Alison Burgu Australian, Ngarinyin, b. 1966
Alison is the second eldest daughter of Mowanjum artist and elder Stateman, Roger Burgu. As a six year old, Alison appeared in Michael Edol's award winning film LaiLai, which focuses on traditional Aboriginal Culture in the Wororra homelands near doubtful bay.
Alison was born in Derby hospital and educated in Derby, completing her secondary education in the early 1980's. She undertook work experience as a nurse's aide and later a teacher's aide, before securing premanent employment at the Holy Rosary School as a teacher's aide.
She says of her eight year experience, "I learnt how things worked. How to work with teachers and other aides, I was going to conferences in Broome, expanding myself and learning from others, learning how to make programs for children and how to teach. I made my own work for the children. It gave me a lot of skills. Nursing also helped me to care for the old, children and others in my community."
When Alison had her daughter, she left town. Through the Community Employment Development Project, Alison was offered the opportunity to make a contribution to her community and she entered the project as a trainee pre-school teacher.
Alison describes her first painting experience as "not good". She adds, "I couldn't draw anything. No good at drawing animals or Wandjina. Just couldn't do it properly. I would look at other people's work and would just keep doing it... I was making mistakes, the hands were too small, the head was too small. Just kept going, doing it again and again."
When the community learnt to paint at the Mowanjum Halll, Alison leant to apply 'different backgrounds and ways to use the paint.' She adds, "I used old people's style first (like in the caves) and now I have improved, and have my own way. I am satisfied where I am."
"when my father and uncle were alive I heard lots of stories. I put them in the paintings. Stories were important. They taught us about culture. We can talk to our children about it. Culture needs to be strong in this community and our families."
Alison's father, Rodger Burgu, was a church minister for the Mowanjum community. "He did a lot of work with the people, speaking out for the community, speaking to Government.
I was very close to him. I learnt from him, things that are very close to my heart like showing fairness."
In the book 'Mowanjum- 50 years community history', a self published history of Mowanjum artist about the Mowanjum Community, Roger Burgu writes, "Wudu is a discipline for the kids. If a kid goes to town, they want that lollie or cool drink. In wudu, that's the way we train our kids. We can put smoke on the kids. That's the Wandjina giving is that thing for our kids."
Alison says the Wandjina is "like God. The Wandjina and God are alike. The culture and law together. That is my belief. In me there are two special parts. I will always keep these. Meaningful to me, you know " Alison is also a Christian; "I understand both sides"
The Wandjina helps us lead our lives in a good way. our teenagers are reading about it, growing up with their culture. The knowledge put in their minds, settles them down, especially the young teenagers. It makes me happy to see them accept the meaning. We teach them about their lives by touching their hearts and stopping the foolishness."
Alison has visited her grandmother's country, Worrorra, where she visited the Wandjinas in the caves. Alison remembers "I felt right at home and relaxed. I remember my grandfather used to paint the Wandjinas, the paint had faded and he would repaint them. It's old country and the old spirit. We are looking after him (the wandjina). To go to the caves you need to have an old person with you, someone like Donny (Woolagoodja) You can't just go there."
Alison helps out at the annual Mowanjum Festival helping children make totems, which are used as part of the ceremonial dress at the festival. "In annual events like these, culture is passed down. We are proud of what we are doing at the art centre. As parents, we can see that the children know what they are doing and they know the meaning. They can see and feel it."