Image: Men in Mourning from the series Ritual and Ceremony by Maree Clarke. 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Vivien Anderson Gallery

Linear Artists: Bernard Singleton

I paint, craft and make artefacts to ground myself. Through the process of making a spear or shaping the figure of a spirit, I connect with my ancestors and they help bring my art to life. My work is a way for me to acknowledge and remember the times of my great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. My designs are inspired by the laws of nature and the forms found in the creation stories around me. Using these basic forms or designs, I work to represent the bond of art and the continuation of culture.
Galga (spears) have been part of my upbringing in remote eastern Cape York Peninsula. If I wanted to go with the older ones spearing for mullet and mud crab, I had to learn how to make spears. We were shown where to cut them and how to strip and cook the shaft over a fire to strengthen and straighten the handle. We used wire prongs for our spears whereas our old people crafted spear tips out of stone, bone and hardwood. String and ironwood gum fasten the spear tips into the handle. I must remember never to allow anyone to step over my spear when I’m making it or it will be jinxed and I won’t catch any mayi (meat).
I remember the old fellas walking back into camp with huge barramundi over their shoulders with nothing but two spears and a small stick in their other hand. I was to learn that this small stick was ‘magic’. It gave the spear special powers. We make the milay (thrower) the length of your arm (from fingertip to underarm) out of hardwood and attach a pin to sit in the end of the spear shaft. This extension of the arm allows a greater length and much more powerful throw. These spears have fed me well.
View this short video of Bernard Singleton’s making process.