Chapter 5

Using Video for Documentation

Philippa Cullen

Over the late 1960s-early 1970s the young dancer and choeographer Philippa Cullen [1] trained at the Bodenwieser Dance Studio (City Rd, Sydney) with Keith Bain [2], Margaret Chapple and Jacqui Carroll. She was also a student at the University of Sydney, graduating in Fine Arts, Italian and Medieval History in 1970, and had become deeply interested in the communal function of dance as represented in the medieval Mummers (travelling actors presenting their plays in the towns of medieval Europe) and in African and other traditional societies.

When the video portapak became available in Australia around 1970 among its early use in the arts the documentation of Philippa's works (c. 1969-72) is of considerable importance, although she didn't actually use video herself. The actual video makers would have included students in the Fine Arts Workshop at the University and others such as Doug Richardson, who had become involved with several artists (among them Bush Video) in his early computer grpahic development.

During that period she ran improvisation workshops at the University and became involved with Greg Schiemer, a composer who was becoming active in experimental music in Sydney at the time, and winsome Evans of The Renaissance Players who had worked with Philippa during her studies with Frederick May.

She was also interested in the use of new technologies in performance, particularly those, such as the theremin, that allowed her to make sound directly from the dancer's movements, and was working “towards a new medium in which dance is inseparable [from] technology, music and lighting”.[1] As Jacqui Carroll later said of her work: Cullen was mainly interested in the process of dance, the process of experiment.[2]

In mid 1969 Donald Brook (then a lecturer in the Fine Arts Department) introduced Philippa to an interactive environment based on a theremin [3] that a small collective of electrical engineers interested in the arts, Optronic Kinetics (David Smith, Jim McDonnell and Kaz Kondziolka), had built at the University's Fine Arts Workshop. The unnamed responsive installation was set in a room with a grid of black and white tiles spread over the walls which were lit with UV light. As far as can be determined the Optronic Kinetics installation used a wire strung along the wall of one of the Fine Arts Workshop studio spaces. This would have been her first experience of non-televisual use of the video screen. According to David Smith:

“It consisted of a dark room in which was placed a cathode ray screen controlled by a radio frequency device sensitive to movement. As one moved about the room a wave pattern changed form on the screen and a sound of varying pitch was emitted from the device called a theremin. The room was bathed in ultraviolet light which caused a matrix of phosphorescent squares to glow in the darkness.”[4]

McDonnell attached the beat frequency audio signal output from the theremin [Fig.1] to an amplifier so that it produced the usual distorted sine-wave squealing as one walked nearer to it. Smith described it as being quite raucous.[5] Kondziolka added a circuit to amplify this signal from the theremin to drive the deflection coils of (again, according to Smith):

Fig.1: Block diagram of the Theremin.

“an old colour television set ... modulat[ing] the field producing a rotating Lissajous figure used in engineering to detect phase change”.[6]

However, since this was well before the days of colour TV in Australia, in a conversation with Kondziolka he told me that it was actually a black and white TV with a colour wheel of the three primary colours set up in front of it, spinning at a rate synchronised with the theremin frequency to produce coloured Lissajous patterns, changing and swirling as the viewer moved around in the antenna fields of the theremin. However, the colour wheel, being quite large became very easily unbalanced and ended by smashing.[7]

Cullen was evidently quite inspired by the installation and mentioned it in a notebook from the period:[8]

“David Smith, electrical engineer, constructed an “objet d’art” for the Fine Arts workshop which reacts by light & noise to any interference. He wants to compose music for ballet.”[9]

She then engaged David Smith to help her develop a system that dancers could use. She says, in the 1973 report:[10]

“I suggested that we find a way in which the whole body could be used to create the sound. The engineers were not at all sure that a large aerial would work or how big the range would be, but after much encouragement from me we found that a triangle of copper wire produced an electro-magnetic field that covered the whole stage. So my first major ballet, Electronic Aspects, was built around this triangle antenna with the sound merely an oscillating sine tone where each movement caused a change in the pitch.”[11]

The ballet she made for the theremin was called Electronic Aspects. There is no known video documentation of it, however Philippa's notebook has several pages of movement guidelines for each of the dancers in the ballet. [12] Fig.2.

Fig.2: Cullen's choreographic note for Jacqui Carroll's movements in Electronic Aspects.
Note the triangular drawings indicating the placement of the theremin antennae
around which the dancers would move.

Soon after this she began working on another ballet called Utter (1971-72) and a second which became Homage to Theremin II (1972). There is video documentation of both of these.

Utter was choreographed for the 1971 Ballet Australia Choreographic Competition. Based on phonemes from the four languages that George Alexander, her partner at the time, spoke. Utter “explored the use of the voice as a sound source for dance” and received a special mention in the competition [Carroll, 1975]. Cullen presented Utter again in April, 1972 for AZ Music’s Sound Ventures III. As one reviewer described, the sound came directly from the four dancers who

“hissed, chanted, droned, whispered and shrieked their own stream-of-consciousness accompaniment as they pranced around in a cleared space in the centre of the auditorium … It was full of vitality, sometimes as beautiful as a temple frieze, sometimes deliberately ugly, occasionally just for fun.” [13]

Phillipa wrote, in the program notes for the AZ Music Sound Ventures series in which Utter was performed

“ Cage has denied the existence of music itself, if music is considered as hearing isolated from sight, touch, smell, etc.
I deny the importance of dance itself, if dance is considered as movement isolated from voice, touch, sight.
This ballet [Utter] explores the relationship between movement and sound when both are made by the performers who are no longer merely dancers; they have to be musicians and actors as well, just like the commedia dell'arte.
Mostly they interpret instructions given by me beforehand rather than perfect certain steps.
The structure is alogical and depends upon sensory relationships between the performers and the audience.” [14]

An Akai 1/4-inch portapak had become available and was used to record Utter and rehearsals of the later Homage to Theremin II (1972).

