How to join a Palya Art Tour
Flying Over, Walking Through, Indigenous People’s Country
In 1985, Helen worked as a flying nurse for the Pintupi Homelands Health Service. Her first training was in fine arts and so when she had opportunity to fly Senior Cultural Custodians over Traditional Lands, she took great interest to learn something of the relationship between the people, art, culture and country when seeing the Pintupi artists work.
Pintupi country is west of Alice Springs in and around Walungurru (Kintore) in the Northern Territory and Kiwirrkurra (Pollock Hills) in Western Australia – country home to the now famous Papunya Tula artists.
It was here that local artists, custodians and Maparn (Traditional Doctors) taught Helen to see their country and relate it to the art being produced.
Helen’s work with the Pintupi Homelands Health Service was both rewarding in offering some health care but also frustrating because resources were so minimal. Burnt out by 24 hour working days, frequent emergencies and the lack of medical staff, Helen realised she had only scratched the surface of what needed to and could be done to improve conditions for the people. It was then that she decided a different approach was needed to support local communities.
Helen decided to make different good use of her piloting skills. Working alongside community members, she began to fly new Australians with means and influence out to remote communities with the aim of helping people become more aware of Indigenous cultures. It was then thought that people would contribute towards improved living conditions.
A growing number of collectors, museum and gallery directors and researchers began asking Helen to help them visit artists in remote communities and to engage with Indigenous cultures. They also wanted to source fine Indigenous artwork.
Didgeri Air Art Tours (now Palya Art Tours) registered as a business in 1986. Palya Art registered in 1994 because of the demand from clients that Helen help to source specific artworks.
Crossing Cultural Ways
Over the years, Helen’s relationship with artists, the artists’ families, remote communities and Art Centres has continued to grow. There is an established cycle whereby Art Centres consign artworks to Palya Art for city exhibitions. These Art Centre exhibitions attract audiences to Indigenous art and culture and open the doors to the possibility of flying out to meet the artists. This is something that hundreds of people from Australia and abroad have taken the opportunity to do.
Art sales and community visits bring much needed financial resources flowing into to the artists’ communities. Importantly too, lasting memories of people met, heartfelt connections to art purchased and extraordinary country witnessed are all achieved.
This support helps fulfil one of the primary aims underpinning the creation of Palya Art Tours: to improve conditions in remote communities to the point where local people have the resources to choose to maintain local language and culture, take on the dominant western culture or choose to have both.
At first, Indigenous elders, artists and families were shy of visitors. But local people knew Helen by name, if not by person. She is variously known as ‘Sister’, ‘Nampitjimpa’, ‘Helen’ or ‘Aeroplane Driver’. Helen’s reputation helped to break the ice, allowing her to bring visitors onto traditional lands. People know she will be careful and respectful of Aboriginal culture and sensitivities.
The Journey Doesn’t End
Indigenous people have often told Helen that visitors are welcome who have come to learn about Aboriginal culture and art. People are happy to ‘learn up’ travellers on the importance of land and kinship, life and culture.
Visitors who have toured often find their lives enriched and changed forever. People frequently go on to contribute in diverse ways.
Visitors have given back with medical research, volunteering services, and philanthropic activities supporting entities and projects. Others have taken formal studies in Indigenous art and Aboriginal history. Many have begun collecting art and speaking well of what they have come to understand.