Artwork to be shaped by local First Nations’ interpretation

Published: 27 Jul 2021

Two First Nations residents have been given the opportunity to install a prominent artwork in a way that reflects local Indigenous culture and history.

Artspace Mackay’s public programs assistant Logan Bobongie said she had been asked, along with Yuwi elder Deb Clark, to assemble the sacred rocks of Meeyn Meerreeng (Country at Night).

Meeyn Meerreeng is comprised of 71 granitic and volcanic rocks collected by Gunditjmara artist Hayley Millar-Baker’s mother.

Ms Bobongie met with Millar-Baker and was honoured to be asked to help arrange the rocks as part of the exhibition Void (opening this Friday, July 30).

“Hayley explained to us that her mother removed the rocks from an area where they were in danger of being destroyed,” Ms Bobongie said.

“The rocks were then cleaned, cleansed and painted black to conceal their identity and protect their stories,” she said.

Ms Bobongie explained that through her discussion with Millar-Baker, she learned that these volcanic rocks were far more than just lumps of hard earth.

“I learned how they were sacred to the Wathaurong people of southern Victoria, who often came in conflict with early settlers and used them for protection,” she said.

“These types of rocks would stick out in the landscape and be unstable and treacherous to ride horses on, so the First Nations’ people would look for them and run to them when they were pursued.”

Being a sacred piece of country to the Wathaurong people, Millar-Baker insists on specific cultural protocols when Meeyn Meerreeng travels, including involving local First Nations people in the installation.

Ms Bobongie said there was no set layout and after Deb (Clark) had welcomed the rocks to Yuwi country and blessed them in a quiet ceremony, they would simply “feel” their way around how the rocks should lay.

“There are a lot of similarities between the colonial stories of the Wathaurong people and the Yuwi people and I hope they can be reflected in how we display this work,” she said.

Ms Clark agreed and said one of the common threads they hope to communicate was the displacement of aboriginal culture through the times of colonisation.

“What was also really important to us was the resilience of our people through that time,” Ms Clark said.

“So, we’ve taken this very seriously and looked at how can we tell that story; how we can honour and pay our respects to Hayley and her mother and their story, while also bringing it back to our own region’s story.

“It’s really ironic that this has come about this year with the NAIDOC theme of ‘Heal Country’, because it’s talking all about country – our land, sea and the people, and how we are all interconnected.”

Mayor Greg Williamson said Void was on show at Artspace Mackay until October 17 and brought together rich and diverse artworks from many of this country’s most exciting Indigenous artists.

“Through drawing, weaving, sculpting, painting and video, the works highlight the diverse ways that Aboriginal artists across the nation are reawakening stories through reengaging with country,” Mayor Williamson said.

Curator Emily McDaniel, from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in central New South Wales, said the exhibition looked at the way the artists articulated the unknown through space, time and landscape – positive and negative space.

“The void is a complex space of exclusion and inclusion, definition and deliberate ambiguity,” McDaniel said.

“But as these artists demonstrate, the void is always lived upon, navigated and known even as it remains unseen, unknown and undefined,” she said.

Also opening on Friday are Tracey Robb: The Lichen Garden and Rosella Namok & Fiona Omeenyo: Sandbeach People.

Mayor Williamson said Tracey Robb was a well-known Mackay-based artist whose crochet artwork centred on the fauna and flora of tropical Queensland.

“For this exhibition, Tracey has applied her skills in crochet to the world of lichen to create a large-scale, immersive ‘garden’ of organisms in a colourful celebration of ecological diversity,” he said.

Void is an exhibition curated by Emily McDaniel, in conjunction with UTS Gallery and Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, presented nationally by Museums & Galleries of NSW. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program.