Still Frame from Utter
Still Frame from Utter
Figs.3 & 4: Still frames from the video of Utter

The video of Utter begins with credits for the dancers and the sound followed by descriptions of what the dance consists in. Then we open to a stage with a circle of light projected on to it as five young women dancers stream out from backstage and run (while emitting a continuous cry, said to be the word “orgasm”) around the circle to assemble in its centre. They then start a series of angular gestures making various short utterances timed to each gesture. With each gesture they begin to step away from each other, as the disk of light expands. This continues for a minute or so and they end up standing at the four corners of a square with the fifth dancer at the centre. The two dancers in the back corners of the square advance forward to stand behind the two at the front who then bend forward, hands reaching the floor, as the dancer behind each of them begins a drumming action on their lower backs. The dancers, in their forward bend, then stomp away from their corner positions and meet at centre-front where they and the other dancers begin a faster rumbling of their feet on the stage.

The other dancers then begin a series of gestures in which they raise and lower their arms followed by movements raising one leg, as two dancers in the centre go through tilting and rotating motions. During the whole sequence each gesture/motion from each dancer is accompanied by a loudly voiced phoneme. The dancers work back into a cross formation with the centre dancer moving forward to stand behind the one at the front point of the cross. The lights then fade out. Clapping and foot stomping sounds are heard as the light slowly fades up revealing the dancers holding hands, pulling themselves into a circle as the sound becomes increasingly intense at which point they all fall to their knees, crawl around while making swishing sounds that become more articulated, emulating real speech. The crawling becomes more upright and they form two pairs with the stray dancer moving from pair to pair. The sound is now far more articulate though still not understandable. The two pairs and the stray become a pair and a triple and they stand in spotlit areas of the stage. They now move as though they were in a highly gestured conversation and the sound emulates the rhythm of conversation, which almost becomes understandable given the gestural accompaniment. The two groups enter something of a “boxing match” with gestures and stomping that might have come from the actions seen in a fight. This ends up focussing on one dancer who jumps up and breaks the group (now in pairs) which returns to the triple and pair they began as, the triple engaging in laughter and gesture while the pair engage in a tugging of hands and arms swing wildly around as they tug. Ultimately four of the dancers whirl off stage leaving a single one, arms crossed, standing at the focal point. She remains standing there as, in a chorus of voices, the other four stream back onto the stage. They all then engage in individual dance/movement/gestural play, laughing, one crawling, others tumbling as the stage lighting fades and the spotlight returns with the dancers now stalking around it, gestures becoming more tired and drooping, each dancer making “popping” sounds as they collapse into a pile in the spotlight, from which they rise, forming a backward turning circle and unwinding off the stage. Applause. [The dancers were Margaret Knightly, Christine Koltai, Gail Flanagan, Deirdre Evans and Delwyn Rouse.]

Fig.5: Cullen and dancers rehearsing with the theremin antennae for Homage to Theremin II.

The video of Homage to Theremin II (1972) is a rehearsal recording, it does not show the finished coherent dance performance. The four dancers, Philippa Cullen, Jacqui Carroll, Maggie Knightly and Peter Dickson with the sound engineer, Phil Connor, and composer, Greg Schiemer, are working out how to use the four theremin antennae, which were designed by the architect Manuel Noblaza. The video is as much an exploration of possible movements that could trigger the theremins although we are not at all certain where the sound is being triggered from. Two dancers stand on two disc shaped pedestals and as they move, mostly waving arms up and down, the theremin pitch changes in accordance. Jacqui steps down to the floor, walks across to the other pedestal and pulls Beth off it, replacing her. The other dancer walks over and stands under what was called the “bonnet” antenna which consists in a net of wire mesh. The theremin sound rises and lowers in pitch as she moves her hand towards and away from it. Jacqui is then seen on her knees on one of the pedestals, bending down over it and then raising herself. She stands and makes new movements some of which produce sounds – the engineer and composer are still sorting out which antenna make what sounds. For a moment Philippa is seen laying on the floor under a long thin standing metal tube antenna. Following this Jacqui and Philippa engage in a duet, both standing on the one pedestal, arms and legs entwining each other in exquisitely disciplined movement. It is almost a slow struggle to capture the pedestal. They stop and Jacqui moves off to claim the other pedestal. Her movements then appear to reach up to pluck sounds from the air (to use a reviewer's phrase in describing the actual performance) while Philippa coaxes sounds from the long thin wire. The male dancer is then seen under the bonnet. There is also a beam pointing at a photoelectric cell. A dancer could break the beam, stopping and releasing the sound as they moved through it. Finally the dancers engage with and produce more acoustic sounds, hands clapping, a series of pops and then settle back into the work of discovering how their movements can effect the sound.

Cullen then went overseas, returning in 1974 to continue with her experiments in interactive technology and dance.

Mick Glasheen at Uluru

At the beginning of the Yellow House [1971], Juno Gemes, [15] who had recently returned to Sydney, was offered a room there:

“I got a call from Peter Wright and Albie [Thoms], saying, “Marty's got hold of this building. And they want to do an art collective there. And you've got a room there.” And I was just on my way there and I bumped into Mick [Glasheen] walking down McCleay Street, and I was telling him about this dream thing [see below]. Then he says to me, “I just got $3,000 to make this film. I want to make a film on Uluru.” And I said, “That's where I've gotta go, Central Australia. That was my... ” I said, “Shall we do this together? Work on it together?” He said, “Yeah. Absolutely.” So that was it.”[16]

Mick had been living with Juno Gemes, who set up “10 Cunningham St” – an alternative experimental theatre venue/workshop – in Sydney in the late 60s. They were living in Simms St. (in what I always thought was a converted stable) behind Taylor Square in Darlinghurst, in 1966 before she went to England. On her return to Australia in 1971, and with Mick having finished Teleologic Telecast the year before, Glasheen took up Juno's offer to share a room at the Yellow House and establish a workspace there. In the winter of 1971 Juno went out to Uluru – then known as Ayer’s Rock, now returned to the Anangu Pitjantjajara people – in central Australia in pursuit of the resolution of a dream she had had while in the UK. Mick wanted to start working on a film on the ancient stories of Uluru and followed Juno about two weeks later with his modified Bolex 16mm camera to film the lands around Uluru and if possible gather some of its stories, but he didn't take a sound recorder so he had to go out there again in 1972.

