Kununurra is the main town in the eastern part of Australia’s Kimberley. When Ruth and I arrived there on Saturday, May 17, 2014, winter was beginning and “the Wet” was not entirely over. The temperature was about 100 degrees. This is as good as it gets in the afternoon in this vast area considered one of the Earth’s last true frontiers where crocodiles vastly outnumber people. It’s beautiful but difficult to live there.
When we arrived in Kununurra, we didn’t know that the Ord Valley Muster, a 2 week festival now in its 14th year, was underway. During the Muster concerts, sporting events, and activities occur every day. Ruth and I looked at the program. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit in the rodeo or the almost sold-out concert by John Williamson, who appeared to be an Australian George Strait, etc. We could, however, attend Jazz and Modern Art in the Kimberley that evening.
Jazz and Modern’s description in the program promised, “Artopia will be transformed into a New Orleans jazz bar!” Artopia turned out to be a regional art gallery and gift shop. It was also a fine place for a party where the guests included about 50 locals, most of them couples who were living in Kununurra due to jobs in energy or mining, and 2 Americans. Many of the women, including the sole singer Sassy Catch (stage name for Tarnia Lynn Coppers), were dressed in 1920s attire. But not Ruth, who fretted that she didn’t fit in. I was dressed like all the other men, who were mostly drinking beer instead of wine, talking about Australian rules football, and telling me that there wasn’t much to do in Kununurra.
After Sassy entertained, we were told to go to the other large room in Artopia where we’d find 2 large blank canvases, one labeled HIS and the other HERS. We were told to cover the canvases with acrylic paint and that at the end of the evening both paintings would be auctioned off and the money donated to charity.
One woman immediately drew large female lips on HERS and Ruth filled in a face. Ruth was already bonding with all the other woman present, especially Nadeen Lovell, former Artopia owner and a noted Kimberley artist. Within 20 minutes the female canvas was half-full of flowers, hearts, butterflies, etc. while the men’s was still blank. So I painted a squiggly line and a hand in the center and went to get a drink. By the time I returned, the men were lined up to add fish, trees, the Bungle Bungles (local mountains that look like giant beehives), etc. to HIS.
Shock and awe occurred when I realized that the man who outbid all others for HIS, Tony Rooke, was the first man I had talked to that evening. If you had asked me to point to the man least likely to contribute to and then bid on HIS, I would have said, without hesitation, “Tony”.
The women’s painting, seen above, sold for about twice the men’s. If you’re throwing a party, especially a large one where you want to encourage bonding more than socializing, buy plenty of wine and beer and set up 2 blank canvases.