Canberra and the Everywhen

“One cannot ‘fix’ The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen.”[1]


First Nations art is not simply a representation of what was or what will be. Instead, the display of public art by Indigenous Australian's is a depiction of the longest continous culture throughout space and time. Although I cannot purport to be an expert in the area, the presence of Indigenous Art in the public creative environment of Canberra speaks to the inextricable history of the First Nations people who own the land, and the history which worked to steal it. Through a comparison of “Ngaraka: Shrine for the Lost Koori” (Djon Mundine in collaboration with Fiona Foley), “Possum and Wallaby Dreaming” (Kumantye Jagamara) and “Bogong Moths” (Jim Williams and Matthew Harding), we can achieve a greater understanding of how the Canberran art landscape tells a story of the Indigenous Everywhen.



Fig. 1, Mundine, Djon, “Ngaraka: Shire for the Lost Koori,” Kangaroo Bones, paperbark, steel tubing, 2001, Canberra, in ANU Sculpture Walk.


Firstly, on a local level, we will review Djon Mundine's “Ngaraka: Shire for the Lost Koori” (Fig. 1), located on the campus of the Australian National University (ANU). In many Indigenous cultures on the east coast of Australia, it was customary to make a platform where the deceased would be laid – wrapped in paperbark.[2] When Europeans arrived, most of the human remains were removed from these funeral beds.[3] This was the inspiration for Mundine's work. Using steel tubing, Mundine replicated the forked stick platform. Furthermore, in Koori culture (from South-Eastern Australia), Kangaroos were often symbolic of humans.[4] Building off this, Mundine placed Kangaroo bones and paperbark under the artwork to represent the remains stolen by European's. These are the 'unknown lost Koori's.'[5] When viewing this work, it is crucial to consider its location on the campus of the ANU. For years Indigenous Australian's have been excluded from Australia's educational institutions. Worse still, access to education has often been weaponised to disadvantage First Nation peoples.[6] Placing this work on the university's campus highlights the need to educate the populous on the people who were lost during the European invasion. Furthermore, this work directly relates to the Indigenous remains which were removed from the Ngunnawal country. Deeply rooted in the displacement seen within the local community, Mundine highlights how the Everywhen is reflected in the immediate world around us.



Fig. 2, Jagamara, Kumantye, “Possum and Wallaby Dreaming” Granite, Cement, 1985, Canberra, in Australian Parliament House Forecourt.


Comparatively, we can review how public art is displayed on a national level by discussing the “Possum and Wallaby Dreaming” (Fig. 2) mosaic in Parliament Houses' forecourt. The mosaic is based on a painting by Warlpiri artist Kumantye Jagamara. The painting represents a gathering of people from the kangaroo, wallaby, and goanna ancestors.[7] The painting depicts a very spiritual assembly where ceremonial rituals and meaningful discussion takes place.[8] By viewing this work in the context of Parliament House, not only can we can see how the work reflects essential discussions of the Everywhen but also the essential discussions enacted in the federal parliament. Moreover, in the context of Parliament House's forecourt this work is being used to reflect the meeting place of the governmental institution which European invaders established. This highlights that despite the institutions that were established since the arrival of Europeans, the inherent culture of the Everywhen is constant. The original painting, being disconnected from political affiliations, is based on traditional Western Desert Painting.[9] As the mosaic resides in Canberra - on the east coast of the continent - it can be seen that the work reflects an artistic interpretation of Indigenous culture from around the country. By utilising over 90 000 individual pieces of granite – in the closest colour match to the original painting – the work reflects Jagamara's original painting in a 196 square metre projection.[10] Not only is this a representation of First Nations culture, but it also symbolised the art styles which have painted Australia since long before European contact. By reviewing this work, we can see how the Everywhen dismantles notions of space as this work not only reflects an interpretation of Indigenous culture from Canberra, or even the Western desert, but rather from across the nation.



Fig. 3, Williams, Jim, “Bogong Moths,” Cast Concrete, 2001, Canberra, between National Museum of Australia and Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.


Finally, we will look at how First Nations public art is used to reflect the timelessness of the Indigenous Everywhen. “Bogong Moths” (Fig. 3) is a work by Ngunnawal artist Jim Williams, located between the National Museum of Australia and the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.[11] The artwork was commissioned in 2001 to celebrate the ongoing culture of the Ngunnawal peoples.[12] This artwork is particularly connected to First Nations people from the East Coast of Australia because of Bogong moths' vital role in their Indigenous history. Millions of Bogong moths migrate down from Queensland to New South Wales and eventually fly over Canberra throughout the springtime.[13]These moths were an essential food supply to the Ngunnawal people and neighbouring countries - as they are incredibly high in fat and can be made into a paste that can be transported for long distances.[14] Although the tradition of eating Bogong Moths is not as common now, its cultural significance is still admired today. William's artwork reflects the inextricable connection between First Nations people and the natural world around them. By casting the works in concrete, Williams literally cements the notion of the ever-presence of Indigenous culture. By dismantling conceptions of time, Williams addresses the timelessness of the Indigenous Everywhen.