There was magic afoot at this time. The “hippie” cultural offshoot that had developed in the mid-60s brought with it new ideas of spirituality, of the histories of various peoples and of their sacred relationship with their lands. It was also, for the young generation at the time, the moment when LSD and the knowledge and new awareness that psychedelic drugs (also known as “entheogens”[17]) were brought to the modern consciousness. [It's not that psychedelics were a new thing though. There is a long history of early peoples using various kinds of botanical drugs, from Cannabis in India to Peyote in Central America, to the Amanita Muscaria mushroom in the old cultures of Europe (which the Roman invaders with their Church so successfully destroyed with their prohibitions on “witches” or women of knowledge in the then pagan cultures of Europe) or the Psilocybe mushrooms that abound in various cultures, to the use of Ayahuasca as a spiritual healing substance by the indigenous people in the Amazon basin of South America.]

This new awareness also engendered a new interest in other aspects of the older, pre-christian, shamanic and “pagan” cultures. In the UK this centred on the megalithic monuments – such as Stonehenge and Avebury – and the spiritual pathways (known as ley-lines) of pre-Roman (Druidic [18]) Britain, while in Australia there were a few people taking an interest in the ancient histories and knowledge of the land held by the indigenous people [the first Australians] of the country.

It also brought a new political awareness, particularly in Australia after years of the conservative Menzies regime. It led many Australians, including Martin Sharp and Richard Neville as well as those mentioned above (John Kirk, David Perry, etc.) to seek out something more than the conservative Australian culture of the time. For them and other artists this involved moving to England to live and work.

Juno Gemes on travelling to Uluru

A prophetic dream … a call, and a moment of synchronicity

WARNING: The following sections contain the names and images of Indigenous people who have died.

Among them was Juno Gemes (who had run 10 Cunningham St (an alternative experimental theatre venue/workshop) in Sydney in the late 60s. In 1966 she went to England to seek out other experimental theatre groups. During this time she also met and worked with John Michel (who researched and wrote View over Atlantis [19] walking the English Ley Lines (Sacred Tracks). “We did a lot of walking of the sacred track, a lot of decoding of sacred sites, a lot of discussion of Ley lines, Glastonbury, The Vale of Avalon. The work done by Stukeley on Avebury.[20]… so that's where I was by this point in my journey.”

She was living with Dave Tomlinson, the violinist from the Third Ear Band, who Juno describes as “totally non-material, another totally impossible genius”. They were staying by the standing stones at Avebury, where, she had a dream.

“And in this dream, we're in central Australia, and there's red dust and shimmering horizons like a miasma. And out of this miasma comes a lawman and he's wearing little shorts and a short sleeved shirt and there's red dust all over him, he's got a beard and a red bandanna, and in his left hand he's holding a sugar bag. He walks towards me and he sits down in the red dirt. He looks up at me, he turns around and he goes thump..thump..thump [Juno imitating the noise of a stick thumping the dirt].

Not knowing what it meant she asked around, but

“before I know it, I have another telegram from my mother that my father's really ill and I must come home immediately. And I'm coming home, and as we're going over Central Australia, and I'm looking at those serpent tracks across it from the air. And this rainbow comes around in the aeroplane. And I'm thinking: “Oh yeah. Anybody else got that?” Nah. Like, what's going on?

It was this dream and her return to Australia that had led Juno and Mick to be working together in the Yellow House and that then led to their journey to Uluru so that Mick could shoot material for his film. Juno continues

“And the deal was he's gonna get the car ready. Jack [Myer] was making the lenses, the time lapse machine. We'd already talked about how the stories are activated by light moving across the landscape. And this is the way traditional people, read it. This is the way we're gonna film it. So we were already talking about those kind of strategies for filming. And at a certain point, I got a tremendous feeling of unease, [that] we can't make it without the people.

“But nobody was thinking very much about the protocols in those days. And I said to Mick: I had to find that man. [It] was a really heartfelt, strong, intuition, if you like, that relates back to my dream. I just felt it, that these things were connected. And I had to find the traditional owners. And I had to ask [for] their engagement in this film because this was their story. This was their land. And people weren't talking like that in '70, '71.

“So I went to Martin, and I said, “Look, I know I'm not doing the thing you want me to do, but Mick's gonna take longer to get everything together. And I actually have to find where the keepers of the stories are. I don't know how I'm gonna find them. But I'm going. I've got to go.

“So I flew to Alice Springs. I had a sleeping bag. I had a little basket full of some clothes. And a candlestick and some matches. And fuck all else. Right?”

And, of course, they found her.

“The first person to pick me up was Sylvester Namatjira. And he said, “Oh you've got to come with us. We're going out to Papunya, and we wanna show you the Seven Sisters, we know …”

But there was a problem with a racist taxi driver and Juno and Sylvester abandoned the taxi and made camp. Juno continues:

“Sylvester said, "We're 100 miles from Papunya." And I said, "I don't care. You wanna tell me about the Seven Sisters, let's make camp and you tell me here." So that's what we did, we made camp, he told me about the Seven Sisters. Next day he hitch-hiked to Papunya, I hitch-hiked back to Alice Springs.

“I got some more food. I was always getting food in boxes, because you have to feed endless numbers of people. You just didn't know. I got a hitch-hike to Ebenezer Downs, which is along the Stuart Highway, and then I started to have this shimmery kind of feeling, and I saw a group just in the little distance. They had windbreaks, made of corrugated iron, around a fireplace. And I just sat down on my swag and I thought I'd just drink the country in, just be where I was for a little while, so I had a few hours like that. And something of the dream was coming to me right there. As the sun started to set, I got up. I did no more than get up, and the kids came running down, and they picked up my swag, and my box of food, and soon I was up at the camp, and I had my own windbreak, and I had a mug of tea in my hand. And Mary leans over to me and she said, “You arrived in Alice Springs three days ago. We've been watching you. We know who you're looking for. He'll be here by and by.”

