Image: Christine Yantumba with her Mudskipper sculpture (Courtesy of Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre)
Pormpuraaw is located on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula approximately 250km (as the crow flies) south of Weipa. Home of the Thaayore, Wik, Bakanh and Yir Yoront People, Pormpuraaw has a population of about 750, 83% of whom are Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander. In the Thaayore language, the word "Pormpuraaw" means entrance way to a house.
FireWorks Gallery 2021
Mylene is a Kugu & Thaayorre woman, with longstanding ancestral connections to Pormpuraaw. She speaks four Indigenous languages plus English. Her father is Wik liyanh (fresh water people) from the upper Holroyd River and her mother is Kugu Munhin (salt water people) from north Holroyd River.
Mylene has 4 sisters (one of them fellow Pormpuraaw artist Christine Holroyd) and 2 brothers. When they were young, their parents would take them all on long walkabout journeys. The family would travel for weeks visiting their traditional country, which their parents taught them was important for them to know intimately. Mylene talks about memories of swimming across rivers, holding onto ﬂoating logs. The rivers were home to many big crocodiles and it was very dangerous. She says they were lucky and always seemed to get across safely. Her generation is the last to go walkabout in this way, whereas the young people now jump in a truck or boat and get there in a few hours instead of a few weeks.
Mylene says, “I love art and have worked at the Art Centre since 2005. I make art because it is in my heart. I love bright colours because they look good and seem to change when you look at them. Making art reminds me of going bush. Every time I work on my art it is an experiment. It is always changing and surprises me when it is finished.”
Michael started working at Pormpuraaw Art Centre in 2014. He says he is glad to be part of the Centre and to work with his fellow artists and countrymen.
"I am a Thaayorre culture and saltwater man. Pormpuraaw country belongs to my clan and I own important inland freshwater country. This place is where the rainbow serpent emerged from under a big rock and spat out all living animals. My country is who I am. I belong to it, and it belongs to me. We believe that an artwork made in our country belongs to that country. So, we often feel sad when an artwork leaves Pormpuraaw to be exhibited elsewhere. It's like a part of us is leaving.”
“I have made paintings and prints, but now spend most of my time making 3D works from ghost nets. I am happy to be sharing my culture with the outside world. My totems are the Emu, Black Duck and Spear, and through my work, I celebrate these totems and the songlines of my ancestors."
Michael Norman's work has a contemporary yet naive style. It is sincere, connected and always experimental. In 2016 he exhibited two impressive ghost net sculptures at the Oceanic Institute in Monaco. These works incorporate the use of galvanised fence, which the artist felt reﬂected the pattern of netting and represented the crocodile scales. Michael Norman's work is on show at the Pormpuraaw Art Centre, Canopy Art, Cairns, Tali Gallery in Sydney; and has been exhibited at CIAF, Kinship, TARNARTHI and Urban Paradise, Gold Coast.
Christine Yantumba is a freshwater woman from the Thaayorre and Kugu clans. Her father's homeland is Purp and her mother's is Top Holroyd. Her totems are the Emu, Black Duck and Red Legged Devil Man.
“I was born in Pormpuraaw and have lived here all my life. I love camping and ﬁshing with my family. I really love swimming in the freshwater at our homeland Purp. There is a big Rainbow Serpent story at Purp. There is always water in a big, long pool there and in the middle is a large rock. The Rainbow Serpent broke that rock when he was trying to squeeze past it. He then took oﬀ with some of the broken rock on his head."
Christine started working at the Pormpuraaw Art Centre when it opened in 2005. She paints, prints and creates sculpture using ghost net. Painting is her favourite art form and this is the medium she uses most. Christine is one of the few artists from the centre who paints dots to create small decorative patterns. Her work celebrates her culture, community and country.
Steven grew up in Pormpuraaw but was born on Thursday Island. His people come from Darnley Island (the language name for this island is “Erub”). Steven is a Torres Strait Island person, but unfortunately he never learned his own language, (he is able to understand some Pormpuraaw languages). Steven’s dad came to Pormpuraaw to work with the Department of Public Services, bringing Steven, his brother, and mother to live there with him. Steven stayed in Pormpuraaw instead of moving on to Townsville with his family.
