October 15, 2007
An article in the Australian about Helen Read and Didgeri Air Tours.
Quoted from article:
Thirteen years ago, Helen Read conceived Didgeri Air Art Tours as a way of introducing travellers to indigenous art through direct contact with communities and their artists. Today she organises five trips a year, each for a maximum of nine people, to the Kimberley, the central and western deserts, Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands.
The price tag is steep, at $7850 for five days, starting from Alice Springs or Darwin, but attracts a loyal clientele who often book a second trip (NSW Governor Marie Bashir has been on several Didgeri journeys).
Inevitably, Didgeri’s clientele includes private collectors keen to buy work at the source. Five of my companions are repeat customers expanding their collections; they display a well-informed awareness of artists’ styles and progress through exhibition and awards. But there is absolutely no pressure to buy. Read is more than happy if her clients just look and learn.
A petite, British-born nurse, Read worked in Africa and gained a pilot’s licence before relocating to Australia. She worked as a midwife with the Pintupi people, and she has the steely determination of those formidable 19th-century British female explorers such as Mary Kingsley, who fought off crocodiles in West Africa and fell into jungle traps protected only by the thickness of a wool skirt and voluminous petticoats.
Efficient, practical and passionate, Read never seems to wilt in the heat. (She is not flying the plane herself only because she’s recovering from a bout of chronic fatigue, though you would never guess it from her unflagging stamina.) She carries enough supplies to feed an army, preparing morning and afternoon tea laid out on a proper tablecloth, no matter where we are. Her library of books, articles and catalogues makes flying time useful for background research.
When no one else’s mobile phone works, she manages to call ahead to our destination, ensuring that we are met everywhere punctually; she briefs us on arrival, reminding us of where we have just landed and which tribal group we will meet. She is greeted in the communities with warmth and respect, a trusted intermediary between two worlds often estranged from each other, each bewildered by the other’s language, customs and laws.