“Then after a few days she said, “You got to put on your best clothes, you're a young unmarried woman. You sit right up the back, you don't move until I tell you.” So we're sitting in this formation of the elder women up the front, the married young ones, young ones unmarried at the back, and up he came. Up through the red dirt the red bandanna, the beard...

“It was him. As in my dream. And he sat down with his back slightly to the women, and he was speaking in Pitjantjajara, and telling funny stories about who is doing what, and where they're all planning to go, da, da, da. And that went on for about an hour, and then he got up to leave. And I thought, “Oh my God, he's gonna leave, and this is... What's gonna happen?” And then he came back again the next day, and we went through it all again. But this time, he turned around, he looked straight to me. “You come sit here.” It was a call. You do that in any traditional community, they'll tell you what it means straight away. It's a call.

“So I went and sat beside him. He said, “You come stay with me.” I actually had a dream about Uluru being like the navel of the Earth somewhere along the line. I think just the night before he came. And that there'd been some cataclysm and it'd come out and become visible. And he looked at me and said, “Don't think too much about that one. You come stay with me”. And “staying with me” meant that Mary and I, most of the gang actually, ended up in this fringe camp where lawmen and women went to stay. Even though it was really tough, we were an hour from running water, we just had windbreaks and fire, we had to go in for food every day, were hassled by cops. But people could speak language, they could plan ceremony. That's why we were there. And all of a sudden, I was on the steepest learning curve of my life. 'Cause they were my teachers.

“My teachers had arrived, and I had arrived with my teachers. I was just straight into whatever they wanted me to do. And we did incredible things, and they taught me so much. And they would send me into town on errands: there were various priests that were helpful. And it emerged very soon that the man with the bandanna, “Captain” he was called, was the main informant for Mountford.

“So I took weeks of just listening and doing what I was told. Once he said, “You wanna go movies?” And I said, “Yeah, we're going to the movies.” He said, “Yeah, we're all going to the movies.” So we walked into town which is about a mile and a half, and they had an open air cinema, and guess what the film was? 2001.

“And we're sitting in an open air theatre, which I loved, in AliceSprings. And Aboriginal people had to sit right down in the front, and we had a bottle of port. Captain had a liking for a bottle of port in a brown a paper bag and he was passing that along. And then comes the scene where they invent technology and they throw the bone in the air. Well, our gang started rocking in their seats, they thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen, they made jokes about it for weeks afterwards, “Oh, remember that one, oh, that's how we worked out everything, the bone in the air, throw the bone in the air!”

“It was hysterical, that was so sophisticated.

“So every now and again I'd ring the Yellow House, and usually I got Martin. And I'd say to Martin, “Well, how's it going? How's the car going? They're getting it together? da, da, da. Any news of when he's gonna get going?” And I'd say, “Will you tell Mick, this is where I am, and this is who I'm with, and this is what's …” And to give me a rough idea about when he's coming in, where we might meet up.

“In actual fact, I was with them in that fringe camp for six weeks. And then I got a message that Mick was on his way. And I told him this extraordinary thing had happened and I'd found... And then, at about five to six weeks, I started to mention the film. And saying to them, "Would it be of help to record the stories?" And they were saying it's very hard for them to be at Uluru, they weren't actually allowed to be at Uluru, because Parks and Wildlife ran it. And actually one lawman there who we met was Jimmy Walkabout, and he was a medicine man. He was a Kadaitcha. But he had a job in the motel at the base of Uluru for those early tourists, visitors, and he had a job sweeping the yard. So he would watch... he had his eyes on everything, who was anywhere, he had them in his sights. But anyway, we realized, once Captain had got hold of this idea to some extent, 'cause it was not an easy idea to explain, given that he had taken me in, I was his.

“He'd given me a relationship, he'd given me skin. I would now become... I didn't really know it until Mick arrived, but I would become the go-between. And I was very apprehensive that Mick came to this with all this Buckminster Fuller still in his head, and you actually had to unburden... Because I'm learning from the traditional holders.”

“So I don't want those two kinds of knowledge, so I'm gonna try and empty my mind and just be really attentive to what they're telling me, because they hold the law. And I knew what the sacred law was, I knew it from my journeys in England. I understood what the oral tradition of holding the law was and I was very faithful to it and I was faithful to the promises that I made to them.

“So then Mick arrived, and I think we arranged to meet at some gas station. And then we had to hire a second car, because there was also Lively, a second lawman. But first of all we went to Uluru, and I think we took them, Lively, Captain and Mary. So they made their camp in their area, and not far away, about 300 meters away. We found a place, which was a kind of camping area, and Mick put up the geodesic dome that he'd brought.

“And I said, “Actually, I don't wanna sleep in it. I've been sleeping out underneath the stars and I love it and ... you know, you're just around the fire. And Mick got into that. So we started to use the geodesic dome as a place for storing equipment from the dust.

“We had some sort of a little fridge thing for the film. And the food supplies were kept in there, so it became a safety place. And every day, I would go back over to the camp and I'd discuss what we're gonna do. And everything moves slowly up there, as you know.

“And so gradually Mick got to know them a bit, but it was a huge learning curve for him, too. And my position was, “If they ask you to do something, you do it.” And he wasn't quite there with that. He wanted to do some things his own way. Anyway, we got permission from them.

“On the top of Uluru is a water hole called Wonambi. The all-seeing eye of Wonambi that you'll remember from the film.

“So Captain gave us permission to go up there. It was a real act of trust. And he said, “Not only should you go up there,” he said, “because that is where…” He could see we were looking, looking, looking, all the time through cameras. And Wonambi's looking, looking. The All-Seeing Eye, of course they might go there. And he trusted us to do that. He said, “It's gonna be hard because you've gotta take all your things up there, you've got to stay up there a few days.” You can't just go up there and come down 'cause it's too exhausting, for one thing.

