Tag Archive: place


Today I am writing about place. Specifically about how do you capture the essence of place? Stories, memory, land and an invitation. Word count = 0. Work in progress…

Do you hear the bells ring?

westword lmaw vigil 068

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Kiribati.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Gaza.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Sulawesi.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for land never ceded.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Manus and Nauru.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for you.

Talitha Fraser

yellow flowers from autumn leaves

Look at the leaves, look how they fall for you
And everything you do.
Yeah, they were all yellow…

#anotherkindofcoldplay #groan #winterblooms

Just in case you missed it – the Sovereignty exhibition at ACCA was stunning.

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We need to keep leaning into the truth that colonisation isn’t a “once upon a time…” story of something that happened long ago and far away but is still happening here and now. On land that was never ceded – what does being “Australian” look like or mean? You see in the piece by Clinton Nain Water Bottle Bags something beautiful made of found objects: plastic bottles, emu eggs, emu feathers, electrical cable, wire, string… a mix of  what is natural and man-made, a mix of traditional and contemporary.  What does it mean that the contemporary is waste, or is it in the hands of the custodians? What does traditionally acquired knowledge – a different understanding of the world and how to engage it have to teach us? This exhibition provoked this reflection and many more. See more photos and read the (highly recommended!) Sovereignty publication on the ACCA website:


To be sovereign is in fact to act with love and
resistance simultaneously. Uncle Banjo Clarke, the
late Gunditjmara statesman, said we must ‘fight
hate with love.’2 If there is a thread that connects
all the artists across the wide diversity of practices
represented in Sovereignty it is this deep love for
family, for truth telling and for beauty.

– Paola Balla –


ACCA is proud to present Sovereignty, an exhibition focusing upon contemporary art of First Nations peoples of South East Australia, alongside keynote historical works, to explore culturally and linguistically diverse narratives of self-determination, identity, sovereignty and resistance.

Taking the example of Ngurungaeta (Elder) and Wurundjeri leader William Barak (c.1824–1903) as a model – in particular Barak’s role as an artist, activist, leader, diplomat and translator – the exhibition presents the vibrant and diverse visual art and culture of the continuous and distinct nations, language groups and communities of Victoria’s sovereign, Indigenous peoples.

Bringing together new commissions, recent and historical works by over thirty artists, Sovereignty is structured around a set of practices and relationships in which art and society, community and family, history and politics are inextricably connected. A diverse range of discursive and thematic contexts are elaborated: the celebration and assertion of cultural identity and resistance; the significance and inter-connectedness of Country, people and place; the renewal and re-inscription of cultural languages and practices; the importance of matriarchal culture and wisdom; the dynamic relations between activism and aesthetics; and a playfulness with language and signs in contemporary society.

Sovereignty provides an opportunity to engage with critical historical and contemporary issues in Australian society. The exhibition takes place against a backdrop of cultural, political and historical debates related to questions of colonialism and de-colonisation, constitutional recognition, sovereignty and treaty.

Paola Balla and Max Delany



Brook Andrew
William Barak
Lisa Bellear
Jim Berg
Trevor Turbo Brown
Amiel Courtin-Wilson / Uncle Jack Charles
Maree Clark
Vicky Couzens
Destiny Deacon & Virginia Fraser
Marlene Gilson
Korin Gamadji Institute
Brian Martin
Kent MorrisIMG_4420
Clinton Nain
Glenda Nicholls
Bill Onus
Steaphan Paton
Bronwyn Razem
Reko Rennie
Steven Rhall
Yhonnie Scarce
Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR)
Peter Waples-Crowe
Lucy Williams-Connelly


Panellists Rosie Kilvert, Léuli Eshraghi, Paola Balla,  Kamahi King
and Miliwanga Wurrben in conversation


Sovereignty is my inalienable right.
It cannot be taken away from me.
– Paola Balla

I try to stay strong within myself. Decolonising for myself.
I am a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman, not “aboriginal”.
– Rosie Kilvert


I know where I come from – that gives me strength.
Concertina Bush stands for my people.
She only speaks Kriol, people have to understand it.
She is my Voice for the expression of my Gurindji sovereignty.
– Kamahi King

Grew up in the bush. My freedom. My school. Everything I was taught given by mothers, aunties, grandmothers – bound together by respect and as indigenous women.  I was illiterate. Taught by a missionary-lady at a community school.  Such patience teaching us Western ways.

