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Newsletter 299

Published August 12, 2019
Darwin with sea monsters - Dhambit Munungurr's 'Narrpiya'

My run of extreme work has continued unabated this week, with one unintended consequence – namely the sorry fact that I missed filing the art column by a couple of hours. I was unaware of the draconian deadlines that now apply for the chronically short-staffed weekend supplement. On a four & a half hour flight to Darwin there was no chance of making a rush to the finish line or even communicating with my editors. My own fault, but a major irritation. Anyway, the readers of this website will get the column – on Barbara McKay and Hadyn Wilson – a week before readers of the print version.

Within two days I’ve seen most of the major attractions around the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, and have a feature article in the pipeline. Some say the show is better than last year, some say it’s worse… it’s the same argument every time. The one certainty is that for anyone genuinely concerned with the state of indigenous art today, Darwin is a necessary experience.

Top-end art dealers, Paul Johnstone and Matt Ward, had great success last year with a suite of exhibitions called Salon, which featured five excellent, diverse displays. This year they’ve done it again. The overall quality is just as high, but the real stand-out was Dhambit Munungurr’s show at Project Space in Parap. These may be the first blue-and-white bark paintings ever made. In terms of imagery they are unique to the point of bizarre: men in sailboats or canoes in pitched battles with giant octopi, like a scene from a Ray Harryhausen film. The brushwork too, was exceptionally vigorous for a genre in which the paint is usually applied in a careful, patient manner.

The art column travels to Armidale for Barbara McKay’s retrospective,  Sacred, at the New England Art Gallery & Museum, and Hadyn Wilson’s An Historical Novel – a supremely skilful and amusing show.

Barbara is a dedicated abstract painter who has often been overlooked by the art institutions. The NERAM show provides some long-overdue recognition. Hadyn has worked in many different styles but always with great intelligence – which can be a drawback in an often obtuse and pretentious art scene.

This week’s movie is Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan – Kriv Stenders’s attempt to convey the unvarnished truth about one of Australia’s greatest and most controversial military engagements. Major Harry Smith, the flawed hero of this film (played by Travis Fimmel), has written a devastating memoir which has provided Stenders with a blueprint. The acting and dialogue are not as fluent as one would hope but the action scenes are suitably tense. It’s not the greatest war film ever made, but – like the men of Delta company who held off 2,000 marauding Viet Cong – it does the job.