“But the other difficulty was that I went over in the morning and said: “Well, we're going up today.” And Captain said, “No, not today. There's a big wind coming up today. Wait a few days.” I go back, but Mick says, “we're going up today.” And I could not talk him out of it. Nor could I let him go up by himself, it was life-threatening.

“So they watched us and I felt terrible 'cause we're going against their wishes, we'd been warned. And they told us which way to walk up, which was a shorter way, but it was still very steep. But you found that the rock surface had this kind of warm and friendly element to it. I was never frightened on the surface of the rock. But once this wind came up, and I'm talking about a whirly-wind, and I was carrying camera pack bags and stuff on my back. He was holding tripods and Bolexes and God knows what.

“So we've got nothing to hang on to. Nothing. But what you did find was that there were these burrows in the side of it. And night time was coming. The sun was going down. We were already halfway up with all this stuff, we were walking much slower. So I found one, and I yelled out to him and he found one. So you kinda curled up in this worm-like curve in the boulder. And I remember it being very beautiful 'cause you're looking at all the stars and you're hearing the wind. The wind is howling past your ear and yet it's not touching you. 'Cause you're just inside this slight depression in the surface. And that's how we survived the night.

“Anyway, so at dawn we go up to Wonambi's water-hole. And it was exquisite up there, you could feel the sacredness of it. It's the rainbow serpent's eye. It's actually, in translation from the Pitjanjatjara, it is the all-seeing eye, Wonambi. The all-seeing eye of the rainbow serpent.

“So we had a few days up there, camped there. We were able to shoot through the prism. We were able to do all that colour stuff, shoot through different lenses and prisms and getting that rainbow serpent feel.

“And we shot for two, three days, and on the third afternoon, Mick became a bit unwell, he was really not good, and our supplies of water and things were running out. So I said, “Look. We gotta go down.” So we came down slowly, slowly, slowly, With all this stuff, but elated. It had been one of the most beautiful times. It was magical, beautiful, powerful. It's in your bones forever. It's one of those experiences. But it was getting dangerous. I felt he was... Anyway, he rested up for some days after that and got his strength back. And Jimmy Walkabout had his eye on us.

“Well, it was a touch and go thing there. And then they told me, Captain told me and Mary said, "We were worried about you. We worried about you, very dangerous what you did." I said, "I couldn't stop him." And I said, "He went up."

Then Mick and Juno returned to Sydney.

Mick's second trip to Uluru

Once back in Sydney and having previously moved in to the Yellow House with Juno, he met Albie Thoms, Martin Sharp and a young Jonny Lewis (who was soon to become an important Sydney photographer) at the Yellow House.

Eighteen months later, in late 1972, Glasheen was told by Baxhau Stone and his brother Mahier, two Kalahari Bushmen who had come to Australia from South Africa, that there was to be an Inma (a large scale ceremony) at Mimili – in the Everard Ranges on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankuntjatjara (APY) lands in the north-west of South Australia. Baxhau and Mahier were organising the logistics for the supply of food and water and storage for the Inma.

Baxhau was friends with Joseph el Khouri (a film-maker then living in Melbourne, having moved from Glen Innes via Sydney) and his friend Melinda Brown. They were at the Inma taking part in the general day-to-day activity, helping with the logistics and shooting footage for a film that Joseph planned to make which became Ascension of the Rainbow Serpent.[21]

Regarding that filming Joseph said in an interview in Cantrills Filmnotes:

I used to go up on the hill [behind the site of the gathering] and I took some shots of myself and Melinda in the landscape, bodies coming out of rocks, things like that … I [took] some shots of Melinda and myself drinking out of the well. I wanted to have this opening sequence of my film where all these children are to emerge from a black hole, and then people drinking water and civilisation slowly building up and people diving into the civilisation and then me being sort of immersed in that civilisation and then going to the city, and then tracing a desire in myself that wanted to take me back to a contact with something more primeval, then it gets drawn out to the desert. So basically I just wanted to show someone getting drawn out by the spirit that's out in the desert and in the people: to show what an incredible thing it is. And then I guess I wanted to make a film which showed the spirit of the people, in a way, and also show the conditions out there.”[22]

Joseph more or less describes the sequence of his film here. Finally it was made from the footage he shot at Mimili and other footage he shot in Melbourne which he edited and had transferred to video. It was later mixed with video effects as a video piece and finally finished in 1978 at the Paddington Video Access Centre [see Chapter 8] in Sydney. [Fig.6]

Fig.6: Two frames from Ascension of the Rainbow Serpent by Joseph El Khouri. Both shots are from his filming during the Inma at Mimili.
The right hand shot is a later colourised version of a seed grinding action filmed at the time.

On the previous trip to Uluru with Juno, Mick had gone to film the rock, time-lapse landscapes, sunsets and sunrises with his 16-mm camera, but it was during one of their walks around Uluru that he realised the advantage that video had over film with its integrated sound recording and much longer recording time: 30 minutes continuous recording with sound to a tape that could then be rewound and played back versus the pictures only, three minute roll of film.[23] Mick comments:

I went out Ayer’s Rock and was shooting Uluru in 16mm film. And then, walking around Ayer’s Rock with Lively Number One, I thought I’ve got to have video, to actually record an old aboriginal walking around the rock telling me stories. I couldn’t do it on 16mm and I didn’t have the sound anyway, or I did have sound [but] I can’t remember recording any live sound. Didn’t have sync sound on my Bolex.” [24]

So with his second trip having been invited by Baxhau Stone, Mick decided to go to the Inma to record the dances and ceremonies. He gathered up a friend, the American electronics maverick Jack Jacobsen (aka Fat Jack) who had moved to Australia shortly before. They took with them a borrowed Sony 1/2” video portapak with which they shot about 7 videotapes of dances and the general day-to-day of the Inma. The portapak was powered by car batteries rigged up in a wheel-barrow assembled by Jack so that the whole thing could be easily moved around when out shooting.

