About Kaye Kessing
by Kaye Kessing
On the farm in South Australia where I grew up we raised sheep, kept dairy cows and grew crops. I spent most of my time out in the paddocks. On moonlit nights my friend Anne and I would walk to the Black Range and creep up on kangaroos and echidnas. There were not many other kinds of native creatures left but plenty of sparrows, feral mice, rabbits, cats and foxes. Few people thought about conservation back then.
After art school in Adelaide I headed north to a teaching job in Alice Springs. That first trip, over scorching stony plains in the middle of summer with no air-conditioning, was excellent. No one had warned me that the desert was so colourful, or home to so many different plants and animals.
My first year in Central Australia was spent out bush as much as possible, climbing mountain ranges, leaping into waterholes and sleeping under the stars. I loved the feeling of a horizon far away but also a growing sense that close around us native creatures were quietly living their lives.
Out on Aboriginal Lands the next year I taught art and craft. Instead of outdoor adventures I learnt to hunt and gather with the women: chasing goannas, digging for witchetty grubs and honey ants, collecting quandongs, bush plums and figs. That was the beginning of really getting to know the desert.
Back in Alice Springs a few years later I was part of a sign writing and screen printing business. We used local landscape, plant and animal designs whenever we could and I began to write and perform plays about the local native creatures. The more I learnt about Australia’s environmental problems the more projects I invented and developed. I received funding from government departments such as Environment Australia in Canberra, for products like the Easter Bilby books, pantomimes, posters, board games, quiz shows, interperetive paintings and temporary tattoo kits.
Still in Alice Springs, it’s great to be part of a community that remains fearlessly creative. Both friends and strangers have given their time and talents as mural painters, performers, prop and costume makers, back-stagers and baby sitters, to help create shows that are fun and educational. The Bilby’s Ring Tales are my largest and most solitary project so far.