Photo legend Ken Duncan to create indigenous movie industry
“I refuse to see another generation of young kids grow up with no hope.”
Landscape photographer Ken Duncan plans to take cinematographers and creative people out to central Australia next year to train indigenous people in how to support a movie industry in the heart of the nation.
“We’re going to be taking out there some of the world’s greatest cinematographers – they’re going to be out there teaching the kids how to do movies, how to tell stories,” he tells Eternity at his gallery on the NSW central coast.
“We want to create a movie industry out there, so we can create a user-friendly place: ‘Come on out, we’ll help you, make it very easy for you to do movies, but you’ve got to employ some indigenous people to teach them the skills at the same time.’”
The plan is an extension of Duncan’s Walk a While Foundation, which he set up in 2010 to bring employment to indigenous people in remote communities. beginning at the remote Ikuntji community near Haasts Bluff, 230km southwest of Alice Springs.
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“These kids are really brilliant,” he says. “Some of these kids know complicated programmes like Final Cut Pro. You teach them and they’re better than you! Within a day-and-a-half you think ‘what the heck?’ They’re just like sponges waiting for water to be given to them – opportunities – and they’ll just grab a hold of it.”
It is this community that wants to build a massive cross on a mountain on its land. The costly project to build a 22-metre illuminated cross aims to celebrate the role of Aboriginal missionaries who brought the gospel there. Also, the giant feature should open up the area to visitors keen to take a pilgrimage in the outback. Having visited the community for 16 years, Duncan calls them “his family”. He has recently started taking prominent people out there – including Koorong managing director Paul Bootes.
“I refuse to see another generation of young kids like this grow up with no hope” – Ken Duncan
Duncan is so passionate about bringing sustainable income streams to this community that he tirelessly battled the local bureaucracy to gain permission to use a government building at Haasts Bluff as a permanent base for a Creative Arts and Technologies Centre. Once fully equipped, it will train the local youth for real jobs in photography and cinematography, music and tourism. The centre has attracted sponsorship from computing giant Microsoft.
“I refuse to see another generation of young kids like this grow up with no hope, no real jobs, just on the dole, and we need to create jobs in remote communities,” he says. “This is what we are on about, building hope, and if we can get it in this one community, it’s going to be like a wildfire that going to others.”
It was because of his work on social programmes with the Ikuntji community that its elders asked Duncan to help promote their vision to build the giant, illuminated cross on a place called Memory Mountain
“I can understand why they asked me to help because they knew it would probably cop a lot of flak – because it’s their land and it’s their vision, yet so many people have tried to stop them having their own vision,” he says.
“So many people have tried to stop them having their own vision.” – Ken Duncan
Duncan urges Christians across the nation to get behind the tribe’s vision to create a place to which people will make a pilgrimage to pray and lift up the name of Jesus. “They believe it’s a place where people, Christians or non-Christians from all around the world, are going to come [because] it’s known as a prayer mountain. Anyone, no matter what their beliefs are, are quite welcome to come and pray on that mountain, but they’ll be praying at the foot of the cross,” he said.
“And even going up, there’ll be little stop-outs or stations, not in the traditional form, but there’ll be Scriptures in language and in English, so … it will become like a pilgrimage. When you get up to the top of the mountain, if you don’t know what to pray about, you just look around you and you’re surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Australia.”
Once the cross goes up, Duncan believes Memory Mountain will be a tourist attraction for people prepared to make an effort to reach it. The only thing holding up completion of the project is funding, he says. More income is needed to meet the almost $1 million cost of building the cross and the track that is being built to access the mountaintop.
“So we have to do that track properly because people are going to be wanting to walk up that track; the cross is not the most expensive part, it’s the track. We’ve just traversed the most difficult section of the track and we’re moving towards now getting up to the point where we’re going to be able to start putting down foundations.”
Duncan describes the cross as the most exciting project of his life, and one he has been prepared to put his career on the line for.
“We had to close down galleries in Melbourne because at a time in our life when all of a sudden we’re getting invitations to go to America, become rich and famous, God said, ‘Son, what’s more important – your name be lifted up or mine?’ And I went ‘Ah, well, you.’ And I thought, ‘My goodness, I’ve really got to focus on this cross and get this project working for them.”
“God is doing something out in the heart of the nation.” – Ken Duncan
“So we had to start retrieving time, closing down galleries and going out of the way in thinking how are we going to survive with less galleries? But once we embraced the vision of the cross, God has supernaturally given us blessings with photos. Now, I don’t have a lot of time for photos, so when I do, I just say, ‘God, I need to do this quickly.’”
Duncan says the cross has been the most challenging project he has ever worked on, but he believes in its power to draw together the body of Christ in unity and spark a spiritual revival.
“I’ve preached at Hillsong; I’ve been at churches all around Australia and I love what everybody is doing, but God is doing something out in the heart of the nation. And I believe it’s part of the Holy Spirit revival and I believe this cross is part of that. It’s like putting a battle-standard right in the heart of the nation and saying ‘Game on’. It’s a rallying call to Christians to get focused on the cross of Jesus – not as if we’re worshipping a cross but what the cross represents.