Day 132: Illustrated History


Federation Square, which created a public square for Melbourne finally in 2002 is the home to a number of art galleries.

I say finally because Melbourne, as Walks 101 readers will recall, didn’t have one. Fed Square was built to mark the centenary of Australia’s 2001 Federation… and the eagle-eyed will have noticed that 2002 was a year late.

Today, the square is a popular meeting place (now that the people of Melbourne overcame their disdain for the late building) and also a spot for watching the tennis, later this month, on the big screen.

It’s also home to two galleries that have provided the illustrations for the stories I’ve heard and read this week on the walking tour and at the Botanical Gardens.

The Koorie Heritage Trust is a 30 year old Aboriginal owned and managed not‐for‐profit organization that supports, promotes and celebrates the living culture of the Indigenous peoples of south-east Australia.

It presents a range of artefacts and has a gallery filled with beautiful work by Indigenous People. Photography is not allowed so you are just going to have to take my word for it.

It’s a small museum and free to visit. It is understated in its presentation of the impact of colonialism – forced adoption (actually, often kidnap) of Aboriginal children, driving people from their ancestral lands to new areas, breaking up communities, used of European disease in genocide.

To be honest, without prior reading I wouldn’t have found the presentation very informative.

The paintings are beautiful but some of the information provided was sparse.

The Ian Potter Centre next door was a very different experience.

It’s the National Gallery of Victoria’s Australian art exhibit hall. The NGV – International is up the road, close to the Shrine of Remembrance,about ten minutes’ walk.

Entry to the permanent exhibitions is free and I joined a free guided tour where Linda, our guide was focusing on the history of colonial art in Australia. She also covered some of the history of art by Indigenous People at my request – honestly, a museum tour is one of the best things you can do.

One of the first things that struck me about the museum’s presentation of traditional Aboriginal art – works gathered by early settlers was the use of the term: ‘Once Known’.

Collectors documented the the item, its size, various details about where it was from, what it was used for or what it represented, their name and the date.

What’s missing? The name of the original artist.

Art was a key means of eradicating entire peoples and their existence.

This painting by Robert Dowling, showing a group of Indigenous People sitting in the twilight, perpetuating the myth that this was a dwindling race and that the Europeans were ‘smoothing the pillow of their dying’.

The woman seated on the left was known as the Last Queen of Tasmania and instead of respecting her wishes that her bones not be disturbed, her head was taken to London for ‘research’.

As I learned from Kevin, on the Walks 101 tour… the colonisers weren’t really keen on their new home. They viewed the landscape with suspicion and fear.

This painting, ‘Lost’ by Frederick McCubbin highlighted a very common terror of being lost in the Bush.

He didn’t want to give viewers nightmares and included snapped twig in the foreground, giving hope that the child would be found by a tracker… who would probably have been Aboriginal.

The Ian Potter Gallery includes several pieces, actually when I say several, I mean whole rooms dedicated to work by Indigenous artists.

Some are traditional pieces made using natural materials, earth, bark and etchings – others are more recent.

I particularly liked this by Gordon Hockey and it seems extremely relevant to the situation that Australia (and the world is facing today).

Sacred Nation, Scared Nation, Indoctrination by Gordon Hockey

Some of this artist’s works were presented at the Koorie Heritage Trust too. Hockey likes to play with words to subvert their meaning so terrorist is replaced with terra-ist… activists on behalf of the earth.

A great deal of the work presented, including video-art and musical performance, was focused on environmentalism and climate activism – challenging the use of fossil fuels.

But I started by saying that this visit was the illustration of what I’d already learned this week and the two paintings that summed that up best were those depicting the Six o’clock Swill.

The workers leave the office at 5pm and the men make their way straight to the pub to get their pints in before 6pm.

Both were painted by John Brack in the 1950s and I found them quite similar to work by LS Lowry.

The Ian Potter Gallery is a great way to get an understanding of Australian Art and Linda told me that this is the only gallery in Australia to focus solely on work by Australian artists.

Categories: Australia, Environment, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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