Broke so many protocol. First, I had a male teacher. We’re not allowed to look at/make eye contact with men. “Look at me! Look at me in the eyes when I am speaking to you!” This was one of my first experiences at school. I could not understand what I had done but it must have been something more than I could imagine – I thought of my mother, aunties, cousins… what would they say when they heard this? My sovereignty is as an indigenous person, it’s in my culture, with my people. I found balance… took a very, very long time. Didn’t take away what I had, it’s still in me.
– Miliwanga Wurrben


Where you are uninvited you have to make sure you
have first relationships… there is no treaty here.
You have to locate yourself in relationship.

…Every structure is illegal that
doesn’t have treaty/relationship.
– Léuli Eshraghi

Beauty was always very sacred for our women. Scarves, paint… essence, dignity, respect… beauty is the essence of that love. Love yourself for who you are – that is one of our protocols. “Too fat! Eat more!” we have none of that. There is a beauty and grace of being an indigenous woman.  Those who come to work in the clinic and court – they can’t wear short shorts, jeans, tight singlets. We dress in a way that respects the other women. If one doesn’t have those things, we can’t have it either. The young girls like and wear makeup but not when they come home. Nakedness is part of us.  Scarring and painted body.
– Miliwanga Wurrben


Q: What will you do on January 26th?
(note: I’ve deliberately chosen not to attribute these quotes as I feel, although they spoke in their own voice, the panelists also spoke as one Voice and I want to express that if I can)

Don’t celebrate either way. I do nothing to give it energy. Day we lost all hope really. I wish that the stamp duty of from the sale of every house would go to local Aboriginal people. To my own mob. This is an example of how we could get past “eating out of the white man’s hand”. I mourn.

Refuse to call it that [Australia Day]. It’s celebrating genocide. I pay thanks to the ancestors and their resilience. Put out a reminder: We’re still here. Surviving and thriving.

I might go to Share the Spirit or a protest. Send prayers to those who have passed and shouldn’t have.


The Weaving Country exhibition will run at Footscray Community Arts Centre until 1 April, 2017 and I encourage people to check it out, many of these beautiful pieces are available to buy.

Artists include Sandra Aitken, Eileen Alberts, Donna Blackall, Lee DarrochDebbie Flower, Gail Harradine, Cassie Leatham, Denise Morgan-Bulled, Greta Morgan, Glenda Nicholls, Kathy Nicholls, Marilyne Nicholls, Eva Ponting, Bronwyn Razem and Lisa Waup.

Weaving Country

Weaving Country is a story of weaving and fibrecraft across Aboriginal Victoria from the Victorian Aboriginal Weavers Collective.

In this exhibition we have aimed to create a woven narrative, beginning with baskets as vessels for gathering and fibres as the threads that knit together family and kinship ties.

In this way we liken our first collaborative curatorial journey together as a journey of gathering and collecting.  Having gathered the weavers works into our metaphorical curatorial basket, we have then bought these works together to create a cohesive and beautiful body of work.

Weaving Country is about Country and place.

Each weaver’s generational knowledge of grasses, fibres, harvesting and process is inherent in their practice.  What is not always apparent, and is the idea this exhibition aims to provoke, is the impact environmental changes have on the grasses ad fibres used by the weavers and therefore on the overall health and wellbeing of COuntry and People.  This is reflected in the diverse use of materials and the incorporation of found objects.

The Victorian Aboriginal Weaving Collective speak with one voice through their diverse woven and sculptural forms to the strength and vitality of this continuing and unbroken tradition. These contemporary works demonstrate their innovation yet retiran cultural integrity and truth.