Jonny Lewis:

“I remember the night he drove off... going off to Ayer's Rock in Central Australia where he did those beautiful...

“I think Mick was fantastic because he would shoot film firstly. He would shoot film and it was really not necessarily meant to become a film in the sense that it had a beginning and a middle and an end. But it was just...

“A spool of 16mm film could be an extraordinary adventure for people just looking at it. And he went on to make River Time. River Time was just a film about a river over a year: the Colo. And there was years of a bush fire and it was all done with time lapse...”[25]

While Joseph commented in a later conversation that

“[Mick] did a bit of filming on portapak, because I was shooting the film, and we had a bit of a shelter put together – we’d built these Spinifex shelters that were kind of African-inspired, Mahier and Baxhau and the elders and other young men built them. And then Jack and Mick built one similar, but they had some steel. It was sort of like a dome-type thing. And then it’s all covered in Spinifex. Not like the Bush Video dome.”[26]

And Mick gives us a bit more detail:

“So the next time I went to Ayer’s Rock, which was in ’72, this is before Nimbin, I took video... My friend John Voce had the first Sony portapak that I’d ever seen. The ones that were at Wallacia and the one that Albie Thoms used at the Yellow House to record Yellow TV were Akai quarter-inch. So the first Sony half-inch I saw John Voce had, and I went to India with him to shoot the Armanath pilgrimage on 16mm and also to do some video on the new video camera that he got specially to take to India. And we did that. Didn’t get much good video in India but I got some 16mm.

“Then I borrowed his video to go to Central Australia. Took it there with Fat Jack and recorded lots of video of this Inma that was in northern South Australia at Mimili. This was, like, aboriginal dancing in the afternoon, by the fire, and corroborees and kids throwing spears and then we went to Ayer’s Rock where I got hours of footage of Lively Number One walking round the rock, telling the stories, all on half-inch video. And parts of that were used in my film Uluru, which has got a little bit of video in it but that’s only a little bit from hours of material.

“So ... my first extensive experience with [portable] video, was really taking it to Ayer’s Rock and that was not doing any electronic effects, it was just totally, purely recording. And it was purely recording Aboriginal stories really, or aboriginal corroborees … or … I did one experimental tape, just following footprints in the sand, just animal tracks and things, at dawn, in the sand. That was my only attempt to do any art piece, just doing one half-hour tape following animal tracks in the sand. And I loved it, too... oh wow, this is just so amazing, to spend that amount of time.” [27]

The video footage from this second trip (1972) to Uluru and the film footage he shot on his first trip there (1971) was edited into a final video work called Uluru around 1978.

The Mimili tapes

While at Mimili, Mick recorded hours of video of “aboriginal dancing in the afternoon, by the fire, and corroborees and kids throwing spears” and the general activities associated with each of the dances/stories.[28]

And Joseph notes that:

“ We connected with Mick then. And then we all connected up again in February of 1973, and there was a meeting on at Nimbin.[29]

There were, as best I know, 12 tapes recorded on this trip. The first set were recorded at Mimili, and I describe 4 of them here.

In the first (and most heart-warming) of the Mimili tapes we first see an elder sitting in the sand with the sun setting behind him. He is singing. It lasts for about a minute, then we cut to a posse of kids playing and “threatening” the camera with play spears, and gathering in front of the camera. Mick (Jack ?), entering the game, cries back at them with war-like sounds and noises. One of the kids falls onto his back lying on the ground with a big grin. One kid climbs a tree. Kids running about. Kids talking to Mick while in shot. Kids being kids, singing, throwing “spears”. The kids gather, and hang about. There are close ups of the kids talking to Mick behind the camera. The kids wander off, one heads back making dance movements and clapping sticks, another comes back throwing a spear at the camera.

In the second part of that tape the kids are now sitting down in a group singing a song and thumping sticks into the earth, no doubt as they had seen there parents and other adults do. They sing “We Shall vercome” then “We shall not be moved”, then another song that I don't recognise which was probably a popular song (radio song) of the day. Then “Happy Birthday to You”, then a bunch of other songs. Two or three kids sitting on ground in front of camera. All happening at dusk. They run off to climb a tree and otherwise show off. There is a silhouette of a kid standing in a fork of the tree. He climbs higher and another kid climbs up and then hangs off a branch and drops off back to the ground.

In the next tape, at the dance ground, people are gathered in the dark around a fire chatting (in language). The next morning Mick shoots a sunrise over the landscape. Mick wanted shots of a snake flowing across the lying on the sandy background for his planned film, Uluru. The snake (in this instance a most benign creature) keeps wanting to go in the other direction away from the camera. Then, using a fisheye lens, we see the snake coming towards the camera, then trying to get away. He doesn't want to be pulled around. Then several shots of the snake moving flowing across the sand.

In the next section the people are around the fire (there is singing and clap sticks) in the dark. Dancers in front of the fire, people watching, chatting, sounds of ordinary life. More singing, clapsticks, didgeridoo.

In the following section, it's now daytime. There are groups of men standing about talking. Children being taught the dance movements: a foot stamping forward march then running back to do it again. The camera pans around to show us shots of the children running about with their mothers and the general gathering of men getting ready to dance and more domestic level shots.

Then, night time at the fire. There are singing and didgeridoo sounds in the background. The camera waves around (side to side) in time with the clapsticks and didgeridoo. When the songs finish there is general evening hubbub, lots of talking, more dancing in the background (too dark to see) and the tape runs out.

Fig.7: Frames from Glasheen's video of men dancing during the Inma at Mimili.

