Today the entire Papunya Tula family are grieving the loss of Daphne Williams Napanangka.
During her remarkable time as a Field Worker and Manager at the Company, Daphne guided the artists and their business with a steady hand and compassionate heart. She worked for them tirelessly for over 20 years, displaying a rare sense of durability and resilience that will long remain a legacy and example to us all.
When she first started at Papunya Tula Artists the company’s future was anything but secure, but by the time she handed over the reins it had become rock solid. Through her unwavering commitment and old school work ethic Daphne gradually bolstered the Company’s bank accounts, and in doing so, the future careers of its artists. It went from a fragile cottage industry in the early 80’s to an artistic powerhouse with an international reputation by the late 90’s. Today anyone who knows anything about Western Desert art knows that it comes with her name firmly attached to it.
Daphne was both tough and gentle, and soon won over the hearts of everyone she came in to contact with. The entire Western Desert knew who she was, and she made it her business to get to know them as well. The level of respect she gained, from not only the Indigenous community, but also her clients, the gallery owners and curators of state institutions remains unparalleled to this day.
It’s never been easy working in remote desert communities, and this was even more so the case in the early 80’s. When the communities of Kintore and Kiwirrkura were first established in 1984 over 500km west of Alice Springs, Daphne was there, employed by the Company and supporting the artists. There were no buildings to work from or store materials in, let alone provide a place to wash and sleep in at the end of a hot dusty day, so Daphne would simply roll out her swag in the back of the Hilux and sleep under the stars. These conditions would turn most people away in an instant, but Daphne always said she enjoyed it ………..….. (apart from the night a young boy jump started the car and tried to steal it while she was asleep in the back).
Along with the testing environment, solitude and remoteness of the job, Daphne also had many challenging personalities to contend with. The artists were proud, traditional Western Desert men, battled hardened from a life growing up in the desert before meeting white people. These were men not to be dismissed or taken lightly, yet Daphne soon won over their trust and respect. On one hand she was firm and battle hardened in her own way, but on the other, secretly and behind closed doors, she was emotionally invested, compassionate and deeply focused on the wellbeing of the artists and their families.
She had an inherent knack of dressing you down and at the same time straightening you up and making you want to do better. Make no mistake, when Daphne spoke people would listen. She was a true velvet sledgehammer.
These are qualities she displayed to all of us throughout our precious time and experience with her. We are all the better for having known her and been in her presence. The Western Desert is in mourning for Napanangka and ‘sorry business’ is underway as we celebrate Daphne’s remarkable life. She will be greatly missed by all of us.