Audio guide to thirty works from the National Indigenous Art Triennial 07: culture warriors shown at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 14 July – 16 October 2006
Shane PICKETT, On the Horizon of the Dreaming Boodja 2005
This painting depicts the birth of life, breaking throughout the warmth of eternity, bringing the beginning of the Dreaming Boodja, a place mankind calls earth. It is placed among the galaxy to guide the Nyoongar people through their journey of life and dreaming.
Shane Pickett, 2007
Elaine RUSSELL, Inspecting our houses 2004
The manager’s wife was a nursing sister and once a week she would inspect the houses on the mission to make sure that our homes were clean and tidy, which they were. She wanted to know how mum’s ﬂoors were so white seeing that we had no electricity to use an electric ﬂoor scrubber. That’s when mum showed her a piece of sandstone, by which she was very surprised!
Elaine Russell, 2004
Julie DOWLING, Walyer 2006
Dowling’s portrayal of Walyer, a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman resistance ﬁghter, is a rallying cry of opposition. Dowling’s protagonist, standing like an antipodean Bodicea, is a culture warrior, overturning the myth of passive submission.
George Augustus Robinson, a former missionary, and Chief Protector of the Aborigines in the Port Phillip District (Victoria) from 1839 to 1849, referred to Walyer as ‘an Amazon’. Shortly after her capture in 1830, she died on 5 June 1831 from another insidious gift from the colonists: inﬂuenza. She had fought on behalf of her people with bravery and tenacity in a war for which no memorials exist.
Walyer (aka Te Nor and Tarenorerer), a Plair-Leke-Liller-Plue woman from Tasmania, was abducted in her teens by men from another tribe and traded to sealers for ﬂour and dogs. Such transactions occurred as Tasmanian Aboriginal people’s lives were disrupted by encroaching European settlement. Sealers took Aboriginal women for labour and as sexual commodities. During her time with the sealers, Walyer learnt English and how to use ﬁrearms. She escaped in 1828 and joined the Lairmairrener group of Emu Bay. In 1830, colonial authorities reported that Walyer was leading violent attacks against settlers and other Aboriginal groups. She and her group used muskets in these assaults, which was previously unprecedented in Aboriginal attacks.
Walyer represents to me the hundreds of women who fought for their land against the invading colonial forces. Walyer also represents the women of today who see that their struggle has never ceased in obtaining rights for their people over their land and lore. I painted Walyer gesturing towards a group of colonial houses in the distant right. The moon shows light from behind the clouds, outlining her cloaked body as she holds two guns. She is gesturing to the viewer as if they were one of the ﬁghters she has assembled to battle the colonial encroachments upon their land and hers.
There is a road carved into the trees under the distant mountains leading to the houses, which have smoke coming out of their chimneys, signifying their occupancy. Walyer stands in action, holding a fowler’s riﬂe with a small ﬂintlock pistol held in the belt around her skirt. She wears a bookah (kangaroo cloak), a shell necklace and clay ornamentation covers her hair.
This painting is about early historical interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia. First contact relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the colonies reveal much about the divide that continues to exist today and this painting is about what we can learn from such engagements. Aboriginal people use their oral histories as well as written historical records from non-Aboriginal colonial perspectives to construct racial consciousness and visions of Aboriginal self-determination.
I have painted the stories of Aboriginal resistance ﬁghters to grapple the construction of the hero in art. Romanticism was widely used in early colonial art in Australia emphasising Rousseau’s theory of the noble savage. These early power relations must be highlighted so that we can see how nationalism and imperial sentiment were constructed. As an Aboriginal person, I feel that it is important to understand colonial art practices brought here and how they can be used for decolonisation. By using the colonial romantic imagery of Aboriginal people as a tool, I can inform non-Aboriginal people of the denial of Aboriginal culture in current representations of Australian history.
Julie Dowling, 2006
Christopher PEASE, New Water Dreaming 2005
This painting is drawing direct reference from the hand-coloured lithograph produced by Louis Auguste de Sainson...De Sainson was the appointed draughtsman on the Astrolabe commanded by Dumont d’Urville. The lithograph itself was printed in 1833.