By Vicki Couzens and Hannah Presley

Aunty Carolyn did the Welcome to Country at the Emerging Cultural Leaders event at Footscray Community Arts Centre tonight.  She said:

“This is sacred land. One of the oldest existing.  Watched over by Bunjil the Eagle on land and Waa the Crow protects the waterways.  We are to respect the land, not destroy, and respect those to whom this country belongs.  Creation itself is sacred, so when we participate in right relationship, we participate in what is sacred… profanity is setting yourself against Creation. In being willfully blind we are supporting what is profane. By wasting food and water when others have none.  We don’t want to be discomforted or put out… there’s something sacred in being discomforted rather than doing what everyone else does.  Assimilation is just another word for massacre.”


emerging cultural leaders

Photo credit: Minh Nguyen

Loved to have this introduction and ideas of belonging, culture, identity and place in shared space with my friend Minh’s installation piece…

BIO:  Minh Nguyen is currently completing her Masters of Applied Psychology. Her dissertation research explored constructions of ethnic identity amongst second generation Christian-affiliated Vietnamese in Melbourne. She found that through the negotiations between social relationships, and within one’s location in society, participants created a ‘different kind of Australian’ identity that accessed resources from the surrounding environment, their parent’s culture and experiences of racism and exclusion. This study provided an account of Vietnamese Christian identity construction, a particular historical, cultural, and social location within the complex world.

PROJECT: Immigrants are continually challenged by issues of settlement, sense of belonging, exclusion and identity construction.  These issues are also important life challenges for the children of immigrants, the second generation and the generation thereafter.  Chopsticks and Vegemite explores the identity construction of four people from a young Christian affiliated Vietnamese called Night Church.  Unlike their parents, they create their identities and evaluate themselves in relation to the structures and ideologies of the new society, in addition to the memories retold of their parents’ birthplace.  

Facilitated by Mehrin Almassi from the Indigenous Hospitality House, in this bible study series we will seek to make connections between the story of the nation of Israel told in Lamentations and our own national story. We will look to see whether this book may help us to address our shared histories of displacement and endeavour to distill how we might move forward as a nation in light of the biblical example.

Connection to Creator (Spirit)

What do we think of when we hear the word Spirit? What do we think of when we hear the words Spirit of God?
What do we think about when we hear the term Creator Spirit?
What do we think is meant by each of these phrases? Are they related? Could they be?

Read Lamentations 3

Did the Israelite people have a sense of the Spirit of God – the Creator Spirit?
What was God like for the people of Israel? What was their experience of relating to God?
How do we relate to and/or experience God? Is our experience different to that of the Israelites? If so, can we think why?

Let’s read the Boon Wurrung Story.

What might this story teach us about the way the Boon Wurrung people experience the Creator Spirit?
What may this story teach us about the importance of our own stories in relation to local, national and international issues?
How else might we apply important narratives of the past to current situations needing attention?

Kids Activity

In parallel to grown ups run a kids session: talk about pictures as stories, songlines and place.

Will need:

  • messy clothes (if painting)
  • paint and brushes and/or lots of sticky dot stickers
  • paper
  • photos (bring along some or a camera to take some on the day)

What do you like about stories?
Look at this image? What is this a picture of?



(girls, dog, trees…)

This picture tells the story of the time Talitha and Bron went to the park with Gracie.


 What about this image? what’s happening here? who was there? but they aren’t in the picture… how do you know they were there?

(pictures can capture a “moment”, some part of a bigger memory, tobogganing and snow angels, other friends… reminder of something bigger that we can no longer see)

Pictures have two things, a place and a “happening”.

Using your pictures so far, talk about where they are happening and what is happening.

IMG_6501Indigenous stories tell something about a place and also about something happening there.

WHERE: Maybe there is a waterhole (blue), things grow there (green), drier sand/soil as you move away (orange), day rocks (red).

WHAT: An animal comes to the watering hole and then goes (tracks).

Ask children to share a memory, a story, and make a picture – collectively or individually (age depending). Then ask of each: Where is your story taking place? What is happening there?

How would you feel if you couldn’t got there again?  If you couldn’t do that again? (sad)

Today the grown ups are talking about the story of lamentations – a lament is a sound of grief and sorrow.  That’s what people in the story did when they couldn’t go back to the place they remembered or do the things they used to do there.


our stories and our pictures can be used to tell each other about places we haven’t been and things we haven’t done, remembering and reminders can comfort us when we feel sad

let’s take a photo now, today of all of us together, making and telling stories so that we have a memory-capture. It’s good to take photos and write stories and make pictures because they help us remember

take your picture now to a grown up – tell them your story – use things inside the picture and outside the picture




Protesters make their way across Princes Bridge. Photo: Joe Armao

This month the Government announced that they were going to turn off/stop maintaining access to water, electricity, etc. in multiple rural indigenous communities and this protest came very quickly in response.  We like to think that “taking the land away” or dispossession was something that happened long ago and far away and has nothing to do with me but then something like this happens to bring it front and centre and our willful blindness is confronted by the reality: this is still an issue and it is still happening.

