On Display: QAG, Gallery 14
As a child, Shirley Macnamara’s family sometimes lived in wingreeguu — a temporary bush shelter made by the Indilandji/Dhidhanu/Alyawarre people as they travelled across the country.
Macnamara travelled with her parents while they worked with cattle, and she remembers the comfort and protection that the shelter provided. The upturned turpentine tree’s rounded shape was ideal, and covered with spiky, dense spinifex clumps, protected them from the wind and rain.
After use, these shelters were abandoned and often destroyed by the weather or by seasonal fires, but if they survived, they could be repaired with newly grown spinifex and used by other travellers. The rings of spinifex in this work represent storylines or links to who we are and where we come from.
Shirley Macnamara runs a thriving cattle property with her son and his family near Mount Isa in western Queensland. She has close ties with Camooweal and the surrounding country through her mother’s Indjalandji people, and with Alyawarr lands, particularly Lake Nash, through her late father.
Macnamara started painting in 1987, but began to experiment with weaving in 1992. She is well known for the guutu (vessels) she makes using combinations of synthetic and natural materials. In particular, she likes to work with spinifex (Triodia pungens), a tough, spikey native grass commonly found in the driest parts of Australia.
Spinifex’s long roots help keep the soil together so that the sand does not spread and create more desert. For Macnamara, spinifex embodies strength and utility, and she uses it to create tactile sculptures that reflect her surroundings, culture and history, as well as personal experiences and memories.