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troublemag | July 7, 2022

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Greetings from Beyond the Pale: Hunting & Gathering

Greetings from Beyond the Pale: Hunting & Gathering Janet_J, Blackface, photo Ben Laycock

Ben Laycock


No sooner have we arrived than l am invited on a genuine, authentic, real, live, traditional hunting expedition with real, live, genuine, traditional blackfellas. I felt like all my Christmases had come at once.

We all pile into an old Holden station wagon that has not felt bitumen for some time, and once belonged to an authentic Zen Buddhist monk, no less. It now belongs to his entire extended family, the extent of which is difficult to ascertain. Yoshi had been undergoing his time honoured Buddhist initiation, involving endless fasts, protestations, one handed clapping and excruciatingly soporific meditation, when it became apparent to his wise elders that young Yoshi was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with his doodle or staring out the window, dreaming of far-off lands, so they suggested he was not quite ready for the rigours and deprivations of monkdom, and needed a bit more experience of the big, wide world.

So, by some circuitous route too convoluted to describe here, Yoshi finds himself ensconced in the middle of the western desert, as far from the trappings of modern Japanese society as it is possible to get.

Here he thrives like never before, welcomed into the bosom of his new-found family, he finds the salve for his restless spirit.

The Walpiri, a naturally gracious and accepting people, are particularly impressed with Yoshi’s possession of a commodious and mechanically sound motor car.(Their natural lack of interest in material possessions does not however extend to the motor car, a vital ingredient in the contemporary nomadic lifestyle). In record time Yoshi is given a skin name which automatically makes him part of a vast and intricate web of obligations, the most important being: sharing.

So we all set off in the family vehicle, following faded wheel tracks through the spinifex. One shooter is on the roof with the kids, another hangs out the window. It is cramped and smelly and joyous.

We suddenly skid to an abrupt holt. Kids tumble from the roof and skittle off, screaming in delight. Someone with sharper eyes than l has spotted fresh goanna tracks and the chase is on. Before the rest of us manage to extract ourselves from the vehicle it is all over. The dingoes soon catch up with the goanna and chase it up a tree. A whirling boomerang hits the branch and down plummets the hapless lizard into snapping jaws.


Ben Laycock, 'Black & White', oil on canvas.

Ben Laycock, ‘Black & White’, oil on canvas.


Within the hour every morsel is devoured and tasty goanna fat licked from fingers. Mmm … tastes like chicken. The menu also includes pussy cat and bunny rabbit on a regular basis.

Time for a pot of tea. Your average blackfella is quite partial to her tea.

A four gallon drum of water is put on the fire:
to which is added 1 bag of Bushells tea (it must be Bushells),
one packet of sugar
and one tin of powdered milk,
stir until boiling then drink until undrinkable.

We come across a waterhole: a natural spring that bubbles up from below. We must take a pebble, rub it under our armpits and toss it into the spring, so the spirit of the waterhole can get to know us a little better. A gesture not taken lightly; this tiny little permanent spring is of vital importance to survival. The children hang back, giggling and hesitant. Aware that the guardian of the spring could snap from benign to malevolent at the slightest transgression.

It takes me a lot longer to be anointed with a skin name and a family, as my useful attributes are not so obvious to the naked eye, but l am grudgingly accepted as being a nondescript part of the furniture. I find I must ingratiate myself and make myself indispensable. Paul & Clare have initiated a modest art program to help the locals cash in on the booming market for indigenous art that is taking the world by storm (Alas, it has since become passé, replaced by cute kittens on Youtube).

Apparently, in the olden days before Captain Cook, the locals would make the most beautiful sand paintings, then dance them away in ceremonies. We would call this ephemeral art. We would also call it a waste of a good business opportunity, so some bright spark gave the artists some canvas and they never looked back, soon turning mythical images into cold hard cash that was quickly transformed once more into gleaming white Toyotas for revisiting all those long forgotten sacred sites depicted on the canvas.

I found myself a job in sharing out the paint and canvas and keeping the finished product out of harm’s way till it got sent off to a big swanky gallery in a big swanky city. A tricky part of my brief was to dissuade the eager artists from indulging in garish unnatural colours, and keep them on the traditional ochres, as this was what the swanky buyers in the swanky galleries preferred. I soon found this to be impossible as the artists did not hold to the same narrow view of what constituted ‘authentic’ aboriginal art as the authentic aboriginal artists themselves, and by jingo did they turn out some fantastic art!


Janet & J, Blackface,photo Ben Laycock

Janet & J, ‘Blackface’, photo Ben Laycock


Ben Laycock grew up in the country on the outskirts of Melbourne, surrounded by bush. He began drawing the natural world around him from a very early age. He has travelled extensively throughout Australia, seeking to capture the essence of this vast empty land. In between journeys he lives in a hand-made house in the bush at Barkers Creek in central Victoria –


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