Professor Jon Altman has a disciplinary background in economics and anthropology. From 1983–90 he was a postdoctoral fellow, research fellow and senior research fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change in the HC Coombs Building.
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“When I first met Johnny Mawurndjul in 1979, he was 27 years old. He was instrumental in sponsoring my residence at Mumeka outstation, negotiating permission with his father, Anchor Kulunba, for a balanda (whitefella) to come and live with his extended family.
My project as a doctoral student was to record and tell the everyday story of economic life at Mumeka and I think that Balang (Johnny), even as a young man, was keen to garner a sympathetic interpretation of the difficult Kuninjku quest to establish an alternative way of living on their country and maintaining strong tradition in colonial Australia.
Mawurndjul’s art practice was in its infancy, although he already demonstrated talent. He was being tutored and mentored, mainly by his older brother, Jimmy Njiminjuma, already an accomplished artist, and by his father-in-law, the senior artist Peter Marralwanga. But Mawurndjul was first and foremost a hunter and fisher and we undertook some memorable treks together in the quest for food, traversing the territories he owned and managed. On our first hunting expedition he took me to Kungorobu and led me, on a searing-hot October day, to a hide where we could shoot magpie geese and whistle ducks. He floated effortlessly across the brackish swamp, impervious to the swarming, bloodsucking mosquitoes that stole my blood as I stumbled behind. On another memorable occasion, we trotted together in Mawurndjul’s customary hyper-energetic style, from Mumeka to Bulkay, a round trip of about 32km, as scouts to check if the flood plains were drying prior to a seasonal residential shift. We were the first human visitors on to the resource-rich wetlands that year and we harvested and feasted on a bounty of bush tucker…”
Jon’s article was originally published in The Australian, 4 July 2018. Read the full article attached.