Local Insights – Kangaroo Island, SA
Known as Karta or "Island of the Dead” by mainland Aboriginal people, Kangaroo Island was uninhabited when European colonists first visited the island, however there is evidence that Aboriginal people lived there prior to their arrival. Located just 15km off the coast of South Australia, Kangaroo Island is one of the world’s great nature destinations. It is also home to a plethora of artists who are keen to share their work with the many tourists who visit each year. Much of the island was destroyed in the January 2020 bushfires, and the COVID-19 lockdown has served to compound the economic impacts. Speaking with passionate locals is an emotional experience, the loss is great, but so is their vision for the future.
RAA: What do you miss?
Janine Mackintosh (Artist Website): Since this summer’s catastrophic fires, which burnt neatly half the island, I’ve missed being able to explore the wild west. The island’s iconic Flinders Chase National Park was completely incinerated (and is now shut), along with eight other conservation parks and vast areas of beloved private bushland. The recovery will take many, many years and some species may have been lost forever. It saddens me that I’ll never see it as old country again and that the rich complexity of one of Australia’s biological hotspots has been compromised. As islanders our identity and pride was entwined with our reputation as a wilderness haven.
Kathie Stove (Kangaroo Island in writing): I do miss sitting and yakking with people without conscious pause on space and touching. The world of today demands serious and prolonged round-table discussion. Our Art Museum group is just about to start community consultation and we are doing webinars to help us to do that online. If we do it well, people should enjoy participating without having to venture out into the cold and wet.
RAA: What do you need?
Janine Mackintosh: Kangaroo Island really needs a regional art gallery. A high proportion of islanders are artists and we need a beautiful secure space where we can house an historic and contemporary collection of island art. We need to be able to welcome travelling exhibitions and host artists-in-residence from around the world. We need a dynamic cultural centre where we can come together to share stories about this special place, both within our community, and also with visitors who come to the island. We need to heal and process what has happened, create a vision for our future and strengthen the economy of the island by broadening the attractions for tourism.
Kathie Stove: I need to go to an art gallery and sit in front of an Emily Kame Kngwarreye painting for about two hours (after that I would have to go for a wee, but I could return). I do need to regain a certain amount of oomph. I need to practise mindfulness. I would say that the iso has exacerbated my weaknesses: anxiety, depression, poor concentration; I need to get them back to low levels. I need people to get enthusiastic about our Art Museum project and contribute to our community consultation.
RAA: What does a vibrant cultural landscape in your region of Australia look like?
Janine Mackintosh: Kangaroo Island has a creative community, which isn’t surprising. There’s a lot of space in which to play, on average one square kilometre each. There’s plenty of natural inspiration and not a lot of other distractions ‘laid on’. It’s a DIY kind of place. Large group exhibitions are held regularly (the Easter Art Exhibition has been held for more than 30 years) with the island’s unique environment featuring strongly in the subjects and themes.
Kathie Stove: The visual art of Kangaroo Island is rich and excellent – in community practice and in the professionals who are inspired by this place … But it is not well known beyond our shores … The Art Museum of Kangaroo Island would be a catalyst for promoting the art of and from the island in a purpose-built gallery. It would have the workshops and studios, and views, to attract artists-in-residence who can share their art practice with us, and enthuse and upskill island artists. To help us believe in ourselves again.