Saving the land: Auctioned art protects Australia’s Arnhem Land

The Northern Territory Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) has come together with a number of local artists from Australia’s Arnhem Land to auction art and keep its community doors open. The proceedings from the works of art are going towards helping the region protect its land and water from mining and fracking.
Artist Nawurupu Wunungmurra is one of the many artists creating work for this cause. His sculpture of a mokuy (spirit) is among over 120 pieces of Indigenous art from across the Northern Territory.
Money raised from the auctioned art is vital in keeping community legal centres open. Funding for these centres was cut back in 2015 and then reversed for all but the national network of EDOs. Since then, the office’s Northern Territory branch has run the art auction to keep the doors open.
David Morris, principal lawyer at the EDO, commented: “We lost in order of half a million dollars a year. We’ve been fortunate to receive $50,000 (£300,000) from the NT government for a policy officer but the commonwealth has been conspicuous in its absence in support of environmental legal aid.”
In total, as many as 91 individual artists and 22 art centres have donated their works of art to the auction, while others will split the proceeds with the EDO.
Locals claim that the art auction pulls together Indigenous culture and its deep roots to the country, bringing to awareness the modern day battles there are to protect it. According to the Guardian, the money raised from the auctions now provide roughly a third of the community legal centre’s operational funds, highlighting it’s importance.
Mr Wunungmurra, a senior Yirritja man from north-east Arnhem Land, commented: “It’s some sort of a hole they’ve got to dig in and get the oil and the gas, you know – but there’s spirits of Yolngu people in the ground.”
The spirits he refers to are those of the endless spiritual cycle of their people through the land’s water sources. The prospect of mining and fracking will have a significant impact on this, he worries.
“Yolngu and Balanda are working together now, but there’s somebody coming in behind, looking around for oil and gas in north-east Arnhem land,” he said. “We don’t want to be dug out, because we come from the ground and we go back, like the water.
“We don’t want it – the chemicals go in and destroy the ground and the rocks and things like that, and poison the water. We’re worried and sad about it.”
Over the years the EDO has assisted many Indigenous communities through legal education and high-profile legal battles against mining and damage to their land.
Many of the works of art emphasise the importance of water to the Yolngu stories of creation and depict the damage mining and fracking would create.