The comparison of these three artworks is an attempt to show how both time and place is reflected in the Everywhen. By transcending the traditional notions of space and time, these three First Nations artworks show the inextricable connection between the Indigenous people and the land. Both locally and nationally - then and now - these three artists have used their medium to reflect a continuous Indigenous culture across the nation. Moreover, by considering their place in Canberra, these works design the capital city through the lens of the traditional custodians. As a result, all three of these works represent a culture which remains constant throughout the history of the land.


References


[1] W.E.H. Stanner, White Man Got No Dreaming: The Dreaming (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1953), 24. [2] Daniel Sutherland Davidson, “Disposal of the Dead in Western Australia,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 93, no.1 (1949): 78 [3] ANU Art Collection, Sculpture Walk: 05 Djon Mundine's Ngaraka: Shire for the Lost Koori (Canberra: ANU, 2010), 9. [4] Ibid [5] Ibid [6] Anne Hickling-Hudson and Roberta Ahlquist, "Contesting the Curriculum in the Schooling of Indigenous Children in Australia and the United States: From Eurocentrism to Culturally Powerful Pedagogies." Comparative Education Review 47, no. 1 (February 2003), 70. [7] Ron Cerabona, “Michael Nelson Jagamara's huge mosaic Possum and Wallaby Dreaming at Parliament House was hard to photograph,” Canberra Times, Accessed April 20, 2021, https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6038440/parliament-mosiac-from-a-different-point-of-view/ [8]Kumantye Jagamara’s Forecourt Mosaic” Art at Parliament, Parliament of Australia, Accessed April 20, 2021, https://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Art/Top_5_Treasures/Forecourt_Mosaic. [9] Terry Smith, "Public Art between Cultures: The "Aboriginal Memorial," Aboriginality, and Nationality in Australia." Critical Inquiry 27, no. 4 (2001), 629 [10]Kumantye Jagamara’s Forecourt Mosaic” Art at Parliament, Parliament of Australia, Accessed April 20, 2021, https://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Art/Top_5_Treasures/Forecourt_Mosaic. [11] “Bogong Moths,” artsACT, ACT Government, Accessed April 20, 2021, https://www.arts.act.gov.au/public-art/bogong-moths [12] Ibid [13] Ken Green, "Migratory Bogong Moths (Agrotis Infusa) Transport Arsenic and Concentrate It to Lethal Effect by Estivating Gregariously in Alpine Regions of the Snowy Mountains of Australia." Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 40, no. 1 (2008), 74 [14] Aung Si and Myfany Turpin, "The Importance of Insects in Australian Aboriginal Society: A Dictionary Survey." Ethnobiology Letters 6, no. 1 (2015), 175


Bibliography


ACT Government. “Bogong Moths.” artsACT. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.arts.act.gov.au/public-art/bogong-moths


Art Collection, ANU. Sculpture Walk: 05 Djon Mundine's Ngaraka: Shire for the Lost Koori. Canberra: ANU, 2010.


Cerabona, Ron. Michael Nelson Jagamara's huge mosaic Possum and Wallaby Dreaming at Parliament House was hard to photograph.” Canberra Times, Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6038440/parliament-mosiac-from-a-different-point-of-view/


Davidson, Daniel Sutherland. "Disposal of the Dead in Western Australia." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 93, no. 1 (1949): 71-97. Accessed April 19, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3143273.


Green, Ken. "Migratory Bogong Moths (Agrotis Infusa) Transport Arsenic and Concentrate It to Lethal Effect by Estivating Gregariously in Alpine Regions of the Snowy Mountains of Australia." Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 40, no. 1 (2008): 74-80. Accessed April 20, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20181766.


Hickling‐Hudson, Anne, and Roberta Ahlquist. "Contesting the Curriculum in the Schooling of Indigenous Children in Australia and the United States: From Eurocentrism to Culturally Powerful Pedagogies." Comparative Education Review 47, no. 1 (2003): 64-89. Accessed April 19, 2021. doi:10.1086/345837.


Parliament of Australia. “Kumantye Jagamara’s Forecourt Mosaic.” Art at Parliament. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Art/Top_5_Treasures/Forecourt_Mosaic.


Si, Aung, and Myfany Turpin. "The Importance of Insects in Australian Aboriginal Society: A Dictionary Survey." Ethnobiology Letters 6, no. 1 (2015): 175-82. Accessed April 20, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26423615.


Smith, Terry. "Public Art between Cultures: The "Aboriginal Memorial," Aboriginality, and Nationality in Australia." Critical Inquiry 27, no. 4 (2001): 629-61. Accessed April 20, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344317.


Stanner, W.E.H., White Man Got No Dreaming: The Dreaming. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1953.

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