HEAL­ING THE COUN­TRY Award-win­ning artist and tra­di­tional healer Betty Muf­fler wants to use her work and paint­ings to help heal the ills of the land

Sunday Territorian - - FRONTIER - LAU­REN ROBERTS arts

TRA­DI­TIONAL healer Betty Muf­fler wants to use art to nurse the earth back to health.

“We need to heal this coun­try — my paint­ings show many of the good places in my coun­try,” Muf­fler said.

“We need to heal this coun­try, and give more re­spect to the land.”

In the 34th Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Art Awards, Muf­fler won the Tel­stra Emerg­ing Artist Award for her piece Ngangkari Ngura (Heal­ing Coun­try).

The awards, hosted at the Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the NT, aim to recog­nise the con­tri­bu­tion made by indige­nous artists from re­gional and ur­ban ar­eas through­out Aus­tralia.

“My paint­ing shows many of the good places in my coun­try,” Muf­fler said.

“This is my coun­try, this is ngangkari (tra­di­tional healer) coun­try — it’s heal­ing, it’s good.”

Muf­fler’s paint­ings are lay­ered, com­pli­cated; with her win­ning en­try made up of many lay­ers of syn­thetic poly­mer paint on linen.

Muf­fler was born in 1944 in a re­mote bush area near the bor­der of South and Western Aus­tralia.

Her par­ents both died in the Mar­alinga bomb­ing, a se­ries of nu­clear bomb tests in the mid-1950s in re­mote SA.

“I’m a strong kungka (woman) — I sur­vived the bomb­ings at Mar­alinga, but many of my fam­ily didn’t,” Muf­fler said.

“There was no school for me — I used to do wash­ing dishes and clean­ing.”

Be­fore his death, Muf­fler’s fa­ther — also a healer — taught her some of the skills that she still uses to­day in her heal­ing prac­tices.

In her 20s, Muf­fler lived with fam­ily at the Gran­ite Downs Sta­tion — where she learned the skills of tra­di­tional heal­ing.

Muf­fler has worked as a tra­di­tional healer in hos­pi­tals in Ade­laide, Coober Pedy, Whyalla and Alice Springs — and in the first clin­ics across the Anangu Pit­jan­t­jat­jara Yankun­yt­jat­jara (APY) Lands.

“I’ve trav­elled all over the place, ev­ery­where on the APY Lands,” Muf­fler said.

“I was a good ngangkari (tra­di­tional healer), and (the com­mu­nity) would come get me in case sick peo­ple needed me at the clinic.

“Be­fore the clinic was there, the nuns used to help sick peo­ple in the bush; they would send them peo­ple away to hos­pi­tal if they were sick.

“But ngangkari (tra­di­tional heal­ers) can see right through peo­ple to what sick­ness is in­side. “Then they can heal them straight away.” As well as be­ing a tra­di­tional healer, Muf­fler worked at the first preschool in In­dulkana with the com­mu­nity’s youngest res­i­dents.

Muf­fler still works on APY Lands, where she is an artist based out of Iwan­tja Art Cen­tre.

The art cen­tre is a not for profit, Abo­rig­i­nalowned and run cor­po­ra­tion — about five hours south of Alice Springs.

Her paint­ings re­flect the land and jour­neys she has trav­elled through­out the years.

In their com­ments, Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Art Awards’ judges praised Muf­fler’s ma­tu­rity.

“Ngangkari Ngura is com­prised of com­plex in­ter­con­nected forms that un­furl to re­veal lin­ear rep­re­sen­ta­tions of coun­try,” judges said.

“This paint­ing re­flects her in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship to place, in­spired by her many trav­els across the land­scape as a ngangkari (tra­di­tional healer).

“For an emerg­ing artist, there is a sur­pris­ing ma­tu­rity in the con­trolled rhythm and pic­to­rial dy­namism which has been achieved.”

The 2017 judges were in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor Emily McDaniel, Queens­land Art Gallery and Gallery of Mod­ern Art di­rec­tor Chris Saines and artist Regina Wil­son.

Muf­fler’s work will be on dis­play at The Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the NT un­til Novem­ber 26.

Betty Muf­fler won the Tel­stra Emerg­ing Artist Award at the Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Art Awards

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