Bess Nungarrayi Price Indigenous Australian, b. 1960-
Born: Yuendumu, NT
The artworks of Bess Nungarrayi Price represent Mala Country to the north west of Yuendumu. Yuendumu is approximately 300kms to the North West of Alice Springs, NT.
This dreaming belongs to the Japaljarri/Napaljarri, Jungarrayi/Nungarrayi skin groups. Bess and her brothers and sisters have inherited rights and responsibilities in these places from their father Japaljarri.
Mala is the Warlpiri word for the Rufous Hare Wallaby. The Mala became extinct on the Australian mainland surviving only on Bernier and Dorre Islands off Shark Bay in WA. The last colony in the Tanami Desert died out in 1991, after Warlpiri people moved off the land and into settlements like Yuendumu and Lajamanu and no longer practiced traditional burning of their country. Mala had thrived where controlled burning produced mosaics of vegetation at different stages of growth and regrowth. Introduced predators like cats and foxes also reduced their numbers.
The nocturnal Mala dug burrows in the spinifex country so was also called wangku-ngawurrpa or 'nest dweller'. It was a popular source of meat, though difficult to hunt because it moved very fast in a zig-zag pattern when it was startled.
The Mala has been reintroduced to enclosures in the Uluru-Katatjuta and Watarrka National Parks.
The Mala Dreaming (Jukurrpa) track relating to these paintings began at a place called Mawurrungu in the flat sand and salt lake country to the south-west of Yuendumu and west of Lake Bennett. From there the Mala Ancestors travelled northwards. The important sites on this track are also associated with water. There are seven small rock holes at Mawurrungu. Malawirri was one important place where they stopped, rested and then performed ceremonies.
Wirri means flood out, flood way or swamp in Warlpiri. As they danced they created the swamp at Malawirri near Jila (Chilla) which means 'spring' in Warlpiri. This swamp feeds into the creek that crosses the Tanami Highway at Chilla Well about 120 kilometres south of The Granites and 140 kilometres north-west of Yuendumu. The spiritual essence and power of the dancing Mala was left behind in the termite mounds (mingkirri) in the flat swampy country at that place.
After Malawirri they travelled north through the country to the east of The Granites to finally go underground at Lake Buck about 80 kilometres north east of Tanami.
Bess Nungarrayi Price was born at the remote community of Yuendumu in Central Australia. Her first language is Warlpiri, and she speaks four other Indigenous languages. She has a Bachelor of Applied Science in Aboriginal Community Management and Development from Curtin University and has worked in education and training, public administration, media, community development, interpreting, translating and small business management.
Bess has served on numerous management and advisory committees and boards of directors locally and at Territory and National level. In 1997 she established Jajirdi Consultants in partnership with her husband. With Jajirdi she developed and delivered cultural awareness programs for several private, government and non-government agencies, Aboriginal organizations and mining companies. Her work included several major social research projects. Mrs. Price was the inaugural chair of the Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council for the Northern Territory Government. In 2012 she was elected to the Northern Territory's Legislative Assembly representing the electorate of Stuart.
In September of 2013 Mrs. Price joined the cabinet of the Government of the Northern Territory to serve as the Minister for Local Government and Community Services, Parks and Wildlife, Women's Policy, Men's Policy and Statehood. While Minister she had the pleasure of swearing her daughter in as an Alice Springs Town Councilor, the first time in our history that an Aboriginal mother and daughter have served at two levels of government at the same time.
Bess first began to paint in 2004 however work commitments did not allow her to spend as much time on her art as she wanted to. She has been inspired by older artists, especially her older sister Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan and her aunts, Judy Watson Napangardi, Dorothy Lewis Napangardi and Betsy Lewis Napangardi, whose paintings are hung in prestigious galleries here and overseas, but who are all now deceased.
Bess paints traditional Jukurrpa (Dreaming) stories in her own contemporary style, but also honours the old ones who have taught so much. She was born into the Warlpiri culture and has done many things that the old ones have not been able to do. She has travelled the world and seen so many other cultures. Now she wants to reconnect with who she really is through her art to help the world understand her people and their ways of seeing the world. Election to the NT parliament took her away from her art. After the 2016 elections she has gone back to work with Jajirdi Consultants and has returned to her painting.
She has been married to her husband Dave for almost forty years, they have one daughter Jacinta and now four grandsons.