Redfern resident Djon Mundine’s idea for indigenous sculptures at Walsh Bay continued to gather momentum. As Angela Stretch reports, a petition for the initiative has passed 2500 signatures and counting.
The local large-scale depiction of Aboriginal AFL legend Adam Goodes symbolises a sense of pride and belonging at a time when murals have been created in support of Black Life Matters (BLM), and are being critiqued as performative gestures rather than a commitment to real change that would benefit the black community.
Councillor Kerryn Phelps has proposed a bronze statue with the support of the Aboriginal Land Council, and the City of Sydney is deciding on how to commemorate Patyegarang, an 18th Century Gadigal woman who taught her language to William Dawes, a naval officer from the First Fleet.
Djon Mundine OAM, recipient of this year’s National Indigenous Red Ochre Award for Life Time Achievement, has resurrected a proposal he originally submitted to Council in 1990, “a good idea never dies, it just has to come around and find its time,” he said in an interview for Talking Through Your Arts.
Mundine’s proposal is for two large-scale indigenous figures to be carved in sandstone on Tapien Walls in Walsh Bay: The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy, would honour the Aboriginal people who were living in the Sydney Basin 250 years ago and their descendants and depict Aboriginal five metre spirit figures in binaries of human, animal and fish.
The second to memorialise Patyegarang, in which Councillor Kerryn Phelps has proposed a bronze statue with the support of the Aboriginal Land Council. Patyegarang was a young Gamaraigal woman of the Northern river region who was instrumental in the survival of the Gadigal language. Mundine’s proposal is a memorial that would, “affirm the attitude of young people and maintain a vision of confidence”. Mundine continues, “we borrow from the past but we write anew.”
Lord Mayor Clover Moore warns that a statue may be considered a western colonial representation. The defacing of bronze statues is a recurring issue for Council.
In a recent exhibition, Battleground, Aboriginal artist Jason Wing repurposes the iconic bronze sculpture of Captain James Cook to rethink the narrative of Australian history. An earlier work Captain James Crook was acquired by AGNSW in 2013. Wing suggests that there should be more importance on community, the utilisation of space with respect to the community, “I’m more interested in public space, why would you do a bronze memorial when you can inform the landscape.”
Dr Simon Longstaff, Philosopher and Director of the Ethics Centre, discusses the need for a set of criteria that is deserving of public commemoration to avoid any retrospective backlash, in an article, Ethics of tearing down monuments.
However, Longstaff cautions that over compensating the balance of righting the past in decisions to top and topple by posing the question, “what of those we fail to erect?”, citing the Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy, “whose resistance to European occupation was every bit as heroic as that of the British Queen Boudica”.
Mundine and supporters are running a campaign petition to Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of NSW, which has received over 9,400 signatures through Change.org at the time of writing.
Audio interviews with Jason Wing and Djon Mundine are on the Talking Through Your Arts podcast website, which is under development.
Talking Through Your Arts on Eastside Radio 89.7FM
6.00 – 6.30pm Wednesdays. Streaming: https://eastsidefm.org/
Angela Stretch is a Sydney based artist, curator, writer and organiser. Her work uses language and poetry through different mediums and has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally. She holds a Masters in Journalism, UTS and has been producing radio for more than a decade. She is the creative director of Poetry Sydney and the curator of the poetry public program at the Brett Whiteley Studio, AGNSW.