Karen Bird Ngale - Alpar Story
Mainie Australia - Alpar Story Painting
Artwork Name: Alpar story
Artist: Karen Bird Ngale
Size: 45cm x 120cm loose canvas
Karen paints the story of the rat-tail goosefoot or green crumbweed plant (Dysphania Kalpari). In Karen’s language it is called alpar. This small, erect herb is sticky to touch and scented heavily of citrus. Growing especially well in Mulga tree communities, it is found in abundance in Karen’s home in the Utopia Region, north east of Alice Springs. It produces small clustered flowers that form long spikes, resembling that of a rat tail, as well as small black shiny seeds. These seeds are high in protein and low in fibre. Due to the sticky nature of this plant, the seeds are not shed as soon as the mature making them available much later in the season than most other plants.
In the olden days, the women if Ilkawerne country would collect these seeds, sometimes soak them in waster until swollen and cooked in hot coals, and then grind them into a powder that was used for making damper bread. This practice is not as habitual now due to readymade bread however the story is continually taught to the younger ones and ceremonies are carried out to ensure its productivity. The scented leaves of the alpar were also collected, soaked in water, and used as a medicinal wash. Alternatively, they would be ground into a powder and mixed with animal fats for use as an ointment, making this plant a very important food and medicinal source.
In Karen’s painting, the dot work represents the dry seeds if the alpar, ready to be collected. The linear pattern denotes the awelye (women’s ceremonial body paint designs) for ceremonies relating to the Alpar story.