FROM Sydney's Pitt Street to Perth's Fremantle, 10 Aboriginal women from the Simpson Desert are about to stamp their mark on one of capitalism's most ubiquitous symbols, the automatic teller machine
     The project to decorate National Australia Bank ATMs around the nation is not just practical, but also symbolic for the enterprising women of the Titjikala Arts Centre
     As the women yearn for independence and freedom from annual cycles of government funding, the NAB project has indirectly brought unexpected cultural riches, with indigenous stories, told in Arrernte, Pitjantjatjara and English, tumbling out as paintings develop on canvas
     Young Titjikala woman Lisa "Makinti" Wilyuka, one of the artists of the works that will provide a decorative "skin" for NAB ATMs in major cities and towns, said: "It's been a time when the ladies get together; we laugh, we have fun, we tell jokes. We tell stories, we learn from the old ladies." Nora Campbell is in her early 60s and used to herd sheep for the Maryvale Station, 130km south of Alice Springs and close to Titjikala. Her painting is an explosion of colour, typical of the contemporary style of Titjikala works that echo the history of its people's movement during the years of central Australian frontier violence. Many in the community are former station workers who found themselves forced on to welfare with the advent of land rights in the Northern Territory, as the station jobs dried up
     Titjikala Arts Centre manager Jane Easton said: "Their paintings tend not to focus on traditional styles. They are explorative, creative. There is a range of styles from the Western Desert to the Santa Teresa influence." The NAB commissioned the 10 artworks after forming a relationship with the central Australian community during the shooting of its successful Auskick commercial. The project was an initiative of two women who work in marketing at the bank -- Siobhan Forbes and Michelle Farkas -- but the commitment from the nation's largest bank of forming partnerships with indigenous communities has been driven from the top
     NAB chief executive Ahmed Fahour is a member of the federal Government's Australian Social Inclusion Board, created in May
     He knows what it is to struggle. As a child, Mr Fahour would sometimes watch his father, Abdel, a cleaner, toil at night scrubbing an NAB branch in Melbourne's north
     Lebanese-born, Melbourne-raised Mr Fahour said he would never forget the family's disappointment when his father was refused a loan by a big bank
     Mr Fahour said the ATM project was a small way that a large corporation could fulfil its obligations to the community
     "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the terrible situation our indigenous people find themselves in is one (issue) that is the responsibility of us all," he said. The NAB's partnerships with remote communities extends beyond Titjikala
     Mr Fahour will travel to Groote Eylandt, off the eastern coast of Arnhem Land, this month for the opening of a new branch of the Traditional Credit Union, an indigenous financial institution that is being expanded with $1 million provided by NAB as an interest-free loan
     NAB has paid market rate -- $3750 for each painting -- for the works that will decorate its ATMs. There is a roughly 60-40 split of the profits from the sale of each painting between the artist and the arts centre. The bank hopes to commission more works on an ongoing basis
     The Titjikala artworks will initially decorate ATMs in the CBD and Bondi Junction in Sydney; St Kilda's Acland Street and Collins and Bourke streets in Melbourne; New Farm in Brisbane; the Todd Mall in Alice Springs; Perth's Fremantle and St Georges Terrace; and King William Street in Adelaide
     Titjikala's former local council chief executive Harry Scott said the community was previously heavily dependent on jobs in Community Development Employment Projects, the Aboriginal work-for-the-dole scheme recently reinstated in remote communities. Out of a population of 250 people, there were 105 CDEP places
     Even though CDEP was officially reinstated by the Rudd Government on July 1, federal departments, with little fanfare and no publicity, have quietly been providing communities funding for "real jobs" with award-based wages and conditions. The Department of Workplace Relations has come up with $85,000 to pay the salary of the art centre's manager, and the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has provided funding to replace the arts centre's former CDEP jobs with six part-time positions. Combined with partnerships with corporations such as NAB, it is starting to look like a remote Australian welfare revolution
     "I think there's a need for governments to create more scope for this sort of thing to happen," Mr Scott said. "Instead of being out there in front, they need to be in the background. Really in the long-term, projects like this are where the community will get their experience of working with private enterprise and the real economy." Mr Scott said an organisation such as NAB was in a much better position to develop a long-term relationship with a community that a government was, because its funds were "not tied to a 12-month program"
     Ms Wilyuka said the women artists had already held meetings to discuss their plans for arts-oriented business ideas following the NAB ATM project
     "What we have learned is that sometimes government will fund for stuff, and sometimes they won't," she said. "It's something that's happened to us before, that made us want to stand up, and stand on our own." Natasha Robinson travelled to Titjikala as a guest of NAB


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