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Janie Morgan Petyarre is a traditional Alyawarre woman and a custodian for her country at Kurrajong
Bore at Utopia. Her main Dreaming is for atwakeye, bush orange, a small nutrient-rich, fragrant fruit that
was once abundant and a staple food source, but now scarce due to past overgrazing by cattle. It hangs
on long stalks and is green when unripe, and turns yellow and red when mature. The fruit has a tough
outer skin which allows it to remain unspoilt for long periods of time making it an ideal bush tucker.
Janie enjoyed making silk batiks before taking up painting in acrylics. She is a highly sophisticated artist,
and her acrylic Bush Orange Dreaming paintings have lyrical, intricately stylized rhythms and delicate dots
that reference the seeds and fruit of the bush orange when it is ripe and ready to eat. Her paintings have
a magical, optical shimmer and a rich cultural and spiritual iconography. Janie’s artworks are much sought
after and are in public and private Australian and international collections.

Utopia is a remote Aboriginal outstation in the semi-arid centre of Australia, approximately 300 kilometres
northeast of Alice Springs, where sixteen small, family-based Anmatyerre and Alyawarre language-speaking
communities live on 3500 kilometres of land. In the 1920s, two British settlers took the land by force from
their ancestors, made it a cattle station, and called it Utopia because of the abundance of rabbits, an
environmentally disastrous introduced animal. In 1978, Utopia became the first Aboriginal outstation in Australia
to have a successful Land Rights claim.
Aboriginal Australians have the longest, land-based culture in the world, over 65,000 years, and are
custodians for specific places that they call ‘country’. Their oral culture holds extraordinary ecological
knowledge and experiential wisdom that the people continue to pass on to new generations. They have long
drawn patterns in the sand and painted patterns on their bodies with ochres during separate ritual men’s and women’s ceremonies.
The women of Utopia come together for awelye ceremonies to re-animate the land, ensure perpetuation of plant and animal species, and for the people's health and happiness. Over many days and nights, they ‘sing up’
country, ‘paint up’ their bodies with ochre designs, do ritual dances, and tell Dreaming stories to
new generations of young girls.
The contemporary Aboriginal art movement is very recent. In 1977, many of the Utopia women
participated in a batik workshop, and even though it was a labour-intensive process, it became a
popular communal activity. They used small tjanting tools and hot wax melted on open fires while
collecting bush tucker. When acrylic paints were distributed at Utopia in 1988, the medium became
more popular because they were an easier and more versatile medium to use. It is still women who
primarily paint at Utopia and they depict their Dreamings and women’s awelye body painting

© Copyright Dr. Victoria King 2023.

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