At the end of May, the supreme national Indigenous arts awards “ the Red Ochres “ were handed out by the Australia Council. And the senior, peer-reviewed award went to artist Hector Tjupuru Burton from Tjala Arts in Amata, South Australia. The old man took home a richly deserved $50,000, not only for his painting, but for his cultural leadership which helped to start the men painting in a community where it had only been done by women before 2003.

The Red Ochre citation read: Hector Burton is a Pitjanjatjarra elder in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of Central Australia. His work has been shown in exhibitions since 2003, in cities across Australia and overseas. His first solo exhibition was held in Melbourne in 2004. Hector’s paintings are held in the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Galleries of South Australia and New South Wales, also Flinders University. Hector has been a finalist for the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in 2011 and 2012. A curator, teacher and Christian Minister, Hector is revered as a caretaker of Anangu law and culture “ especially the Caterpillar Dreaming.

In recent years, Burton has become concerned about the revelation of secret material in Aboriginal art and exhibitions. His own work has tended to feature desert trees and landscapes rather than references to aspects of the Caterpillar Dreaming; and recently, he became involved in opposition to the important Ngintaka Dreaming exhibition at the SA Museum in Adelaide. This story of the Perentie Man who pursued and stole the ultimate grinding stone for his wife to make better seed cakes covers 800 kms of the APY Lands and went well beyond Burton’s traditional authority.

Previous winners of the Red Ochre award “ which has been given since 1993 – include the artists Mick Namarari, Johnny Bulunbulun and Banduk Marika, legends Gawirrin Gumana and David Gulpilil, theatre people Bob Maza and Justine Saunders, musicians Archie Roach and Seaman Dan, and the playwright Jimmy Chi.

Two Fellowships of $45,000 a year for two years went to Melbourne musos, Bart Willoughby and Dave Arden. Willoughby was a founding member of No Fixed Address and has been a featured artist in the Black Arm Band. He was the first Indigenous artist to record on the Melbourne Town Hall organ and his project involves a series of concerts which will feature him playing the organ and promote his album, We Still Live On inspired by the instrument.

Dave Arden has worked with many bands, including Hard Time Band, Koori Youth Band and Mixed Relations, and has written and performed numerous songs. For his fellowship he’ll develop and perform original songs with stories about five generations of his family, called The Dave Arden Kokatha/Gunditjmara Songman and Storyteller Showcase.

The Dreaming Award provides $20,000 to a young artist aged 18-26 to create a serious body of work through mentoring or partnerships. It went to interdisciplinary artist Tyrone Sheather who is a Gumbaynggir artist from the NSW Northern Rivers region working within different media including photography, film, projection art, paint, textiles and dance. Tyrone made his first film entirely in Gumbaynggirr Language in 2008, and it won Best Short Film and People’s Choice at the Local Clapper Film Festival. The Wijiirrjagi is still being used for language teaching by Muurrbay Language Centre and for cultural consciousness training. He was artistic director in the inter-arts program, Giinagay Gumbaynggirr, and he recently staged a photographic exhibition, Dreaming Aloud, bringing a contemporary view to the original stories of Gumbaynggirr country and those of his great-grandfather.