Unbogging the law before taken to cells



The river was an Arrernte recreational and residential location long before settlement.

Apart from the weekend of the annual Henley on Todd in August the river was by and large left to Aboriginals. Big gatherings, camps and ceremonies recorded at the Telegraph Station in the 1890s had been happening for centuries, if not millenia.

When Johnsons were obliged to quit Whitegate, Lhenpe Artnwe/Middle Park, upriver of Schwarz crescent, was an option. A huge rivergum’s claw-like root system mid river earned its emu tree status and was an excellent campsite.

Kwekatje / unitiated boys, travelling north, were represented in such trees. Janet Johnson had been born in its shade. Her husband, Gregory would later lose his glass eye there.

Drinking parties and card games continued as did the inevitable disputes and squabbling, often exacerbated by grog. This was theatre for tourist cameras trained from the safe distance of the footbridge. It was also the focus of Town and Tangentyere Councils, police and Night Patrols.

In one of the many attempts over the decades to curb indigenous public drinking, a law prohibiting consumption within two kilometres of a liquor outlet resulted in a daily round up of drinking parties in the riverbed. Opened grog would be tipped into the sand. Unsealed cans and cartons would be confiscated.

It was a common to see, most likely novice police drivers inexperienced in negotiating deep sand, bogging. Hence the ludicrous situation of having to release recently apprehended culprits to help free the 4WD paddy wagon before returning to the cage and proceeding to either the sobering up shelter or a police cell.

Joe Cleary, Edward Neal and Gregory Johnson, who are re-enacting this farce, felt such labours entitled potential charges to be dropped.

PAINTING: Pushing Upriver, 1993



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