Walgett artist Frank Wright and textile designer Fiona Fagan have discovered a unique working partnership, allowing each to bring their own special knowledge and skills to the Moorambilla Gala Concert backdrop painting.
Gamilaroi man Frank Wright has had a passion for drawing and painting for as long as he can remember. “When I finished my homework that’s all I wanted to do – I would draw sunsets and birds and carve emu eggs. I loved art at school, and I had one teacher, Mr Murdoch, who really encouraged me.”
Frank was struck down by meningococcal disease at the age of 9 when he was told he would never work or walk. Frank defied the doctors, and continued to run and box, and also spent time doing what he loved – painting and drawing. Now a professional artist, Frank is working with textile designer and author Fiona Fagan for the second year to create the Moorambilla Gala Concert backdrop. Originally from Coonamble, Fiona studied textile design and now runs her own textile business in Sydney.
Frank and Fiona work together on the design of the backdrop, sketching out in chalk the outline of the shapes on the black canvas to be painted in acrylic paints. The backdrop comes to life with emus, seven of them, as they paint the Seven Emu Sisters story. It’s a traditional story that is known from the coast to the northwest region of NSW, through Gamilaroi, Yaralawaay/Ngemba and Wiradjuri country, where the emus are symbolic for this area.
“Fiona and I sit down and work out the design and scale of the backdrop,” explains Frank. “We draw it on a small scale and then Fiona says: ‘Yes let’s do it!’ Then we enlarge it working with the colour palette that we have. If we don’t enlarge it right, the lines won’t connect, and the story won’t connect.
“I feel it is a privilege to work with Frank,” says Fiona. “I’ve learnt a lot about the Aboriginal culture, the symbolism and storytelling, and Frank is a fountain of information. It’s terrific to work on such a big-scale project, which neither of us have the opportunity to do very often.”
Moorambilla gives Frank the chance to pass on the knowledge of his culture and the lessons of these stories to the region’s children. He also teaches drawing workshops at Moorambilla.
“I think the most important word you could ever teach a child is respect,” he adds. “Respect everyone no matter what colour or race they are. Whether they are woman or man. If you want the respect you give it. That’s how I see it. That’s what I am trying to teach every day.”
“It’s great to show the kids what artists do, and possibly what they could become as adults,” says Fiona. “It’s what makes Moorambilla such as fabulous opportunity for everyone to be part of.”
Learning about the region’s traditional culture is an important foundation stone of the Moorambilla program. “The mutual respect that all the art forms show to each other – and the incredible final results – are a true testament to the spirit of Moorambilla,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.
Moorambilla Gala Concert, Coonamble Pavilion, Sat 20 September, 6.30pm. Tickets $30 adult, $20 child, $70 family available online at http://www.moorambilla.com
This is the story of the Seven Emu Sisters, told to Frank Wright by his grandparents and parents and Elders such as Aunty Brenda McBride from Lightning Ridge.
“There were seven emu sisters who were beautiful and admired by all. They heard that the dingo men wanted to take them as their wives, but they refused. One afternoon they ran fast and far away into the hills to a cave. The dingo men followed them and as it came to nighttime, they set up a ring of fire around the sisters. Instead of surrendering, the sisters ran out through the leaping flames, burning their wings. They stretched tall to the sky to escape the heat of the burning grass.
Their legs grew longer and longer, until they reached the end of the earth, where their spirits were burnt into the sky and they each became a star except for one. The six sisters are in a little cluster of stars called Pleiades. One emu was still left on the earth as she refused to go up. When she passed, she became part of the Emu in the Sky. She is the start at the head of the emu, which sits at the tip of the Southern Cross and stretches through the Milky Way in a dark shape of the emu running. She lets our ancestors know when it’s time to collect emu eggs and when the emu breeding season is.
Frank Wright at Moorambilla 2014 is supported by Outback Arts.
Text and photography: Lliane Clarke