Mowaljarlai Vision and Voice gives insight into bush professor

Written on the 25 April 2016

Mowaljarlai Vision and Voice gives insight into bush professor It would have been a treat to witness the meeting of the two strangers at a Kalgoorlie mining conference in 1974, David Mowaljarlai and Hannah Rachel Bell.

The lean-framed Ngarinyin law man, then 49, had been invited to tell 500 hard-nosed mining executives about Aboriginal land rights, at a time when the West Australian government remained hostile to any ceding of mineral-rich land. From the whitefella side of the divide was 27-year-old Bell, a sharp-minded adviser to governments on equality issues whose talk was on women in the workforce.

"Neither of us were blockbuster attractions but (we) filled the politically correct 'Aboriginal' and 'women' inclusivity sections of the ­agenda," Bell wryly observed years later. She was incredulous to watch how the Kimberley law man held his audience in awe "as he quietly and passionately offered them the fundamentals of Ngarinyin philosophy and beliefs".

"As conference 'outsiders', we struck up a lifelong friendship and worked together for three decades as co-creators of Two Way Thinking initiatives."

That last sentence only hints at one of Australia's most fruitful cultural partnerships that began that day over a post-conference cup of tea. It ended with Mowaljarlai's death in 1997, mere weeks after he finished his last artwork, Big Wandjina Waderi and while mourning the death in custody of one of his sons. Bell's work continued as executor of Mowaljarlai's estate until she died in October last year.

Mowaljarlai Vision and Voice: Legacy of a Bush Professor is the first helping of a generous gift that, in effect, the pair has bestowed to the world. It is also the first glimpse of an impressive collection of Mowaljarlai's life work that has been assembled by the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia.


Source: The Australian

Image: David Mowaljarlai at Wandjina site, Bush University, 1996. Photo: Susanna Lobez.

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