Mackay’s earliest art acquisitions tell of a changing ecology

Published: 17 Mar 2021

An exciting exhibition that contrasts European anthropological depictions with the works of contemporary Indigenous artists is on show now at Artspace Mackay.

The exhibition, A Changing Ecology, runs until May 16 and combines works from the Mackay Regional Council Art Collection and Mackay Libraries’ Heritage Collection.

It draws from historical and contemporary works and explores colonial impacts on Mackay and greater Queensland’s flora and fauna.

The exhibition features fascinating early local photographs and glass plate negatives. There are also historic botanical illustrations and floral still-lifes drawn from the earliest acquisitions of the council art collection.

Artspace director Tracey Heathwood said the art collection was commenced in the late 1980s by the Mackay City Library with a gift of 28 hand-coloured lithographs by 19th century naturalist artist John Gould.

“This was followed by the acquisition of three engravings from Joseph Banks’ Florilegium, focusing again on the early history of Australia and its flora and fauna,” Ms Heathwood said.

Mayor Greg Williamson said it was tremendous to see these significant early art acquisitions on display again in a way that told a fascinating story.

“There is a very real contrast between how the early European naturalists and anthropologists romanticised their ‘discoveries’ compared with how First Nations people and the environment were impacted by their ‘studies’,” Mayor Williamson said.

“Subjects and artefacts were removed from the natural environment to best aid in documentation by commissioned naturalists who raced to gather knowledge from the so-called new world,” he said.

Indigenous voices featuring in the exhibition include Danie Mellor, Fiona Foley and Archie Moore. They speak to First Nation people’s ongoing cultural connection to country, in contrast to the so-called objective scientific views.

The exhibition’s titular work, A Changing Ecology by Danie Mellor, was created in consultation with Yuibera elders of Mackay, Mellor’s birthplace.

Mellor scrutinises the introduced tradition of botanical drawing. His work depicts iconic non-native species of Queensland including the pineapple and sugarcane to highlight colonial impacts on local ecosystems.