The third tape opens with sticks beating the ground. The camera pulls back to see the singers and then further back to see the dancers. There is lots of background chatter, so there are people off camera. The camera zooms out again to show several men beating sticks on the ground for rhythm and a group of men (including white men and Joe Khouri) learning to dance. Group of painted up men coming back to sitting area and putting clothes back on. The beating of sticks is almost constant. We zoom out again to see one man dancing... waving his hands in the air as if to beat off flying insects (though that's probably not what it's about). He comes back to the crowd. This leads to a wide shot of a man in the distance sitting, digging up the earth and throwing the dirt over himself. He walks across the screen, and sits down again. Another man walks across the screen. We zoom into him slowly. The camera comes back onto the crowd and a crowd of men. Much chatter, shot of Baxhau talking to a couple of men, one white. Continued talking.

In the fourth tape the camera pans around the crowd and into the landscape and back to the crowd. Mick is heard teaching someone to use the camera. There are shots of landscape with scrub trees and the slope of the hill. There is more singing in the background sound. This is a women's song and they appear, painted up, with a dance in which they wave a twig with leaves side-to-side. We zoom to a close up of three of them. Other women are singing as they three dance. We then come into close shots of people in crowd, a shot of Melinda Brown, many others, lots of kids. We come back to two women dancing – it's a skip while waving the twigs, facing each other 5 to 10 meters apart. Then close shots of them.

We return to shots (close ups) of the women's camp with lots of kids followed by a long shot of the hillside which pulls in tighter on two women dancing with a long stick (spear ? digging stick ?) jabbed into the ground. Back to the family group, to men (some white), women and lots of kids. We pan to a truck that has driven into the field people unloading it. And then on to a wide shot of people and standing around on the hillside and then running down it. We zoom in to three women dancing, each holding a short stick, which may derive from a digging process. Finally the camera pans around showing lots of people chatting, doing things, people under a shelter, large tents, a semi-trailer arriving. Kids everywhere.

The Uluru tapes

After the Inma Mick and Jack went north to Uluru where Mick continued shooting material for his film Uluru. They met up again with two Pitjantjatjara elders, whose English language names were Lively Number One and Captain. Mick and Jack had met them Mimili.

They spent days walking around Uluru, being shown some of the important places and being told the stories by the two elders. Mick shot a lot of video of the sites, Lively’s story telling and of his and Jack’s walking about the area and driving the long roads around Uluru. Mick commented that Jack did sterling work in wheeling the barrow around after him while they recorded “hours of footage of Lively Number One walking round the rock, telling the stories” [30] and singing the ancient songs (tjukurrpa) about sites around the rock and in the cave shelters at its edges. Particularly tales of the Kunia snake.

There were 6 videotapes shot at Uluru. I will describe some of them here.

The first tape is of aerial shots of Uluru, flying around it in a light aircraft while shooting through the passenger window.

The next tape is of a waterhole with the water surface rippling in the breeze. This is then followed by repeated close ups of ripples in the sand and lizard tracks across the sand. Mick is then sitting with a couple of elders at a campfire. One of them (probably “Lively No.1”) tells the story of the Liru (poisonous snakes). Shot of Liru tracks on the side of Uluru, then driving in a minibus towards Uluru looking at the landscape while Lively describes features of the rock. Stopping to look at features as he tells their story. Continue driving on through the landscape past a dingo. Stopping again. Lively butchers a kangaroo, cuts thin trees to make spearsThen shots of a younger man throwing a boomerang and walking up the hillside to retrieve it. He can't find it so they back track and then go up the hillside again. As they walk up we see Mick is holding the porta-pak camera. This time they find the boomerang.

Fig.8: A very curious image etched into Uluru in ancient geological times.
Video still from Glasheen's Uluru videotapes.

On the next tape it's now sunset again, driving along beside Uluru, there are shots of the sky, the setting sun over the landscape, Uluru in silhouette, grasses, trees in the distance, general panning around the desert and grassy landscape. Another long shot with Uluru in the distance. It's the same landscape now shot with a fish-eye lens. Jack comes into shot with Uluru in the background. Mick and Jack walking up to Uluru. Rocks fallen from the side of Uluru – these are Kunia (carpet-snake) women. Fish-eye again. Walking around the old camp of the Kunia women at the base of Uluru. Walking a “track” at the edge of the base of the rock.

Entering a gorge which Lively describes as the camp of of the Kunia carpet-snake women, they walk along in the scrub beside the rock. Mick turns the camera back to show Jack “carrying all the gear”. They come up to a waterhole which is now dry. Walking further. Another waterhole, this one with water. A shot of Jack who wants to unload. Mick then hands him the camera. Now a shot of Mick going to the water hole and scraping away at the dirt beside the waterhole so that the water is filtered as it seeps into this new section. A couple of frogs are revealed living in the sand. The camera follows the frogs in the water. Mick drinks the water. Talking about how the frog sees, not like the fish-eye lens. Sun reflecting off the water.

Back in the scrub, walking at the edge of the rock towards a cave. Now at Mutijulu. They walk through the grass land towards another waterhole. It has water in it at the edge of the rock and is shaded by it. The shot begins at the water, moves around and then back to the water. Jack puts his hat into the water to get a drink. Wider shot of Jack on the bank of the waterhole. Breeze rippling the surface of the water. Making ripples by pouring a hat-full back into the water. More ripples, these produced by paddling a hand in water.

On the third tape Lively No.1 points out the honey-ant cave and other features including “Tjukurrpa wati mala” [dreamtime hare-wallaby men] camps at the top of an escarpment. Depressions in the rock are Kulpanyia [or Kurpaanga] the spirit dingo’s tracks on the rock. Lively points out Kulpanyia's tracks up the rock to where some men were when he attacked them. We enter a women's cave, Lively sits down on a shaped rock and points out the features of the cave, there are paintings on the cave interior. He says that it is where the women came for a sing-up to increase breast milk. He climbs out into the sunlight again as the camera follows. We come to another women's cave. Lively points out its features. Walking through the cave and crawling out from its other end into the sunlight. Lively points out more features relating to the women's story. The final shot of this tape is of Lively walking away from the site.[31]

On the fourth tape Lively is sitting in the shadow of a rock edge singing. He points out several stones that are Kunia (carpet-snakes). Mick, on camera, selects out different examples. Lively starts singing again. It's his own song. He gets up and walks around to another Kunia site which he can't sing-up because it's a poison site [This is where the Kunia woman, Bulari spat out poison at the Wati Liru]. There is a white smudge on the rock that Lively describes as poison spit (or “Arukwita”). He can't sing the story because Mick's camera is recording. After that discussion Lively points out other Kunia in the area, then walks off toward Bulari ’s cave.[32] The camera stops.

