Company: Top Didj Cultural Experience & Art Gallery
Location: Katherine, Northern Territory
Manuel Pamkal was born in the Northern Territory bush so remote that the first time he saw a white person, he thought he was looking at a ghost. When he first arrived at school (as a teenager, having never sat on a chair or held a pen), the principal guessed his birth year as 1966. Manuel is more inclined to believe a whitefella who married into his family and saw him as a baby – he says 1963.
Today, the charismatic Dalabon man tells his fascinating life story to visitors at Top Didj & Art Gallery near Katherine, 320 kilometres (200 miles) south-east of Darwin. It starts with his childhood spent hunting goannas and lizards and digging for yams. After a near-death experience as an adult (detailed in an episode of the ABC television program Australian Story),
Manuel turned his life around, quitting alcohol to become a role model for
At Top Didj he shows visitors how to throw a spear, light a fire, and paint-after telling his story of life growing up the traditional way in the bush. He welcomes people by playing the didgeridoo and singing a song in Dalabon-a central Arnhem Land Language that experts say is now spoken fluently by less than 30 people.
Manuel is a talented artist who specialises in rarrk (cross-hatching) painting. His fine brush is made from billabong reeds and his preferred medium is acrylic on canvas. “I’ve been painting all my life, from young up until now,” he says.
Credit: Tourism Australia Discover Aboriginal Experiences