Hope. It is a powerful word that resonates with us strongly in 2020. Bushfires. Floods. A global pandemic. We need hope now more than ever. The September issue of all 26 editions of Vogue have focused on hope, with each producing a cover to reflect a universal longing for a recovered future.

In the midst of Australia’s lockdown, the Vogue Australia team collaborated with the National Gallery of Australia to commission Anangu / Aboriginal Pitjantjatjara woman, spiritual healer and artist, Betty Muffler to bring hope to life. (or bring us hope).

Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) 2020’ is the first original fine artwork to feature on the cover of  Vogue Australia in its 60 year history and is on display at the National Gallery of Australia for all to view.

As an artist and Ngangkari (healer), Muffler, who is now in her 70s, knows the power of finding hope in adversity. Growing up in country near Watarru, on the border of South Australia and the Northern Territory, she is a survivor of the Maralinga bombings that took members of her family in the 1950s and 60s. The impact of these nuclear tests remains today. With her surviving family members, including her sisters and aunties, Muffler relocated to the Ernabella Mission situated in the Musgrave Ranges on Pitjantjatjara country.

“I survived the bombings at Maralinga, but many of my family didn’t. It’s a terrible sad story. We need to heal this country, and give more respect to the land. My paintings shows many of the good places in my country”.

Muffler now lives in the nearby community of Indulkana, where she is part of the Iwantja Arts centre - an Aboriginal-owned professional art making studio that supports the careers of more than 30 artists. Her art practice consists primarily of painting, drawing and tjanpi (native grass) weaving.

Alongside a rigorous art practice, Muffler is also a renowned Ngangkari, and as such she has been in high demand during the pandemic. “I am a Ngangkari, I’ve got an eagles spirit so I can stay at home here and in my sleep I send my eagle spirit across the desert to look for sick people, then I land next to them and make them better. Ngangkari’s can see right through people to what sickness is inside, then they can heal them straight away”.

Muffler’s art practice is an extension of her work as a Ngangkari and she has the ability to express her Tjukurpa (dreaming stories). “Though my paintings you can see my Ngangkari work: watching over people and also looking after Country. My Country. This place is very important - we all need to look after each other and respect our home”.

Vogue Editor, Edwina McCann, explains that when the world went into lockdown, Betty painted to heal herself, her people, her Country. ‘Ngangakri Ngura (Healing Country)’ is what we are all needing in 2020. Hope.

October 12, 2020 — Leanne Pearce