Palya Art Tours: A Background

Palya Air Tours (formerly Didgeri Air Art Tours) began in 1986, facilitating introductions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people following the Director (Helen Read)’s experience as a nursing sister and pilot in Australia’s Western Desert.
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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.

Art Airborne

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.

“Aeroplane Driver”

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.

Read what previous guests have to say about their Palya Art Tour

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.

Request a detailed Palya Art Tours information pack via email

Screen shot 2013-04-01 at 16.55.05Nyrilpirr Ngalyaku Spider Snell with Moses Gibson, Mangkaja Arts ©Francis Andrijich 2007Eva Nagamarra talking with a Palya Art Tour group, Warlayirti Artists ©Francis Andrijich 2007Ningi Nangala ©Francis Andrijich 2007Alice Nampitjimpa at Ikuntji Art Centre ©Francis Andrijich 2007Morning Star Pole Elcho Islands Arts & Crafts, North East of Arnhem Land ©The Artist & Elcho Island ArtsAlan & Peggy Griffiths at Waringarri Arts ©Francis Andrijich 2007Molly Yawulming. Merrepen Arts ©Helen Read
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