Town's heart is where the art is

Red Earth Arts Precinct in Karratha, which opened in May 2018.
Picture: Stephen Scourfield The West Australian
Photo of Stephen Scourfield

When you visit the art hubs in Northern towns you'll not only meet the locals, but you'll learn from them.

We look for the heart of a town, and throughout the Pilbara and Kimberley, art centres that come first to mind.

And not only for their exhibitions and shows.

These art centres are all provide the environment for cultural and creative appreciation and exchange. They’re good places to meet locals.

KARRATHA

Still feeling new and dominating the design of Karratha’s new-look town centre, Red Earth Arts Precinct is a permanent home for arts and culture. The building’s architecture reflects the Karratha hills that overlook it. It has a 450 seat theatre, rooftop cinema, outdoor amphitheatre and library.

PORT HEDLAND

Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery has long been a cultural centre, putting on display the Pilbara’s creatives. Its exhibitions have a heavy local leaning and it sells bespoke artsy items, many from Australian makers. Four times a year, it has the West End Markets, when local makers sell their crafts. The gallery is somewhere to head for artistic and social engagement.

(And not to forget Spinifex Hill Studios, the home of the Spinifex Hill Artists, in the South Hedland Town Centre.)

NEWMAN

Opened in 2016, the East Pilbara Arts Centre mainly shows the works of Martumili artists, who are based there. The centre has built a real sense of ownership amongst the people of the East Pilbara and become an intrinsic part of the community. Martumili artist Judith Samson says: “More people can come along and see what Martu are doing. I’m proud that we can show them.”

KUNUNURRA

While there are a number of commercial art galleries, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts has been the art centre of the Miriwoong since the late 1970s. Waringarri was the first wholly indigenous owned art centre in the Kimberley and is one of the oldest continuously operating in Australia. There are studios and galleries showing the work of more than 100 local artists as painters, printmakers, carvers, boab engravers, sculptors and textile artists. Ask about cultural tours and performances.

BROOME

There are a number of commercial art galleries bringing local work to the town.

FITZROY CROSSING

I’m standing quietly, watching one of Mangkaja’s artists sittin on the floor, paingint a big, turquoise canvas. She has one foot tucked in, the other thin leg stretched out. She looks up and smiles and I nod, and she continues work. Mangkaja Arts began as part of Karrayili Adult Education Centre in 1981, for locals who wanted to learn English. Led by local men, it became a place to study and paint. The work began to sell. In 1993, it became the Mangkaja Arts we see today taking a Walmajarri word for the wet weather shelters built in the Great Sandy Desert in the wet season.

MOWANJUM, DERBY

The epicentre of modern wandjina and gwiom art, Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre is the home of artists from the Worrorra, Ngarinyin and Wunumbal tribes. And here they are, on the west end of the Gibb River Road, just outside Derby. These three groups are united by belief in wandjina as sacred spirits and creators of the land. The centre itself, in the shape of a round eyed, mouthless wandjina is as familiar to me, and seem as much a friend, as the people in it.

WARMUN

I was at Warmun Art Centre’s opening in 1998, and I’ve been visiting ever since. this is the home of Gija artists, and all of the centre’s income goes back into the community. This place was established by Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Madigan Thomas and Hector Jandany — the founders of the contemporary painting movement here. They saw that Warmun needed a community owned and controlled art centre through which Gija art and culture could be supported, which is what it’s still doing.

BALGO

Mmm. Come to think of it, I was at Balgo art centre just after it was established, in 1987. The Warlayirti artists have been at the forefront of the Aboriginal art movement, with bold statements and canvases. The centre at Wirrimanu (Balgo) serves around 200 Indigenous artists from Wirrimanu, Mulan and Kururrrungku (Billiluna) communities. The Art Centre and Cultural Centre welcomes visitors out here on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert and the western edge of the Tanami Desert, 270km from Halls Creek

KUNUNURRA

While there are a number of commercial art galleries, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts has been the art centre of the Miriwoong since the late 1970s. Waringarri was the first wholly indigenous owned art centre in the Kimberley and is one of the oldest continuously operating in Australia. There are studios and galleries showing the work of more than 100 local artists as painters, printmakers, carvers, boab engravers, sculptors and textile artists. Ask about cultural tours and performances.