These are the words the protestors called in chorus:

“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”

Talk to me about economics. Talk to me about closing the supermarket so people had to travel for food, closing the school so families with children had to travel or move, talk to me about closing the petrol station – it might be true that some of these communities have only 4 people living in them but there used to be many more.

“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”

Talk to me about land and place.  There’s hardly any of them, why should they get special treatment? They can move to the nearest big town… to give you a sense of scale Kimberley is c. 3 times the size of England and has a population of 40-50K people.  The nearest town is, well, pretty darn far away – what we white fullas can forget is that indigenous Australia is a lot kimberleymore like Europe, made up of many different countries with their own language, and myths, and dances and traditions… this map on the left is rough overview of the First Nations Peoples and language groups in Kimberley.  This is their map of how they see the world –  we wouldn’t expect it to be reasonable to ask the Italians to move to the nearest town in France and give up everything that informs their own unique culture and identity and we should not ask it of Aboriginal people here either.

photo credit: kimberleyfoundation.org.au

“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”

Talk to me about civilisation.  We brought civilisation with us, did we not?  Are these people not better off because we bought them farming and livestock and tools and machinery they didn’t have before?  We brought in the piped water and wired electricity and overrode the old ways with our better new ways…?  There might not be many left who remember and could live by the old ways.  We’ve created a dependence and now you want to take the civilisation away? Did our civilisation include the law, and does the law include provision for human rights like access to water?  What is civilisation?

“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”IMG_5269

Tell me a story.  Tell me who your people are and where you are from.

At the start of some (too few) events, ceremonies or proceedings you might hear an Acknowledgement of Country… We acknowledge that we gather on the land of which the Peoples of the Kulin Nations have been custodians since time immemorial.  I went to a cultural awareness training day with Aunty Doreen Garvey-Wandin a few years ago and she did this activity with sticky dots to illustrate how Aboriginal people have lived here for 50,000 years – if each dot is equivalent to 1,000 years – then this black drawing, on the very last dot, represents the 200 years of contact/settlement with us white fellas.  We are a blip on a landscape that was here long before we came.  We need to understand and be reminded of our place in the story of things from Aboriginal peoples point of view. While, I’m here I’ll point out that this is what makes “Australia Day” also so hard.  It marks (and celebrates) the anniversary of colonisation over the culture that had existed here many thousands of years prior.  These acknowledgements should not be empty words.  We eat, we play, we gather, we work – on land where indigenous people were here before us – doing those things first – for many, many years.

“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”

Talk to me about belonging.  Do we “belong” here?  I think there is something in the psyche of all of us asking this question because at some level, perhaps we sense the truth of having displaced others to enjoy the space we now hold.  I am from New Zealand, and we have our own history and yet unfolding story of fair trade for land, foreshores and fish – and who should be the custodians of these things.  We need to respect Traditionally Acquired Knowledge more than we do because people lived and ate seasonably and sustainably and can probably teach us a thing or two about living well in this climate and speak wisely into other current social issues.  Do I belong here in this crowd? It can be easy to feel smug – Maori is taught in our schools, we had a treaty and are hearing settlement claims, we have a Ministry for Maori Development… but that is not enough: Te Whiti, a Maori Chieftain, exhorts us to “Ask that mountain” – the land itself bears 076witness to what takes place beyond any particular action of my lifetime whether we have done everything that we can to make things right.  How might the Great Barrier Reef answer? Or Uluru? or The Big Pit in Kalgoorlie? I was proud to see the Maori flag raised and carried alongside the Aboriginal flag in solidarity.  Others who have experienced displacement themselves – they do not forget.  We need to recognise that living in a world that has more languages, more dances, more patterns, more stories makes it a more enriching place for all of us and is worth protecting and defending by us all.

