On the Couch with Shaun Namarnyilk

Shaun-Namarnyilk-AAR-On-the-CouchWho is Shaun Namarnyilk?
I am an artist and I paint at Injalak Arts. I’m also a musician, singing all the good songs that old people used to sing about rock country. I work as a ranger too. I’ve been working as a ranger for almost 13 years and caring for country, doing traditional burning and fire breaking to protect the countryside, working at outstations and looking after the rock art. I also work for the Saltwater Crocodile Management Program, collecting saltwater crocodile eggs, it’s good fun, but it’s scary!

What would you do differently from what you do now?
I’ve been bush walking and I would like to show my kids those different places and all the names of the small places. I was bush walking as a teenager and old Lofty Nadjamerrek showed me that track, from when he was younger, for Jawoyn people going inland all the way to the sea. It’s a back road going all through Stone Country and I would like to show my kids that same track now.

Who inspires you and why?
Old people showed me how to paint, watching old people and letting that mob explain to me. My grandfather old Djawida Nadjongorle and Wamud (Lofty Nadjamerrek) mentored me. Djawida showed me first at Gubjekbinj Outstation. Later, when I lived at Gamargwan Outstation, Lofty inspired me to paint different styles of rarrk (red, yellow and white hatching). The old people had different styles and I learnt both. When I go to different places in Arnhem Land, I can see painting styles from different clan groups over time. Today they inspire me to paint with those different styles. When I am working as a ranger out on country, I take my phone with me and I take photos of the rock art so I can look back for inspiration. We still share different ideas, I get inspired by different styles. Different styles come from different places and times, so I like to incorporate that into my work. We understand each other from other countries and communities. Sometimes I get inspired by other stories too, from long time, I’ve seen paintings of long extinct animals but the paintings are still there. It’s good fun, learning more, seeing new rock art that no one has seen in a long time. When I go on chopper I tell the pilot to land and we go to look at rock art painted on sites a long way away and learn other places in Arnhem Land.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I show my family and my kids places and stories and I share those stories with other people all over the world, from overseas and here in Australia. Gabriel Maralngurra tells me it’s good that I am having different ideas and styles. He encourages me to follow my own path and go a different way so I can paint a different style. I learn from Gabriel, he’s been here (at Injalak) since I was a little boy. My Uncle Joe Guymala, he has a style that is different, and he paints different stories too.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
For me and my family it would be a dream to visit London and America. I talked with my kids and they want to see a different world. I want to see a big city, snow, statues, a big hill and go bushwalking so I can see something else there. When different cultures get together we can share the culture and learn from one another.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
There’s so much to see and do here in Gunbalanya. I would show them Injalak Arts and they can bring their families along to learn about the important places and stories. We could go fishing, hunting or go and see rock art. I take people on tours of Injalak Hill as people want to see paintings from a long time ago with every style of rock art and learn something else. One of my friends is a chopper pilot and I show him special rock art sites. We use a GPS and I know in my head where to land. I took some people to another nearby rock art site where there is a big cave and they were amazed. You can see hand prints, paintings of animals and people painted with ochre. I know the places very well.

What are you currently reading?
Books give me ideas too, we have a lot of books at the art centre with rock art from all over Arnhem Land that I use as inspiration. Journey in Time by George Chaloupka is really good.

What are you currently listening to?
I’m in a band, we’re called Injalak Band. My favourite song at the moment is a song I wrote for my girlfriend. It’s a love song about a Daluk walking like she’s on a catwalk. My other favourite song we sing is called Bininj Birriyoy – it’s about taking your kids out on country in the school holiday and teaching them about rock art and stories from the old people.

Happiness is?
Working at Injalak, telling stories, painting, sharing food and jokes.

What does the future hold for you?
I’m going to keep going, painting is my future and sharing stories. I’m showing my son and my daughter too for their future. I’m also in an exhibition at Short Street Gallery this year and hopefully more to come.

Shaun will be featured in the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF), Australia’s largest Indigenous art event, which takes place online in a digital format from 6 – 14 August 2020. For more information, visit: www.daaf.com.au for details.

Image: Shaun Namarnyilk (supplied)