Fierce - The Meeting of Olive Pink


Araluen Centre, Alice Springs

November 29 - 30, 2002

"the fiercest white woman in captivity"

Fierce is an artistic adaptation of the life of the anthropologist and botanist Olive Pink who was once labelled "the fiercest white woman in captivity". It was inspired by historical and fictitious elements relating to an encounter between Miss Pink and the Warlpiri people of Lajamanu. This first European contact took place in 1942 at Thompson’s Rock Hole. Life was never to be the same. FIERCE featured the Aboriginal Women’s Dancing Group Lajamanu Yawulyu, guest artist Trevor Patrick as Olive Pink and live music by the Arafura Ensemble.

For this version we wanted to focus more fully on the Warlpiri story, as well as make a tourable show, taking it back to where Olive Pink saw the end of her life - in Alice Springs.

This performance evolved from a creative development project Shades of Pink (Brown’s Mart 1999). Fierce the story of Olive Pink premiered in Darwin at the 2001 Festival of Darwin. Our sincere thanks to the artists involved in those productions: Gaye Hawkes, Stephen Carleton, Nicky Fearn, Tania Lieman, Bilha Smith, Jeannie Napurrula Birrell, Peggy Napaljarri Rockman, Kath Baldwin, Adie Bruce, Audrey Gorring, Crena Hemmings, Bobbie Johnstone, Barb Quinlan, Shirley Somers, Hannah Stamm, Audrey Svara, Mavis Waddell, Rangarajan Parimala and Sally Crawford.

Directors’ Notes

This performance is about connections: between a white world and a Warlpiri Aboriginal world, our first contacts and ongoing relationships. Fierce comes from a distillation of hundreds of stories about Olive Muriel Pink, not all of them in concordance. We first heard of Miss Pink when sitting in the shade of a scrubby bush in the middle of the Tanami desert.

In many ways, Miss Pink has reflected something of our own contemporary lives. She paved the way for our relationship with the Warlpiri people of Lajamanu. As one Warlpiri woman told us: “Miss Pink was a good woman, she didn’t shoot us.”

Now praised as a land rights pioneer and Aboriginal rights activist, in her day, Olive Pink was labelled as ‘mad’, ‘communist’, ‘nigger lover’ and the ‘fiercest white woman in captivity’. Miss Pink rode life on the edge, her passion more than once bringing her to the brink of death.

This performance draws together a 14-year working relationship between Tracks and the Warlpiri Ceremonial Dancers of Lajamanu, some of whom were present at the first contact with Olive Pink. The Warlpiri tribe of the Tanami Desert has also been labelled as ‘fierce’. Injustices against them are also in living memory as they were one of the last tribes to be invaded by the white world.

As a child Claire Kilgariff lived across the (dry) Todd River from Miss Pink. When Miss Pink died she left Claire’s mother a folio of nineteenth century drawing room songs. The songs within Fierce come from this folio.

Fierce merges images of country, painted bare breasted women, desert flora, broken hearts, and dust dragging Edwardian skirts. skirts

Creative Personnel

Directors: David McMicken and Tim Newth
Original Music and Arrangements: Claire Kilgariff, Scott Trenwith and Merrilee Mills
Visuals: Gaye Hawkes, Matthew Mainsbridge
Warlpiri Interpreter: Annette Nampijinpa Patrick
Lighting Designer: Greg Thompson
Sound Engineering: Matthew Cunliffe
Slides: Matthew Mainsbridge
Additional Text: Stephen Carleton
Costumes: Dixi Joy, David Taylor
Publicity: Katherine Kilgariff
Poster Image and Design: Mark Marcelis


Trevor Patrick, Lynette Lewis, Yoris Wilson, Kay Brown and David McMicken

Lajamanu Yawulyu Women: Molly Napurrula Tasman, Rosie Napurrula Tasman, Margaret Nungarrayi Martin, Myra Nungarrayi Herbert, Judy Napaljarri Walker, Alice Napaljarri, Gladys Napangardi Tasman, Kajingarra Napangardi Granites

Arafura Ensemble: Claire Kilgariff, Merrilee Mills, Bronwyn Myers

Biographical Brief - Olive Muriel Pink

Olive Pink was born in Hobart, Tasmania - March 17, 1884: Quaker education, 1915: Fiancée, Ltd. Harold Southern, was killed at Gallipoli. During the late 20s and early 30s, she trained at Julian Ashton School of Art, Sydney. Employed as draughtswoman State Government NSW working on amongst other things, drawing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. June-December 1930: Travelled the railway between Quorn, SA and Alice Springs after a drought had broken, stopping to sketch flowers wherever railway workers reported them. Made further sketches around Alice 1932/33:  Studied Anthropology, University of Sydney (urged not to complete her degree but to undertake field research instead). 1933/34: First major funded field expedition to Central Australia.  Moved to Alice Springs.  Almost dies of dysentery. 1935: First Anthropological articles. Begins her calls for Aboriginal autonomy (especially from the ‘civilising’ influences of the missions). Develops her controversial notion of ‘full bloods’ being the only ‘authentic’ Aborigines. Believes miscegenation and assimilation are attempts to extinguish the Aboriginal people. 1942/44: Travels to Thompson’s Rock Hole (Pridi Pridi), the Granites, Western Tanami and lives among the Warlpiri. Galvanised her political fight against the Assimilation Policy and lobbies for a ‘secular sanctuary’ - one of the first calls for Aboriginal Land Rights. Here she nearly dies of malnutrition and dehydration. 1944: Moves permanently to Alice Springs. She devotes her energy to ‘full bloods’ rights and to set up an arid zone flora reserve. 1956:  Arid Zone Flora reserve is officially gazetted. Miss Pink becomes curator with the help of (Warlpiri) Johnny Jampijinpa. 1967: Campaigns against building Pine Gap facility. 1975: Dies in Alice Springs aged 91. Buried in the town cemetery with her grave facing the opposite direction to everyone else. She preferred to look on her ‘beloved McDonnell Ranges’ rather than the township. Her correspondence is kept at the National Archives and several feet deep.

Tracks 2002

Artistic Directors: David McMicken and Tim Newth
Office Administration /Book-keeper: Heather Richards
Production Manager: James Forest
Multicultural Artist in Residence: Betchay Mondragon
Grey Panthers Coordinator: Merrilee Mills
Publicist: Sue Camilleri

Committee Members:  David Taylor (Chair), Jackie Wurm (Vice-Chair), Glenn Bernardin (Treasurer), Kyleigh Hindson (Secretary/Public Officer), Ken Conway, Nicole Cridland, Kay Brown (Ordinary Committee Members), David McMicken and Tim Newth (Ex-Officio Members)

Explore Further 

Research and Development

Older Adults Home Page

Lajamanu / Milpirri Home Page

Media Response

"An intriguing cultural exchange rarely seen in mainstream performance."  Bernard Lane, The Australian

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