Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

The traditional owners of Gunbalanya is the Gumurdul family who allow Injalak to operate on their land and are actively supportive of the art centre.

About 500 km from Darwin, you can find the region of Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. For six months of the year, you can cross the East Alligator River to Gunbalanya. For the remainder of the year, the river is too high, cutting Gunbalanya and the 1,200 people that live there, off from the rest of the country.

Like many First Nations communities, Gunbalanya is rich with culture and heritage, with a strong desire to pass on this traditional knowledge, particularly among young people. Indigenous community art centres play an important role in the artistic and cultural life of traditional Aboriginal artists living in remote communities.

Gunbalunya’s Injalak Arts centre in West Arnhem Land supports over 350 Indigenous Kunwinjku artists. They provide professional development programmes, workshops, mentoring support and On Country trips to collect art materials. Pre-COVID times, thousands of tourists would visit Injalak Arts every year to witness the art, music, natural environment, and many other culturally significant activities.

In the midst of COVID restrictions, with no visitors to the region allowed, Injalak Arts ran a two-week music workshop and a week-long live video production workshop that involved local musicians recording and rehearsing songs, as well as coaching and mentoring for eight members of the newly formed Media Unit who learnt all about live production. Thanks to a $10,000 Strengthening Rural Communities grant, funded by the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, Injalak Arts was able to pay artist and consultation fees with Indigenous Australians who led the workshops.

The COVID-19 restrictions, and subsequent absence of any visitors to witness the performance, weren’t an issue for the production team, as the Media Unit used iPhones and iPads to stream the performance. People across the country were able to tune in, with some even watching from the UK.

The project brought the community together and provided an opportunity to demonstrate their creative expertise and talents, as well as developing new skills in live television production.

Injalak Arts’ Culture and Media Officer Alex Ressel explained the grant has had ongoing benefits for the community.

“We have since utilised this experience and equipment on other video projects in western Arnhem Land, so it is not necessary to employ external camera operators to document and live stream cultural events in western Arnhem Land.

“When bininj (Indigenous) people are behind the camera as well as in front of it, a radically different form of moving image work is created, enabling a culture to define its own mode of representation, ask the right questions.

“It means we can employ local Indigenous people and keep money circulating within community, as well as making the representation of Kunwinjku culture to wide and diverse audiences.”

The National Remote Indigenous Media Festival is First Nations Media Australia’s major industry event celebrating achievements and supporting the training of the remote Indigenous media sector. Each year the festival location alternates between remote desert and coastal communities to make it as accessible and relevant for its participants as possible. With the annual change in locations comes the need to source funding.

First Nations Media Australia, formerly known as the Indigenous Remote Communications Association is the peak body representing and supporting the media and communications needs of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The organisation advocates for community-focused broadcasting, providing tools, networks and resources to support Indigenous media organisations and workers to upskill and build their capacity.

First Nations Media Australia secured $5,000 from FRRR’s Small Grants for Rural Communities program, funded by The Pratt Foundation, to purchase iPads, mobile phones and software to help deliver one of the 2017 festival’s key workshops, Working with Mobile Devices.

More than 100 remote Indigenous media outlets and industry partners from across Australia gathered in the community of Irrunytju (Wingellina) on Ngaanyatjarra country – about 1,700 kilometres north east of Perth near the borders of Western Australia and South Australia for an action-packed week-long industry event.

The festival provided an opportunity for delegates to work together toward innovative solutions for the challenges faced by the remote media sector, connecting people, places and stories across the country to strengthen culture, identity, and well-being. It involved industry forums and skills development workshops led by inspiring trainers and facilitators, and in the evenings, time was spent enjoying, acknowledging and celebrating local culture and talent, including movies, music and award presentations.

Some great work was produced during the workshop, including a high-quality animation entitled 7 Sisters, which was created by trainees and showcased at the final day’s workshop presentations to much acclaim by delegates. In most cases, participants were able to work independently after the initial training.

This small grant helped more than 100 people from remote Indigenous communities and media organisations to gain meaningful training and industry knowledge from experienced trainers and Indigenous leaders. Participants left inspired, enthused and more confident about their work in the sector.

Examples of completed work can be viewed on https://firstnationsmedia.org.au/.