The image depicts the area within King George Sound, south-west Western Australia, probably Middleton Beach. In the foreground, members from d’Urville’s expedition load water onto one of the ship’s longboats via a long ﬂexible hose. Interaction between the crew and the Minang people is obvious and positive with several individuals helping to load water.1
This historical image is a rare snapshot of some of the ﬁrst interactions between Europeans and the Minang people. It shows the exchange of ideas however different they are. It is the point where new ways of thinking are discovered.
Physics provides a detailed equation using pressure, depth, atmospheric pressure, density of water and acceleration of gravity to explain how a siphon works. Hydrology (the science of water on earth) gives us detailed theories and explanation of river formation, one of which I have placed within the painting.
To me the work provides optimism through the way in which the French interact with the Minang people, but it also symbolises the beginning of change in ideas and, ultimately, beliefs.
Christopher Pease, 2005
1. Alternative names: Minung, Meenung, Mirnong, Mean-anger, Minnal Yungar (lit. ‘southern men’), Meenung (name given by Ko:reng), Mount Barker tribe.
Judy WATSON, palm cluster 2007
The title of a solo exhibition held in Brisbane in early 2007, ‘a complicated fall’, refers to the comment by the state coroner, who referred to Mulrundji Doomagee’s death on Palm Island as being caused by ‘a complicated fall’. This was a surprising ﬁnding considering the physical damage [‘four broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and a liver almost split in half’] that the man had suffered during his ordeal in the Palm Island jail. ‘A complicated fall’ could also refer to a fall from grace, a fall of government, etc. Other works in the exhibition referred more speciﬁcally to recent events on Palm Island and or used familiar motifs within my body of work (e.g. shells, ribs, plants and maps). While I was making many of the works in this exhibition I was listening to ABC Radio National. At this time there were many news updates about events on Palm Island. Part of my response to this was an internal grieving that I was aware of when I was pushing and scrubbing the raw pigments into the canvas.
Blue is the colour of memory and associated with water, washing over me. Waanyi people are known as ‘running water people’ because of the inherent quality of the water in their country. The deep blues of the background of the canvas are made by scrubbing the intense Prussian (dark) blue and ultramarine (purplish) blue pigments onto the material using a stiff brush.
The white circular forms are constellation-like, pin points of light that suggest movement and shifting focal points within the image. I ﬁrst used these round forms in 1993, during an artists camp in Norway in a glacial valley where I played with points of light on a rock using a mirror. Then I made an installation of glacial mud nests within an ampitheatre of rocks. For the Venice Biennale in 1997 they morphed into bronze stones. They often appear as points of light or dark within other works on canvas.
The white outline at the top of the canvas is suggestive of a stingray. When I visited Palm Island in the mid 1980s I remember wading through shallow water around a bay in which there were masses of stingrays. It was an unnerving experience: hoping they would swim by you without stinging you with their tail. As Tony Albert from Queensland Art Gallery has noted, since Steve Irwin’s death from a large stingray barb through the heart, an image of a stingray will carry other memories.
The shape at the bottom of the form is a map of the main island of the Palm group (or cluster of islands). It has the major roads marked on it but the white dotted shapes along the edge suggest the sparkling of light on the water and beaches fringing its coastline. Physically it is a paradise but it carries a heavy history.
Judy Watson, 2007
Jan (Djan NANUNDIE) BILLYCAN, All the Jila 2006
The eight panels depict the Great Sandy Desert near Well 33 in Western Australia. Jan Billycan is a maparn (medicine woman) from this country. She can see ‘inside’ the human body, and is a renowned traditional healer. This is evident in her landscapes, as the visceral nature of her work is reminiscent of the internal organs of the human body. A living waterhole becomes a liver or kidney, while the tali (sand dunes) are stretched across the canvas like the human ribcage. The body is just an extension of the land. Billycan knows these things on a deep metaphysical level and does not like to discuss her talents. However, it is important for kardiya (whitefellas) to be aware of this in order to understand the signiﬁcance of Billycan’s work.
Jan Billycan, 2006