Indigenous artwork is never cheap, but you can avoid the CBD tax by heading straight to the source… and seeing some truly amazing parts of Australia along the way. By Annabel Downing
Papunya Tjupi Art Centre, NT, by appointment only
A spectacular three-hour drive on the Stuart Highway, 240 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, will bring you to a thriving art hub and the birthplace of one of Australia’s most well known pieces of indigenous art, the Honey Ant Mural. Make an appointment to see the artists in action – but you will require a permit (clc.org.au) if you plan on staying for more than one day. This is a remote community, not a tourist town, so unless you have a swag, we suggest just a day trip. See papunyatjupi.com
Ernabella Arts Inc, SA, open 9am–5pm, Mon to Fri
A 440-kilometre drive south-west of Alice Springs, set under the Musgrave Ranges, will bring you to the oldest continually operated indigenous art centre in Australia (run since 1948). Ernabella art is known for its strong tradition with fabrics, which have developed into fine art pieces displayed internationally. You will need a permit (from APY, Umuwa, 08 8954 8111) to visit this artistic hub and pre-arrange accommodation if you plan on staying overnight.
The Yirrkala Art Centre, NT, open 8am–4:30pm, Mon to Fri
It’s a big 1051-kilometre 4WD journey east of Darwin, but the Yirrkala Art Centre is well known for selling some of the world’s finest didgeridoos and ‘big bark’ paintings. The area itself is a lush, tropical sanctuary, with accommodation (albeit limited). A permit to enter Arnhem Land is required if you’re driving from Darwin (nlc.org.au); alternatively it’s a 25-minute drive from Gove airport.
Warlayirti Artists, Balgo, WA, open 9am–5pm, Mon to Fri
A 300-km 4WD trip south from nearest town Halls Creek will lead you to Wirrimanu (aka Balgo), a surprisingly technology-forward community in the middle of scenic red plains on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. Expect traditional mediums – painting, basket making, and sculpture – combined with photography, film, printing and glass art. You can also fly here from Halls Creeks with Northwest. Contact the centre to organise an entry permit. See balgoart.org.au
Lockhart River Art Centre, Qld, open 9am–5pm, Mon to Fri
In the remote reaches of Cape York, 766 kilometres north of Cairns, you’ll find the coastal town of Lockhart – home to ‘The Art Gang’, a group of teenagers who translated cultural history into nationally recognised artworks. Art is so entrenched here that local students can graduate via traditional high school, or through the community art program. The gallery shows acrylic painting, ceramics, weaving and carving. Book accommodation well in advance. See lockhartriverart.com.au
Warakurna Roadhouse, WA, open 8:30am–5pm, Mon to Fri; 9am–3pm, Sat to Sun
A 775-kilometre drive west of Alice Springs, in the strikingly isolated stretches of the Gibson Desert, is a community known for its unique melting pot of local artistic styles. The art centre itself is a vibrant yellow, something to keep an eye out for as you travel across the dirt stretches of the Great Central Highway, and on-site units and campsites are a welcome respite for tired drivers. See warakurnaroadhouse.com.au