Journal

Glen Farmer Illortaminni

Glen Farmer Illortaminni, an arts worker from Jilamara Arts on Milikapiti, Melville Island, shares his wild tale of being the first Indigenous fella to get lost in Paris. 

What brought you to Paris in the first place?

It was my Uncle, Timothy Cook. He had an exhibition in Paris and my committee at Jilamara Arts appointed me as his interpreter. We flew to Paris together.

How did you feel when you first found out about going to Paris?

Oh I was excited because I hadn’t been overseas before, this was my first exhibition overseas.

So tell us about your first night in Paris, is that when you went missing?

At around about 10 or 11 at night I got up. I was a bit hungry so I went for a walk just to look for some kebab. I was going to find the nearest pub so I could grab a few drinks and walk home to the hotel. I went too far out and I didn’t know my way around. I got lost and had to walk all night then, for four days.

Did you have anything with you? Your Phone?

I left my phone in the hotel, my key, my wallet. I only had about a hundred bucks on me. I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel so I walked, walked, walked. Took me four days. I walked around all over Paris, day and night.

Were you worried at all?

No no, I didn’t worry about anything because I was just enjoying myself. I met a lot of different people, the first people I met were Moroccans, they welcomed me for a place.

How did you come to meeting them?

On the street I spent a few nights with some homeless people around Paris. I found a family that were in a park so I just sat down with them on the bench. I went to get a few beers. They didn’t have any so I sat down and had a chat with them.

Did they speak English?

Not many people in Paris speak English, just a few. I tried to speak to the police but they didn’t understand me. I tried to explain myself but they were just speaking their own language. 

I had to sleep at the airport one night and then walked this way and slept this way.  I walked and walked. 

It was cold so I had to find myself somewhere warm. It was also raining so I walked toward this blocked road, where there (were instead of was) army and police, there was someone trying to do a plot there. They had to move me and tell me to go back, they grabbed me and they said ‘come on sir you’ve got to move back there’ There were dogs there. I tried to explain myself but they just moved me with all the other people. 

One Australian from Melbourne said to me, ‘sit down mate, there’s a bad person there’, but he didn’t cross my mind at all, didn’t cross my mind at all.

I didn’t tell him anything. I had to walk back to the airport and I stayed there one night.  At the airport and I saw this French guy speak full English, he was a Frenchman who worked at the airport and he gave me a map. I said “excuse me sir, do you know anything about the Australian embassy?” He said, “you’re a long way from here to the embassy.” He gave me a map and drew me directions.  I had no money at all. I'd run out of money, I just followed people in the train through the tunnel. I just looked at the signs and saw I’m here and I’m here and tick, tick, tick.. That’s where I was going at night time, and I was hungry and I was cold.

Did you have anyway of getting food? Was it only the Moroccan family that you found to eat with or did anyone else help you out along the way?

Yes, some people gave me notes, some people gave me money and notes. They knew I was missing, they saw me on the news, in the French news.

One time I was sitting there near this shop and a little girl found me and her father and mother w in the shop. They gave me some of the long rolls with ham and cheese and they gave me coffee. It was really good, I just met them outside the shop and they fed me.

One French lady she gave me a box of chocolates and I couldn’t stop eating, I ate the whole box.

So What happened? Did someone tell the police?

I was reported missing and when I got to the embassy they already knew about me. They said "you are a fugitive". I said, “Yeah I am” and I was laughing because they already knew my story and I think it was hilarious. First Indigenous fella who got lost in Paris

So would you go back to Paris one day?

Yes, I did. I would again. Apparently the gallery owner who organised the exhibition wants to write a book about me.

When I got back to Australia and went back to work on Monday morning, a French lady rang me, Amy. She said, “I’d like to talk to you about your experience” so I did a little talk back. I walked around the Art Centre and the co-ordinator, he took photo of me, put me on Instagram and said, “This is what I do for a living and I’d like to thank you, thank the embassy and thank the people at the airport for giving me directions and I had to thank everybody who lives in France.”

Do you think it’s a funny story in hindsight?

Yeah, people can get a good laugh about it. My family were really upset. I had to talk to Guy at Munupi Arts Centre at the embassy. They put me on Skype to him.

What’s your role at the Arts Centre? What kind of things do you do day to day?

I’m a cultural liaison officer and vice chair for Jilamara Arts. Every morning I’ve got to set up all the canvases for everyone, for all the artists, stretch them out and put them in the frame. 

I was in Darwin for 6 months and I haven’t been working. This is my second week at the Art Centre and the managers and everyone is happy that I’ve come back to work.

I’m training one young girl at the moment, she’s been at Tiwi college. She said to me, “One day I’ll be doing your job” and I said, “Good, I’d love to see that.” I’ve been there for 23 years now and my long leave service is coming up, I’ll probably go on holidays of something.

Where would you love to go on holidays?

I don’t know, probably Bali, just to relax, have some beer, some food, suck up some Balinese culture

 

 Artwork by : GLEN FARMER ILLORTAMINNI Terminator TjipomurJilamara Artsrayl, Etching, 41x30cm,Tiwi Eiffel Tower, available from Jilmara Arts 

 

Glen Farmer Illortaminni Aboriginal Artist_North1

GLEN FARMER ILLORTAMINNI, photo by North 

 

Artwork by : GLEN FARMER ILLORTAMINNI Terminator TjipomurJilamara Artsrayl, Etching, 41x30cm,Tiwi Eiffel Tower, available from Jilmara Arts 

 

 Interview by Crystal Thomas