Motorbike Paddy Ngale was on his porch with his wife Kathleen, son Matthew Mpetyane and two other men when we pulled into their community. We had just travelled 2.5 hours to visit them. The region is very remote and hard to access.
It was a particularly cool morning. A small fire was going on the porch and the smell of cooked meat and fresh bread lingered in the air.
Our appearance triggered some excitement and the men disappeared inside the house as we approached. Their heads kept poking out from the door telling us to 'wait' and not leave.
When they reappeared, Motorbike was holding a large work in progress, measuring about 150cm x 90cm. The linen dropped into a curl at the ends where it had been rolled up and put away while not working on it.
Unlike his recent works where strings of dots fill the canvas, this piece featured crude illustrations of people, animals and vehicles. The people appeared unclothed and the ochre and crimson colours had blended into the white backdrop staining the silhouettes with a mysterious and shadowy inflection.
All eyes were on us awaiting our reaction.
Very intrigued, I didn't hesitate to ask about the story evidently unfolding.
‘The kadaitcha man’ Motorbike said. He was both casual and direct.
In stark contrast, I inhaled a short quick breath and decided how to respond. A kadaitcha man is a lore enforcer and a much-feared, often secret person, and still in practice in this part of the country. I knew enough that I shifted my eyes and whispered the words back to him so no one else would hear. ‘Kadaitcha man?'
‘Yep’ he said back.
Motorbike talked about the kadaitcha man quite openly, although we only talked about it in the context of his painting. His daughter Elizabeth Mpetyane joined us and was working on a small dot painting next to him. She didn’t seem to mind the topic of conversation.
Motorbike laughed several times at how quiet yet equally enthused I was whenever I asked a question.
‘What is the kadaitcha man wearing?’
Authentic kadaitcha boots are comprised of emu feathers and human hair and worn to leave no trace. When not in use it is said they would be wrapped up and hidden in a sacred place. At a cultural centre in Alice Springs there used to be a pair on display and I remember many Aboriginal women would avoid that section, or the centre altogether.
Motorbike's answers were mostly short and concise.
He pointed out the kadaitcha men in the painting - there were more than one - and they were illustrated differently to others. In addition to wearing feather boots they were holding emu feathers behind their backs while they were walking. Some carried a spear.
Other people were painted sitting on motorbikes, several at the one time I note, and he laughed when he spoke of them. Others were walking around hunting for kangaroo but I was told they weren’t the ones the kadaitcha man was looking for. He was looking for the 'bad ones' which were painted in pink.
I spent the next couple of hours watching Motorbike work on a small piece. (Sadly both pieces are still incomplete but you can view his only available artwork here – Conkerberry by Motorbike Paddy).
Matthew and the other men had long left, but Elizabeth was still sitting with us. His wife Kathleen Ngale had also inched her way over to me where I sat on a small box, and held my hand almost the entire time. Kathleen is in her mid 80's and now blind. I removed myself from her grip only when I needed to get up and carry out any studio assistant duties for Motorbike.
Motorbike is a friendly and open Anmatyerre man. He used to work as a stockman in the Utopia region many years ago rounding up horses and bullocks to drove into Alice Springs. As a painter he is not prolific but we look forward to seeing his new works complete soon and sharing them with you.
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