What's better than a gorgeous piece of Indigenous art with the backdrop of the richly coloured Australian desert? Iconic Australian transcontinental train, The Ghan has been transformed into an art piece like no other. Three carriages have been decorated to promote the Parrtjima Festival 2021, which began last Friday 9th of April, and goes for 10 incredible nights. You can find out more about this incredible festival here. The artwork named Crossroads is by Arrernte artist Chantelle Mulladad. This beautiful artwork has not only been displayed on the Ghan but also through a light installation at the Parrtjima Festival.
The Ghan Train showing off the beautiful artwork ‘Crossroads.’ Courtesy of Thrillist, 2021.
Mulladad is from the remote community of Latyentye Apurte, where she works with the Keringke Art Centre. An Art Centre that her mother co-founded. This is the first time that her artwork has been included in the Parrtjima festival and displayed on this scale. Chantelle Mulladad’s painting is perfectly suited to train travel as Crossroads tells the story of journeys (Harmon, 2021). In an interview with the Guardian (2021), Mulladad talks about what her artwork represents:
“‘Crossroads’ was based on my teenage years...I had to choose which path to go on, and I chose the right path to make something of myself and be an artist.”
She goes onto say:
“I think it’s going to be inspiring for the young ones as well, you know? If they see my painting on a train, they might want to decide to be an artist like me – and choose the path too.”
Artist Chantelle Maladad. Courtesy of SBS, 2021.
Crossroads features a collection of circles within circles in beautiful greens, purples, pinks and blues that contrast beautifully against the red earth of the desert. Not only has the outside of the train been decorated, one of the carriages has also been transformed into a spectacular immersive light installation, providing the Ghan passengers with a taste of the Parrtjima Festival (Harmon, 2021) .
Immersive light show experience inside Ghan carriage. Courtesy of Vacations & Travel, 2021.
“It has been a really exciting project for us to bring to life; the juxtaposition of Chantelle Mulladad’s artwork on the train with the Red Centre’s vibrant colours as the backdrop creates a stunning visual as The Ghan travels through the Territory to Alice Springs.” - Executive General Manager at Tourism NT, Tony Quarmby.
This isn’t the first time that The Ghan’s carriages have been decorated, but it's certainly the largest artwork. The 1km long train has been taking passengers between Adelaide and Alice Springs since 1929 and between Adelaide and Darwin since 2004. It is renowned for the unique experience of beautiful Central Australia that it provides. The Ghan takes its name from 19th century Afghan camel drivers, who once explored Australia’s remote centre. You can see the camel represented in the Ghan’s logo and also through Muladad’s installation at the Parrtjima Festival. The artwork is a part of the 'Merging Kultcha' installation at the festival. It shows a train of five illuminated camels, each over three metres high and built in a mosaic of coloured class (Harmon, 2021).
‘Merging Kultcha’ Installation at Parrtjima Festival. Courtesy of the Guardian, 2021.
The Parrtjima Festival is a reminder that stories were once told in a very different format, with sand ceremonies once being common in the Central Desert. Art then moved onto canvases and now we are using trains and light displays. As times and artistic mediums have progressed, one element has stayed the same: in Indigenous culture each piece of art tells an important story. Art reflects the land and is a crucial part of learning and cultural continuation. As said by Chantelle Mulladad in an interview with SBS News (2021):
“I get my inspiration from going out bush and seeing the colours of the land and hearing and talking stories.”