Martumili Artists Indigenous Wills Project 2008

By Gabrielle Sullivan on 31st December 2008

In November 2008 Arts Law and Martumili Artists travelled to remote Aboriginal Communities in the East Pilbara including Kunawarritji, Punmu, Parnngurr and Jigalong to draft wills with Martu artists.

As currently most Indigenous artists die intestate, which results in significant difficulties for the Indigenous art centres and Indigenous communities more broadly, the project aims to educate artists about wills and looking after the income from their art into the future. By drafting wills with artists, the project aims to reduce the conflicts in communities as well as the delays involved in distribution of intestate estates.

Over forty wills were written with the artists during the week long trip. The artists were receptive to the idea and took the process seriously. Rennette Biljabu from Punmu Community worked with Robyn Ayres and Kyas Sheriff from Arts Law to interpret and translate for the artists. Majorie Yates, Dulcie Gibbs, Nola Taylor, Linda James, Diane Marney and Darlene Richards also provided invaluable assistance in translating during the process. Confidentiality was discussed and people who would benefit under a will were not involved in drafting those wills.

Rennette Biljabu explains, ‘I learnt how to take instructions so that the lawyer can write the will for the artists. The artists understood the process with my assistance. I could tell the lawyer what the artists were saying. Through me the artists communicated back to the lawyer what they felt about the process, the more will instructions I took the more confident I became. I learnt from the lawyer and I learnt from the old artists.’

There are still more wills to be drafted for Martu artists and Martumili will work with artists in 2009 and to complete them.

This project would not have been possible without the generous support of BHP Billiton via their partnership with Martumili Artists, Arts Law, the Pilbara Development Commission and the support and hospitality of the communities visited.


Gabrielle Sullivan is the manager for Martumili Artists

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