Artist: Kristabell Porter
Circus Waters Massacre Memento Mori – 2018
Print – 600 x 800mm Framed Digital Print
Kristabell took a series of photographs in 2016 which looked at the practice of memento mori, and representing this idea in a modern Ngaanyatjarra way. In 2017, she has extended that idea even further and begun staging photographs in significant places. This image deals with the complex and tragic story of the Circus Waters Massacre, where people local to the area of Warakurna lost their lives in a bloody fight with white explorers over the loss of one of the explorers’ camels. Kristabell has painted metallic dot designs over the top of the photograph as a reference to the mineral-rich lands and the many who have travelled out here looking to get rich, as well as indicating how the explorers partied after the massacre, sitting around drinking their liquor, getting drunk as the local Aboriginal people mourned their losses. As the story goes, as told by Ian Newberry: This painting tells a story about three early explorers who were passing through the Rawlinson Ranges area. They were coming from the west heading east. They had six camels with a couple of young ones. One day they came to Circus Waters, they wanted the camels to drink the water and to camp and rest at that place. After a little while some Ngaanyatjarra wati (men) arrived at Circus Waters. They wanted water and were really hunger. They’d had no luck hunting for marlu (kangaroo) or karlaya (emu). The wati saw those young camels and killed one with a kurlarta (spear). One white man was counting the camels and noticed that one of the young ones was missing. The men climbed the hill at Circus Waters. They had binoculars and saw smoke in the near distance. The wati had taken the camel back to their families and that night they feasted on the camel kuka (meat). Everyone was happy and they sang Tingari songs because that place is a Tingari place. After that everyone went to sleep. The families were unaware that the white men had followed the smoke from their fires that afternoon and had spied on them. Those White men had gone back to their camp at Circus Waters to rest and prepare their rifles and ammunition for the next day. Early the next morning those white fellas went down the families’ camp with their riffles and a big dog and started to firing at everyone. The women and children ran for it and escaped. The wati’s fought back. It was a war. My great great grandfather got shot and was killed but his three wives and children had got away. One of the teenage boys was my Tjamu (grandfather) Mr Newberry. He had seen what happened to his father and the other wati. My grandfather Mr Newberry and his cousin Mr Smith ran fast nonstop all day through the bushes and over the hill back to Warakurna to tell everyone what had happened. The next morning my grandfather and his cousin travelled with the wati from Warakurna back to Circus Waters. The wati were ready for war. They had weapons, kurlarta pirni (many spears), miru (spear-thrower), karli (boomerang) and kupulu (hitting club). The white men were at the families’ camp burying all the bodies. The wati had decided to hide back at Circus Waters, waiting for the return of the White men. When the white men returned the wati ambushed them and there was a really big fight, spearing and shooting everywhere. Two of the white men were killed but one man got away with the camels. Three or four wati were killed. This was a time before there were any Police. There was nothing the people could do”. This is a memorial to the people who lost their lives and a reminder of these unwritten dark histories.