BROACHED COMMISSIONS ~ 2017
In the early years of the British colonisation of Australia, Robert Holden asserts that the myths of Australian Indigenous cultures were ‘one of the most significant crossovers between [the] two cultures [British and Aboriginal] … – a crossover that has retained its potent appeal to the present day’. Holden speaks of the mythical creatures that originated in Aboriginal folklore and were shared with white settlers during the early years of colonisation.
Stories of the yahoo – a creature ‘resembling a man … but more slender, with long white straight hair … arms as extraordinarily long … with great talons’ captured the imaginations of the new British settlers. The fear of the yahoo soon became one that local Aboriginal people shared with the new British settlers. This fear of a gruesome and vicious creature gained its potency from the folkloric tales that were used to substantiate its existence. These tales were suitably vague, their lack of detail being attributed to the fierce nature of these creatures and the assumption that no one had survived an encounter.
This story ‘became one of the very few Aboriginal legends to be embraced by the Europeans’, uniting two culturally disparate societies and forming a much-needed link between individuals from both communities. The word yahoo soon became interchangeable with bunyip, a name that resulted from a linguistic misunderstanding between Aboriginal people who thought of it as an English word and British settlers who thought that it was a local term.
Prior to understanding this, I was putting Robert Holden’s theories to the test without knowing it. I was staying in Alice Springs on and off for a period when I was introduced to a Western Arrernte man by the name of Baden Williams. He took me to his hometown of Hermannsburg and on the way we got talking about Western Arrernte creatures.
Pankalangu is one of three groups of creatures who frequent Western Arrernte country, and according to Baden, when you speak about one group you must speak about all three. The two other groups are arrkutja-irrintja and nyipi barnti.
Arrkutja-irrintja is a female creature with a sweet smell, who adorns herself with flowers. She is known to abduct young men and take them to a parallel dimension for several days, or even weeks.
Nyipi barnti is a strong and muscular being who works as an assassin, killing any unwelcome people or creatures that travel on his land. He has a pungent smell – like sweat, dust and ochre and is known for abducting young women.
According to Western Arrernte story telling, pankalangu is a territorial being that lives in the scrub and is completely camouflaged in the desert and bush. Pankalangu can only move with the rain, and is made visible when the rain that falls on him is caught by the light, defining his form in a glistening silhouette.
As pankalangu is a Central Australian creature, my interpretation is formally influenced by some of the unique characteristics of other creatures from this region. Both the perente and the Central Australian locust became major influences as these animals possess an ochre coloured, camouflaged exterior that masks an iridescent, hidden element – the perente hides a lilac tongue and the locust hides its beautifully translucent blue wings.
The Pankalangu Wardrobe, Armchair and Side-table are designed interpretations of pankalangu – these animals are adorned with scales which camouflage as they move, but when the light catches these copper scales their form is defined by a glistening silhouette.
Commissioner – Broached Commissions
Materials Pankalangu Wardrobe and Side Table – Lamination bent plywood, Queensland walnut, copper and brass
Materials Pankalangu Arm Chair – Plywood, stainless steel, Tasmanian wallaby pelt, copper, polyurethane foam and French leather
Materials Pankalangu Bowl – Tasmanian wallaby pelt, aluminium and New Zealand leather
Production – Sydney and Illawarra, Australia
Makers – Trent Jansen Studio, Luke Coleman and Adam Price
Image Credit – Tommy Watson and Michael Corridore