In my youth, the main thing that inspired me to follow my dream as a photographer was my dad’s old black and white photos. Those pictures were taken during the ‘golden days’ when my parents had truly been pursuing their own vision, working with indigenous people in the remote Kimberley region.
Back in the late 1940s, mum and dad helped to equip indigenous people with skills that would provide greater opportunities for their future. In addition, many of the present day Kimberley cowboys are descendants of men my father mentored.
My wonderful parents instilled in me a heart for the outback and for aboriginal people. I got lost for a while in the big smoke, pursuing what I thought to be the ‘great Australian dream’ of success, but eventually the lure of the land and adventure was too strong. In the early 1980’s my dad was returning to the Kimberley to visit his friends and those old black and white photos enticed me to go with him.
My photographic journey really started on that trip with my dad. His Indigenous friends and their descendants helped me understand the importance of connecting with the land. I will never forget a precious key to life that an indigenous elder shared with me. He said, “if you really want to know a person or place, you need to ‘walk a while’ with that person, or in that place, and then mysteries will be revealed.”
It was in 2000 – many, many kilometres, locations, people and images later – that I first visited the remote Ikuntji community, nestled within the spectacular West Macdonnell Ranges, near Haasts Bluff, in Central Australia. It was a life-changing encounter, and over the years I have made many friends there and in other surrounding communities. I soon realised that many of these people – especially the youth – had little access to the technology most artists take for granted.
Wanting to help, I launched an initiative called ‘Walk a While’. The primary objective of the Walk a While Foundation is to walk alongside the Indigenous people in remote Australian communities, using the creative arts as common ground, to provide youth with equipment and skills to tell their stories and to provide them with meaningful employment opportunities for the future.
Initially, Walk a While focused on photography, videography and music, and with assistance from some of Australia’s finest artists, the project quickly gained momentum. Central to the plan is to show our indigenous friends how they can make a living from the arts. This way, they will begin to see wider choices for their future and free themselves from the cycle of government aid, which erodes identity and self-respect.
Until now, Walk a While teams have taken their own equipment when visiting the community. But when a team leaves, so does the technology. We realised we needed a permanent base – a Creative Arts & Technologies Centre – to house instructors and equipment and to provide space for training in many creative arts, including; photography, cinematography, music, website development and design. For years we have been seeking permission to operate from a building in Haast’s Bluff.
Finally, with persistence and assistance from State and Federal Government Ministers and officials, we have recently received great news. We have been granted access to that building. So as soon as the paperwork is finalised, we will have an ongoing presence in this remote community. With the help of generous suppliers and supporters, we will equip the centre with the latest technology and software.
This Walk a While centre will also become a hub for creating tourism related employment for the local people, and the entire community is excited about the opportunities it will open up. Other artists and people will be invited to come ‘walk a while’ with them, in their breathtaking tribal lands.
It’s funny how life often moves in circles. In June 2016 we were asked to take the ‘Walk a While’ team to work with some remote Kimberley communities, where my parents worked so many years ago.
Many people like to go to remote areas and “take” photos, but I think it’s important to consider what we put back – especially into disadvantaged areas. To really know a person or a place takes time. If we spend time getting to know the people in these remote places, and perhaps trying to see how we can help them, it can be a truly worthwhile experience for all concerned as we learn from each other.
Walk a While can receive tax-deductible donations for its core objects. So far, the Foundation has been privately funded by individuals and companies who have a heart to help our remote Indigenous communities. I would like to thank ARB, as they have been one of our greatest supporters to date.
The ‘Walk a While’ concept is not for that one community alone. Once we get this first Creative Arts & Technology Centre working well, the model could be rolled out into other remote communities. The key that will help open the doors of opportunity is for us all to learn to ‘Walk a While’ together. If this article has touched a chord within you, please visit our website www.walkawhile.org.au and come ‘Walk a While’ with us.
World renowned photographer, Ken Duncan, OAM, launched an initiative called Walk a While. Its mission is to walk alongside the indigenous people of central Australia, using the creative arts as common ground, providing youth with equipment and skills to tell their stories and to improve their future employment opportunities.www.walkawhile.org.au