We chant it together.  We claim and proclaim it publicly:

“Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”

“When you haven’t got a homeland or place to go, you lose your identity,and personality and you become sick.
Where are these communities going to go?”

Indigenous activist, Rieo Ellis

Thanks to ANTaR for this summary of the issue:

Announcement to discontinue funding essential services in remote communities

  • In September 2014 the Federal Government announced that it would no longer fund essential municipal services including supply of power, water, and management of infrastructure in remote Aboriginal communities in Queensland, Victoria, NSW, Western Australia, and Tasmania, despite having done so for decades.
  • The South Australian government refused to sign an agreement, and the Western Australian government signed an agreement with the Federal Government for funding of $90 million which would fund services until June 2016.
  • The WA government announced that it would not pick up the bill beyond that time and would instead close between 100 and 150 of the 274 remote Aboriginal communities in the state.
  • The decisions by both the Federal and the State Governments occurred without any consultation with Aboriginal people in the affected communities.

How many people live in these communities

According to the WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there are around 12,000 Aboriginal people currently living in the 274 communities in WA, with around 1,300 living in 174 of the smallest. In 115 of those communities, there are around 500 people in total, or an average of 4.4 people per community.

What will the impact be of shutting down communities

Premier Barnett himself acknowledged that closing communities would:

“…cause great distress to Aboriginal people who will move, it will cause issues in regional towns as Aboriginal people move into them.”

Professor Patrick Dodson, Yawuru man from the Kimberley, who authored a review of small homeland communities for the NTgovernment said closing down communities would:

“…be disastrous, increasing access to drugs and alcohol and exacerbating social tensions,  which would flow on to antisocial behaviour and incarceration. The immediate consequences would be to create an internal refugee problem for the indigenous people.

He also said that breaking people’s connection to land:

“…would threaten the survival of Aboriginal knowledge and culture, because in towns people were restricted from camping, lighting fires, hunting and fishing.” 

What criteria will be used to close communities

It is not known where any closures might occur, nor what criteria might be used.  In fact, there has been great anxiety and uncertainty over this, particularly as no consultation has occurred prior to the statement being made by Premier Barnett.

The Federal Government prepared a document in 2010 titled “Priority Investment Communities – WA” which categorised 192 of 287 remote settlements as unsustainable. The majority of those assessed as unsustainable are in the Kimberley, with 160 communities in the region.

Non-Indigenous communities

We could not find any examples of government decisions to refuse to fund essential municipal services for non-Indigenous communities, including small communities in remote areas in WA. For example, the non-Indigenous community of Camballin (of about 300 people) is located near Looma (an Aboriginal community of around 370 people) in the Kimberly. Looma will be assessed by the Western Australian government for funding whereas Camballin will not.


I am sitting in the Woman’s Peace Garden, halfway between Footscray and Kensington, on my way to…

as I was approaching I will confess to musing on the peace symbol feeling a bit passe or gimmicky but today it looks like outstretched arms and, with the rosemary in bloom, feel more feminine.  With it’s formal lines and landscaping, the muted greens of the olive trees and rosemary, this space hasn’t felt particularly feminine to me… maybe the idea of what “feminine” should be rather than capturing the spirit of the thing?  Although I read that green (olives), and purple (rosemary) and white (roses) are colours of the Suffragette movement and these plants synonymous with peace.  If I could create my own garden/park I’d want to create a sense of tranquility, I’d try and plant to block out the road noise/traffic, I’d plant things that smell nice and I like to be useful so the fruit trees and herbs are practical. I like to be connected with the earth so I’d rather dirt paths, with stepping stones or wood as needed, natural resources rather than concrete path… things running together and catching on one another rather than delineated spaces: sit here, walk here, plants there.  I would plant so as to attract birds and bees and butterflies and ladybugs so when you look around you, you see life all around.  Trees birds would nest in and children would climb in.  This can feel like a pedestrian access-way, albeit the pretty way round, rather than a place you come to be.  That is generally when healing happens, when you feel a sense of place, a place you can come to and just be.  A place where stories can be told and truth heard and where you might imagine fairies and elves whisked away just before you arrived.  I am not arriving. I am merely stopping along the way… and I go on, perhaps more peace-full than I imagined I might be.