When the camera starts again they are in Mutijulu [Mutijilda] gorge, to where Bulari had retreated in her battle with the Wati Liru. They are driving northward along the road (in a ute). Uluru is in the distance. Once they stop they walk along the track leading up to Uluru. Lively enters another cave where, at its entrance, he points out some rock engravings. This is the site of another “big story”. We get deeper into the cave, look at another painting then walk out and Lively then points out a circular hole in a rock. The camera goes in close and we see through into a cave which is the site of a big men's story. There is another painting on the wall with groups of concentric circles (probably representing camping sites) in the painting. Lively points out various features and paintings, and then heads off to the waterhole, we follow. He points out a large broken rock that is where a Kunia-woman hit a Liru (poisonous snake) with an axe and broke his nose off. Lively imitates the action. Nearby is the site of a big fight between a Kunia woman and a Wati Kadaitcha. Walking along beside Uluru, Lively points out a cut on the rock that was the head of the Liru with his nose cut off. They continue walking, find a tree with fruit on it, eat some and then come up to a water hole. Lively points out more features including the blood from the fight. Lively drinks from the waterhole. Then eating fruit from a tree with a younger man accompanying them. Walking further, Lively points out other features. This tape finishes with a shot of a cave entrance where Lively was born. He goes in, the camera follows, and he sits down on a curved rock which he says is him as a baby.

Mick and Jack then returned to Sydney and the Futron building.


1 See Stephen Jones, Synthetics: Aspects of Art and Technology in Australia, 1956-1975, (2011), Cambridge, Mass, USA, MIT Press.
See also the catalogue for Philippa Cuillen: an Archive, an archival exhibition curated by Stephen JOnes at SNO (Sydney No-Objective) gallery, Marrrickvile. (23 April-22 May, 2016).
For a review see:

2 Campbell, Michael, (2010), Keith Bain on Movement, Sydney, Currency House

3 Greg Schiemer, interview, 19/5/05.

4 Philippa Cullen, (1971), "Application to the Australian Council for the Arts for assistance in 1971/72. Now in the Cullen archive in the NLA, Canberra.

5 Philippa Cullen, (1971), "Application to the Australian Council for the Arts for assistance in 1971/72. Now in the Cullen archive in the NLA, Canberra.

6 Jiba Wallace:=, (1976) Philippa Cullen: A Life's Work, videotape.

7 The timing of the appearance of the many theremins used by some of the electronic artists of the period suggests strongly that they were based on a theremin circuit by Leo Simpson, which was published in Electronics Australia, June, 1969.

8 David Smith, 1995

9 Ibid.

10 David Smith, email, 10/9/2002.

11 Kaz Kondziolka, conversation with Stephen Jones, 8/2/2003.

12 Probably written late July or early August 1969, the note appears a page after another note which was dated 25 July 1969.

13 Philippa Cullen, Grant acquittal report for the Australian Council for the Arts, dated 31 May 973.

14 In her report to the Australian Council for the Arts, dated 31 May 1973, in the section headed “Electronic Projects, 1970” Philippa describes the theremin as using a metal plate antenna. This was written in 1973 and is at odds with the descriptions given to me by David Smith and George Alexander. As far as can be determined the Optronic Kinetics installation used a wire strung along the wall of one of the Fine Arts Workshop studios and Cullen on seeing this installation then engaged David Smith to help her develop a system that dancers could use.

15 Philippa Cullen notebook, now at the National Library of Australia.

16 Philippa Cullen, notes on Utter for the AZ Music Sound Venture series, April 1972. Copy of the handwritten Programme Notes in the Cullen archive at the NLA, Canberra.

17 Maria Prerauer, “Probing into new dimensions” review of AZ Music's Sound Ventures series performance by the group Teletopa, which included a performance of Utter, in “Arts and Entertainment”, The Australian, 23rd April, 1972, p.22, (1972)

18 Philippa Cullen, notes on Utter for the AZ Music Sound Venture series, April 1972. Copy of the handwritten Programme Notes in the Cullen archive at the NLA, Canberra.

20 Recorded conversation with Juno Gemes, 20/10/2017.

22 Druid, See also

William Stukeley, M.D., Stonehenge, A Temple Restored to the British Druids, London, Innys and Manby, 1740.

William Stukeley, M.D., Abury, A Temple of the British Druids, London, Innys and Manby, 1743.

23 Michell, John, The View Over Atlantis, London, Sago Press, 1969.

24 William Stukeley, M.D., (1743), op cit.

25 El Khouri, 1973b, op cit.

26 For considerably more detail see “The Land is Not Empty” - interview with Joseph El Khourey, Cantrills Film Notes #16, December, 1973, p.32, in which Joseph talks about his trip to Pitjanjatjara country and the Inma and his film Ascension of the Rainbow Serpent.

27 Of course, as I have previously mentioned, there were the disadvantages too, particularly the low quality black and white image of the early portapak as opposed to the considerably higher resolution and colour recording of film.

28 Glasheen, recorded conversation, 14/5/2005.

29 Jon Lewis, interview, 2015

30 El Khouri, 2009 interview.

31 Glasheen, recorded conversation, 14/5/2005.

32 Glasheen, recorded conversation, 4/11/2001

33 Joseph el Khouri: 2009 interview.

34 Glasheen, recorded conversation, 14/5/2005.

35 A useful description of the tjukurrpa of the site, written by M.H.Monroe, “Aboriginal Beliefs Connected With Uluru (Ayer's Rock) Kunia & Liru” is available at