Behind The Scenes With Palya Art Tours

Although the logistics can sometimes be challenging, and conditions confronting, being welcomed onto country, being invited to see what is often missed, and being ‘learned up’ – as Warlayirti Artist Bai Bai Sunfly Napangardi would put it – is often described by Palya Art travellers as a huge privilege.

DMG, PA23 Piper Aztec, at Wirrimanu, Balgo Hills, with Palya Art Tours. Photo © Helen Read and Palya Art

Preparing for a Palya Art Tour takes months of forward planning. Sometimes fuel needs to be trucked into the Tanami Desert in the dry season so that, with the rains cutting off roads in the wet, we can refuel out of drums and continue on our art journey.

Extra food supplies may need to be trucked out ahead of time, as with fresh linen, pillows and blankets. Accommodation needs thinking through carefully as often communities don’t have enough beds for everyone anyway. To plan a continuous flight path over five days the route can change to allow for fuel stops and places to sleep, the artists requirements such as the community being closed on cultural business, the Art Centre being open or away on exhibition, and anyway, pilot duty time.

Requirements for the pilot and aircraft are very carefully considered. Safety is of the highest priority. Good rest and pre-flight planning. Well maintained and cared for aeroplanes are essential.

When flying the art tours myself, by the time we leave on the first morning everything is planned, down to the last cup of plunger coffee. Everything, that is, bar weather and un-scheduled maintenance. That means weight and balance of the aircraft, flight plans, flight times, runway lengths and suitability, charts, flight control centre communications, oil funnels, fuel filters, headsets and spare PTT (push to talk) (that’s a plug in cord to the radio with an opening switch to talk back), and knowing what time the sun sets where.

There are moments along with the intense focus and, have to say, hard work, that it wouldn’t matter how hard an effort goes into a trip, I’d do it a thousand times harder for the reward.

Such as the senior ladies at Warlayirti agreeing with each other that the ‘plane arriving is Nampitjimpa (that’s my ‘Skin’ name) amongst other aircraft, or Philomena crossing the floor with open arms when we arrive, or the shy warm welcome and grin from Lizzy Gordon.

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