebourne, Cheeditha and Ngurrawaana artists, community women, and young people with as many as 30 participants working from morning till dark nearly every day of her 3 week residency – both at our artists’ camp on Yindjibarndi country and on Juluwarlu’s Arts Space veranda. We gathered the yulari and nyiiri grasses our ancestors wove with, creating carrying baskets and fishing nets – skills that were lost some 50 years ago. We were inspired by photographs of a basket and net collected in the west Pilbara in the 1880s and stored at the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia which Fiona, as a curator, remembered and shared with us, as we recalled the Yindjibarndi Creation Stories of the Bunggali sisters in Law spirits who fell from the Pleiades star cluster into the sea, and, attracted by the singing of the first Burndud Ceremony. The Sisters made their way up our Fortescue River to meet with the Yindjibarndi Marrga Creation Spirits, and went on through the country as it was being created naming things, creating food and medicine plants, weaving fishing nets.
They are remembered as playful spirits before, frightened by bad Marrga men, they fled, dropping a net they were weaving, and dived into a yinda (permanent pool) at Yawajunha in the Nyurin River, and became the under-water mungkatja (anthills) where the(Yindjibarndi rainmakers) danced to bring the rain in drought times. Our Elder, Mabel Alberts spoke of the Bunggali before she passed away, telling the stories of how they were the ones who long ago when the world was soft, taught our Yindjibarndi women how to weave the nets and baskets and gather and grind the soft spinifex seeds to make damper to feed their families. We held a work-in-progress Exhibition at Juluwarlu at the end of Fiona’s residency showing the wide range of techniques we learned.