Balgo/Wirrimanu is in the news in a number of places currently. While the earliest work from the community – lost for many years – has just gone on show at the South Australian Museum,  and a book is to follow, the Art Gallery of NSW has just reopened with an exhibition dedicated to the excellent Purple House organisation and its current campaign for a permanent dialysis centre at Balgo.

Though based in Alice Springs, the Purple House is dedicated to solving the desert diabetes crisis across huge areas of central Australia. A couple of trucks are on tour constantly to communities where no permanent dialysis set-up has been established. But in 18 remote communities, some form of permanent treatment allows residents to stay on Country rather than head for Alice Springs or Adelaide, cut off from family and support networks, and the sustenance that merely being on their own land supplies.

It is one of the mysteries for many of us that neither the administrative body for desert art centres – Desart – or the almost 50-year old Papunya Tula Artists organisation has succeeded in providing refuges in Alice for their artists who still need to come to town, where they are so vulnerable to both humbugging and carpet-bagging.

But it was the PTA artists themselves who kicked off the project that’s grown into the Purple House. Twenty-one years ago, senior artists including Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, Naata Nungurrayi and Bobby West Tjupurrula painted significant collaborative artworks at Kintore and Kiwirrkurra to raise funds to start the project off in their communities. An auction at the Art Gallery of NSW brought in substantial funds. Though sadly, I note in the Gallery that all but a handful of those artists have died since then.

An individual artist like Patrick Tjungarrayi also donated a powerful work that became the design for one side of the first Purple House truck. Now, these works and more are on show again at the AGNSW until February, with a background on the whole project.

This is partly because Tjungarrayi’s last wish before he died – on Country – was to expand the network of permanent dialysis centres to Ernabella, Nyrripi and Balgo. Ernabella is now open and Nyrripi is underway. But the last was often his home, and his brother, Helicopter Tjungarrayi still paints there. And the Purple House needs new money to get Balgo happening. So it’s currently running a fund-raising exercise for that particular centre – a very worthwhile exercise.

Chuck in folks! And learn more about Holistic Care with the Purple House’s Sarah Brown and Bobby West Tjupurrula on Tuesday 26th at 7.30pm, AEST