In 2001 an old friend, who was the Mangkaja Arts coordinator at the time, introduced me to the Fitzroy Crossing artists. Most of them were ‘old people’, who recalled with a mixture of joy and sadness, their traditional life in the desert. My friend’s endorsement was the key to my acceptance as a filmmaker and the reason why I was called back to work in the Kimberley over the years. While there are major issues in Fitzroy Crossing - isolation, lack of meaningful work, alcohol and drugs, I experienced the 'living culture' that holds a deep respect for the old people whose knowledge is embedded in their songs and dances and their unique connection to Country.
Spider, Putuparri’s grandfather, is the custodian of the rainmaking ceremonies at Kurtal, the family’s ‘living water’. These ceremonies are intended to influence the weather through a complex belief system about the spiritual inhabitants of the landscape, one that interweaves family, ancestors and the environment into a holistic cosmology. With town life taking precedence over traditional life, the passing away of the old people undermines the transmission of cultural knowledge.
Tom Putuparri Lawford was brought up by the old people on a cattle station on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. He moved to Fitzroy Crossing as a young man and succumbed to the temptations of alcohol. Despite the setbacks, his grandparents Spider and Dolly, are determined that Putuparri has ‘a strong culture’.
Putuparri and the Rainmakers documents a critical point in time as the ‘old people’ pass away and the following generations who were born in town question ‘can young people brought up in the modern world learn to keep their traditional culture alive?
At the heart of Putuparri and the Rainmakers is the story of a man caught between two worlds who finds redemption through the discovery of his traditional culture and the acceptance of his responsibility for passing it on. The greatest challenge has been to do justice to the extraordinary story of Putuparri and the Traditional Owners of the Great Sandy Desert. It has been a privilege to travel with them and work with Putuparri and his community to create this film.