Lindsay Bird Mpetyane was born c.1935 on Bushy Park Station in the Utopia region in Central Australia. As a young man he worked as a stockman and drover but later in life he became an artist who can be described as one of the great characters of contemporary Aboriginal art.
Lindsay has brought his lifelong knowledge and traditional ways into the 21st century like few others in his situation have been able to do. He has adapted to the ‘cheque book’ epoch, relies on modern medications and communications and has ensured a ‘western’ education for his family. Lindsay is also a very traditional man; for example, he is still responsible for the initiation of young men from his clan. He can ‘read’ the country superbly and is a faultless navigator.
During a visit to Mulga Bore in late 2008 Lindsay Bird Mpetyane offered to take us to a rock hole which he described, with a wave of the hand, as being in country extending in that direction. One needs to realise, of course, that the surrounding country is flat scrubby desert for as far as the eye can see. We set off in the four-wheel drive and motored for some forty minutes to the south west of Mulga Bore with Lindsay Bird Mpetyane pointing out the way. We crossed trackless country for another fifteen minutes after turning south until with a slow up and down motion of his hand Lindsay indicated that we are nearing our destination. “We can stop here”, he announced. I remember thinking how glad I was that Lindsay was there because I had absolutely no idea where we were. And seemingly we had halted in a flat sandy area which gave no clue to the whereabouts of Lindsay’s rock hole. But sure enough he was right on target and with a wry smile sat down on a flat rock bed and began to wrestle with a rock ‘plug’ which protrude some seven or eight centimeters above the surface. With some effort Lindsay removed the plug to reveal a perfect small, rock well containing clear fresh water in an otherwise arid situation extending in every direction. Lindsay announced proudly, “My father used to bring me here when I was a kid”.
To our untrained western eyes this little rock hole at first looked insignificant but the realisation soon dawned that in former times this place could have meant the difference between life and death for the people of this country. The ‘plug’, Lindsay explained, was multi-purpose: it stopped birds and rodents falling and drowning and of course slowed the rate of evaporation. The flat, rocky ledge surrounding the small fissure meant that any dew, moisture or rain would naturally drain into it.
The opening of this rock hole was quite small, smaller than Lindsay’s hand, and the surface of the water was some fifty centimeters down. It was one thing to locate the water in the endless desert but another to extract the water from the hole. When questioned about this Lindsay made quite a production of gathering some long grass from nearby then dipping the grass into the water and allowing it to trickle down into his mouth.
During the drive back to Mulga Bore he explained that he knew of a number of such rock holes throughout this country and in the old days his family would move in a nomadic way camping around them for weeks or months at a time.
Now when we see Lindsay Bird Mpetyane’s contemporary paintings made we see motifs of concentric circles (waterholes and rock holes) and meandering lines (trails of ancestors) between them. The paintings tell of the creation of the water and rock holes in the ‘Dreamtime’. Other works speak of bush foods that were gathered in the area surrounding the water places.
Right from the beginning and up into more recent times art from Utopia has been dominated by female artists but Lindsay managed to gain International recognition as well when he co-authored a ‘Bush Plum Dreaming’ painting that was taken up by the St Louis Opera House in Missouri, USA. This had been shown in the 1988 exhibition entitled ‘Time Before Time’ in the Austral Gallery, St Louis, USA. His fellow painters and custodians of the story were Paddy Jungula and Engarlarka.
When the exhibition ‘A Summer Project: Utopia Women’s Paintings (The First Works on Canvas)’ was shown at the S H Ervin Gallery in Sydney, despite the title, Lindsay Bird Mpetyane’s work was included and he had his first solo exhibition at Utopia Art in Sydney in 1989.
Lindsay’s paintings are included in great collections including The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, USA Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane