Wayne Martin Maranganji ✿ Painting culture, painting country

Angie Faye Martin

1 June 2024

Angie Faye Martin, John Hendry Martin, Wayne Maranganji Martin, Wayne Martin, Maranganji Country, 1994

Angie Faye Martin writes about a cattleman painter, who connects to their shared Country through his art and commissions.

When I look at Wayne’s paintings, I feel a deep sense of calm. I get lost in the patterns and the flow of the brush strokes and it always makes me think “I’m home”.

Wayne Martin (Maranganji, Mardigan), a multidisciplinary artist from Cunnamulla, Queensland, is a painter, dancer, and yidikai player whose artistic pursuits are inspired by a deep love for Country, Maranganji Country.

Maranganji Country is in what nowadays most people refer to as South-West Queensland. It stretches from Quilpie to Cheepie and Beechal, along the Paroo River to Eulo, and along the Bulloo River south to near Thargomindah. It’s semi-arid country dotted with mulga trees, sandalwood, gidgee and red river gums. An abundance of birdlife, including brolgas, emus and wedge-tailed eagles inhabit this area, along with unique varieties of fauna such as bilbies, echidnas, inland taipan and the deadly king brown.

It’s the kind of place you need to tread gently to appreciate the patterns of colours, shapes and forms, and the sheer vastness of the landscape: the wide-open blue sky that becomes an endless canopy of twinkling lights at night; the ground that changes from red soil to a blanket of purple or yellow as the rains come in spring and wildflowers blossom; the gentle flow of the muddy brown waters; and the exquisite birdlife that sing and fish along their banks. It is beautiful country.

Wayne Martin, Yamal Bugili (Murray Cod & Yabbies), 90cm x 70cm, acrylic on linen canvas

When I asked Wayne what inspired his art, he told me it was his deep love for country.

The land means everything to me. It’s a place where I feel grounded, a place where I feel free, a place where I call home. Country is where I get my strength to keep my spirit strong and healthy. I love the Mardigan Maranganji land that my ancestors cared for before me and I always have the utmost respect and care for the land when I’m on Country and when I go visit. I will always have a strong connection to the land because my blood; it comes from country, mother earth, Mardigan Maranganji land. I have a place where I can recharge my spirit, my soul.

It’s natural that Wayne’s paintings make me feel like I’m home because his artistic inspiration is mostly drawn from the land, and his country (Maranganji), is close to mine (Kooma).

When we were children, my father would often take us out camping and fishing on these lands. You see, Wayne is my younger cousin (his mother and my father are first cousins), so when school holidays came around, we would set off on the road out west bursting with anticipation for all the adventures that lay ahead, swimming in the deep cool rivers, sliding down steep mudbanks for childhood thrills, catching yabbies with chunks of old meat, and laying on the sand hills to gaze up into the night time skies.

I’ve watched my cousin’s career grow over the years and admired how he’s maintained strong connections to culture, family and country.

Like many cousins, Wayne and I grew apart and moved away from our childhood homes. We travelled and pursued careers interstate. At the age of 19 Wayne, under the guidance of his uncle, became a cultural teacher with young Indigenous kids throughout New South Wales before moving on to Uluru where he further developed his passion for sharing culture. He became a cultural activities manager there and guided small groups in yarning and storytelling, boomerang and spear throwing, painting and artworks.

In 2016, Wayne performed in a short film Love is Like Water directed by Carl Emerton, which took him all the way to France where he received awards at the Nice International Film Festival.

Directed by Carl Emerton with performance from Wayne Maranganji Martin, Love is Like Water, film 2016

He came home and settled into family life, giving cultural talks and yidaki playing at the Dreamtime Centre in Rockhampton. Then he connected more with Country through his work with Ausecology, where he did back-burning and land care, while also managing the Dukes Plains cattle station outside of Theodore. On the station, he oversaw their rotational grazing program, frequently moving groups of stock through smaller paddocks so the cattle have less impact on the environment, and caring for cultural sites on the property.

Our paths started crossing once more, first in Melbourne, then in Uluru and now we’re both living in South-East Queensland again. Wayne recently came and stayed with my husband and I at our home in Redcliffe, and over endless cups of tea and yarning, we talked about everything from art, to food, to just getting by in life, and staying positive through the challenging times. Like many people, including myself, Wayne gets strength from his art.

It’s peaceful for me and I am able to reflect through my painting, because I don’t live on Country, so this keeps me grounded and still connected.

When I first started writing fiction, I also experienced this surge of spiritual strength. I gave up smoking and felt a renewed sense of purpose. Wayne tells me that when he paints he feels connected to a source that gives him clarity and strength. I can relate to this.

Wayne says he often doesn’t plan too much before he starts a piece of art. He will usually set aside a morning or afternoon when he knows he won’t be distracted too much by everyday activities. He will create space preferably in a quiet place, like on the back deck of his home, and prepare his canvas, paints and brushes. He only works with the best quality products and his canvasses are cotton duck grown and woven in India, primed with three coats of archival gesso that make the perfect backdrop for acrylic paints.

Sometimes, if he’s been commissioned to create a particular work, the client will put forward colour preferences, but often, he selects his colour scheme depending on which shades he feels drawn to on that day. Once centred in front of his canvas, the design will emerge in his mind: a turtle, or an eagle, a meeting place, a tree, a series of animal prints in the dirt, a river flowing, or a still lake.

Everything has a flow and a meaning. The significance may not be immediately apparent, but as with all art forms, when one clears the mind and connects to a deeper source of inspiration, the meaning emerges,takes shape, and becomes understood when it is meant to.

The stories have been given to me and I get a vision of these stories and I paint that vision on canvas. What you see on canvas is what I see in my visions.

In our culture, as in many Indigenous cultures around the world, we are taught that we must care for the land. Simply put, we see the land as our mother who gives us everything we need to live and grow, and in return, we have to look after her by not taking more than can be easily replenished in a cycle, treading across her surface with care, using fire to regenerate certain areas, honouring her wisdom and generosity through our art, song and dance; and creating stories so that generations to come also carry this respect for the land. This is our Dreaming.

Bill Gammage in The Biggest Estate on Earth, touches on these principles when he describes the Dreaming:

In its notions of time and soul, its demand to leave the world as found, and its blanketing of land and sea with totem responsibilities, it is ecological. Aboriginal landscape awareness is rightly seen as drenched in religious sensibility, but equally the Dreaming is saturated with environmental consciousness. Theology and ecology is fused.

Or perhaps more simply put, Bruce Pascoe wrote the following in Dark Emu:

If we are to attempt to understand Indigenous philosophy it has to begin with the profound obligation to land.

Traditional ways of life have been ravaged by colonisation, and the land theft, grief, trauma and disconnection that came with it disrupted so much that we hold sacred. Still, there are lessons that have carried through and deep knowledge that can still be found if we listen closely enough. As Debra Dank, a Gudanji woman who recently shared her powerful life story in We Come With This Place says:

Listen well when this country is telling you our story. Listen with your feet in the sand and your heart in your hands and give it over to this country. She deserves it most.

Today, Wayne makes regular trips back out to Country, sharing his art and culture, often taking his two daughters so they learn and grow in culture and remain connected to Country. He regularly performs at cultural events in Quilpie, the main town on Maringanji Country, such as during their NAIDOC Week ceremony.

It’s important to keep the stories alive and my art is one way for me to share my stories. Also, I have gained knowledge around what I have been taught from the elders and this is how I am able to share my artwork with my two daughters, May May and Gabiyra, and also with others who are wanting to connect as well. 

In 2019, Wayne designed the Premiership ring for the NRL and the base of the statue of Jonathan Thurston which stands in front of the new football stadium in Townsville. More recently, Wayne has produced art for Affinity Diamonds, and others further afield in Spain, Italy, Canada and the United States. One of his paintings hangs on the wall of US Governor Christopher Waller’s home.

My art means everything to me, it’s showing my country, expressing myself, it’s sharing stories from Country. It’s who I am. It tells stories and this reflects in my art works. When I paint my body with ochre paint for ceremony I become part of the land. I am connected!

Wayne’s interest in learning new stories, his respect for elders and knowledge holders, and his deep appreciation for land make him a sought-after community representative. He collaborates locally on many projects where he shares his culture and stories, recently working with Health Workforce Queensland to share Indigenous cultural ways with recently graduated medical professionals so they have a better understanding of Aboriginal values before working in the community.

Wayne Maranganji Martin, Community Connection, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 1m + 3m

Follow @gatyin_aboriginal_art and like RainbowGatyin.

About Angie Faye Martin

Angie Faye Martin (Kooma/Kamilaroi/European) is a writer/editor now living on Gubbi Gubbi Country (Redcliffe). She has a Bachelor of Public Health, a Masters of Anthropology, and an ever-growing passion for fiction. Her work has appeared in Meanjin, The Rocks Remain and the Saltbush Review. Angie was the recipient of the Inaugural HarperCollins First Nations Commercial Fiction Fellowship in 2019 for an early draft of Melaleuca, a crime thriller which will be published in 2025. Visit versedwritings.com and angiefaye.net.

Angie Martin ✿ At home on Country

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  • Carl Emerton says:

    A truly positive article about Country and a man that thrives from his connection to it. It was great to get an insight into his achievements.