“I like the laid back lifestyle. I have done a lot of diﬀerent things. When I was 17, I worked on the crocodile farm here in Pormpuraaw. I fed them chooks and pig meat. I went ringing for cattle mustering for a while. I have always liked working with my hands, building and ﬁxing things. I drove trucks in the mines around Weipa and served in the army reserves. I worked as a plumber for council and have done many diﬀerent jobs before coming to work at the Art Centre.”
“I started working with ghost net sculpture. My people in Darnley Island also work in ghost net and it makes me glad that we share this medium. We celebrate our connection to the sea by depicting reef animals. We have always depended on them for our food and survival. I like ghost net because of the environmental message. Ghost net is a nasty form of pollution that kills many ﬁsh and sea life indiscriminately. It needs to stop. I chose a starﬁsh for my ﬁrst work. It is an important sea creature and strong symbol for me as a salt-water person."
Christine Holroyd is a Kugu and Thaayorre woman, and is sister to fellow Pormpuraaw artist Mylene Holroyd. She has ancestral connections to Pormpuraaw, and speaks four Indigenous languages, plus English. Christine’s people have been at Pormpuraaw forever. Her father is Wik Iiyanh (fresh water people) from the Upper Holroyd River and her mother is Kugu Munhin (salt-water people) from north Holroyd River.
Both Christine’s parents were born in the bush. Her dad worked in the stockyard before he met her mum, working as a drover for no wages but just food. He lived with his mother (Christine’s grandmother) and when ‘nan’ passed away he met Christine’s mum, who worked in the old hospital cooking for the white staﬀ.
With a deep love for her art community, Christine has worked at Pormpuraaw Art Centre since 2010, serving as the vice president of the management committee for 4 years. Like her sister Mylene, Christine makes art from her heart, and loves the appeal of bright colours in her work. She works in an experimental way, relishing the surprise she gets from her finished work.
Christine’s work is on permanent display at the Pormpuraaw Gallery, and she has exhibited extensively in national and international galleries and art fairs.
Syd Bruce Short Joe
Syd Bruce Short Joe was born in the Aurukun mission 1964. His tribe is Wik Mynah tribe and his traditional country is North East and inland of Pormpuraaw. Syd's traditional saltwater totem is the bull shark and his freshwater totem is blue tongue lizard. His people are freshwater people. The people from this part of Cape York often speak 4 to 6 Indigenous languages. Syd speaks 9 languages, plus English.
He grew up in Pormpuraaw and learned the Thaayorre language of the traditional owners. As a teenager he lived among the Kugu, his great grandmother’s people, and learned those languages. He shares his knowledge with his nephews, family and community. He is a cultural scholar and a national treasure. Syd is the respected president of Pormpuraaw Art Centre’s management committee. He assists the magistrate by working as a volunteer interpreter and mediator. He is welcome at the campfires of many different tribes because he can speak their languages and respects their laws.
Art is a new language for Syd, and he sees it as a way to share and express himself with a wider audience. His prints, paintings and ghost net sculptures celebrate his rich culture and personal wisdom, and tell the stories that inform his unique identity.
"My art is a bridge from my people’s way to the outside world".
Due to his printmaking ability, Syd is known as 'Mr Lino'. He is also called 'General Bull Shark' because of his leadership at Pormpuraaw Art Centre. He started at the Centre in 2010 and has produced a large volume of work. He has been the main inspiration for two books published at Pormpuraaw Art Centre, titled 'Pormpuraaw Totems' and 'Pormpuraaw Art and Culture'.
His stories and work have been featured in two NITV shows, and his art is on permanent display at Canopy Art Centre in Cairns QLD, Tali Gallery, NSW, and Alcaston Galley, VIC. He exhibits at the annual Cairns Indigenous Art Fair.
The Australia Museum in NSW has purchased his ghost net sculpture titled 'Mundha' (Shovel Nose Ray), and this work, along with three others, are being exhibited at the museum. Syd was the main consultant and storyteller for a documentary produced by the Museum which is based on crocodile sorcery.
Adapted from the original text courtesy of Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre 2021