Sydney is home to one of the largest outdoor rock art sites in Australia, and the largest population of Aboriginal people anywhere. Across Aboriginal Australia is a great diversity of art and belief practices. This exhibition brings together painting tools, ochres, shields, spears and clubs that all have their provenance in Aboriginal language regions of New South Wales, such as the Bundjulung, Wiradjuri and Dharug. The exhibition also includes stone tool artefacts from the Penrith lakes area thought to be around 15,000 years old.
From the deep past to today the exhibition highlights the continuing artistic traditions of Aboriginal people of New South Wales.
This exhibition brings together painting tools, ochres, stone tool artefacts, shields, spears and clubs that all have their provenience in the regions of NSW. The stone tool artefacts in this exhibition provide grounding for evidence of millennia of Aboriginal cultural practice in the region of NSW. This exhibition aims to highlight the largely untold story that these objects can tell us about the regional knowledge's of NSW and their traditional custodians.
On level 2 of the stairway into the Macleay Museum is a cast of an Aboriginal rock carving from the Hornsby area of North Western Sydney (FIGURE 1). There were many thousands of existing rock art sites in Sydney and today there are still some publicly accessible sites. However this cast is of a rock art site that was destroyed for a road that was to be built. Its presence acts as a reminder of the many thousands more that have been destroyed over the last two centuries in Sydney.
The title of the exhibition "Outlines" is drawn from the two different styles of art that are most predominant in the region we know as New South Wales today. Petroglyphs (rock carvings) and dendroglyphs (tree Carvings).
Ornamentation, decoration and the transformation of practical everyday items into cultural practices that span generations of Aboriginal people are all evident in the objects on display in this exhibition. In an ethno botanical context there is much more that can be learned and discovered about the traditional knowledge's or medicinal purposes that these artefacts give evidence to.
Aboriginal art is the largest art movement in recent Australian history; Aboriginal art has been one of the most successful economic strategies employed by Aboriginal people in Australia to communicate in their own with National and international communities. The objects in this exhibition where originally collected in an ethnographic or anthropologic classificatory context that did not value the meanings that these objects held for the people that owned them. Modern museum and cultural studies have created proactive strategies that engage with Indigenous communities on their own terms and highlight the priority of first Australians having a first decision as to the extended interpretation or public presentation of these objects and artefacts.
This exhibition also aims to increase awareness about the art that existed in New South Wales and engaging community members to bring their own knowledge of these objects and materials in an effort to increase awareness of the richness and uniqueness of Aboriginal art production in New south Wales today.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members are strongly encouraged to bring their interpretations and understanding of the meanings associated with these objects to the Macleay Museum.
Please note that all descriptive terms for objects in this exhibition have been described with Dharug (EORA) language which is specific to the Sydney Region and does not indicate the language that was used to describe these objects in their place of production.
The objects in this selection were presented by the Bundjulung people of the North East coast of New South Wales to Hugh James. James worked closely with New South Wales Government Chemist, Arthur Penfold developing technologies now associated with the development of an antiseptic produced from the cultivation of the tea tree plant.
The development of this industry essentially transformed (without any open attribution) information that was definitely known to the local Bundjulung people as having the medicinal properties of an antiseptic. The melaleuca tree (ti tree) is one of the largest industries in the Ballina region today. It appears that Hugh James had an amicable relationship with the local Bundjulung people as he was presented with a set of weapons made in specifically for him that demonstrated the tradition techniques of the Bundjulung people from the area.
The plant that this oil is made from is also casually referred to as Cabbage tree and Cabbage tree Island is the name of the mission that Aboriginal people in the Ballina region were moved onto in the 1890's. Whyralla and Coriki are areas where the Bundgulung people of the far north coast were displaced as the nearby urban centres of Lismore and Ballina grew. According to Bundjalung oral tradition, during the 1890s a group of Aboriginal people in north-eastern New South Wales (NSW) walked from Wyrallah near Lismore and crossed to Cabbage Tree Island. They aimed to take possession of the land and clear the thick scrub to begin cane farming.
... There's a real big fig tree there, that used to be there, when the boats used to come into the Ballina Harbour here, but the fig tree was their guide, way they'd see it from out at sea, the really huge fig tree on top of the hill. Well, the trees up there now, they used to camp around there and also at Wyrallah, they had a big bora ring at Wyrallah and Tuckean swamp. They used to live down at Tuckean swamp there, a lot of Aborigines, but then they came down this way, down near Cabbage Tree.''
Uncle Lewis Cook, interview 26 January 2005, Boundary Creek
For thousands of years the Bundjalung Aborigines from the north coast of NSW used Tea Tree as a medicine. The crushed leaves of Tea Tree were inhaled to treat coughs and colds, or were sprinkled on wounds after which a poultice was applied. In addition, Tea Tree leaves were soaked to make an infusion to treat sore throats or skin ailments
(Low, 1990; Shemesh & Mayo, 1991).
Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi
This Parrying shield is from the Murrumbidgee River region of NSW, artist Roy Kennedy grew up on the Warrengesda mission during this period and many of his works focus on his memories of growing up on the Murrumbidgee River. This river separated two missions and Roy's father lived on one mission while his mother was made to live on the other. The Murrumbidgee River features strongly in the work of contemporary artist Roy Kennedy.
Kennedy's work rare memories of life growing up on the missions and reserves of the Darling River region in the 1930's and 40's. These objects are exhibited side by side to show that the stylistic influence of tradition cultural objects held by museums can provide interesting reference material for practicing artists.
Carved trees are becoming rarer in NSW as trees decay and fall over or are burnt. Aboriginal people used carved trees to mark burial and ceremonial sites. Usually a section of the bark of the tree was removed and a carving made on the exposed wood. These trees are still significant to particular Aboriginal groups.
These artworks by artist Roy Kennedy depict memories of his life growing up in places such as the Warangesda mission and the many activities that centred on the Murrumbidgee river
Artworks by Roy Kennedy in this exhibition include
Warialda is an area that sits in between the traditional language boundaries of the western Bundjulung and the Eastern Kamilaroi language groups of Northern NSW. This selection of ochres, pigments and ironstone show a brief glimpse at the artistic palate of the NSW region of the Gamilaraay. They are specifically from the town of Warialda and were presented to the university of Sydney Museums by Thelma Bush. The colour palette of these pigments ranges from yellow, umber, ochre, red, orange and purple. White clay was also used a pigment but is not from the same ironstone source as this selection of objects.
Painting existed in New South Wales on bodies, shields and on rock surfaces evidence of this was recently found in the Hawkesbury region of NSW with representational Charcoal paintings of a eagles dated at several thousands of years old.
The grinding stone in this exhibit also references the utilitarian purposes of these artefacts grinding stones were not only used in the production of food such as the grinding of seeds or root vegetable but also in the grounding of ochres to produce pigment.
Background: One of the earliest technologies that humans invented was the making of paint. By using different coloured earth, or grinding soft rocks to a powder, early people could make pictures of different colours. The first use of minerals was for cave painting. The Egyptians used minerals in their cosmetics and for tomb painting. Australian Aboriginal painters used earth colours - reds, browns, and yellows, black and white - from ochres and other minerals. Early humans used coloured pigments removed from the earth to paint their bodies and implements, and the caves in which they lived. Graves unearthed by archaeologists showed bodies covered in red pigment. Red was a colour associated with blood and symbolised life's meaning and end. The word haematite is derived from the Greek word haema meaning blood. As iron oxide (haematite) did not fade unlike vegetable dyes, people sought and mined the red pigment - haematite. (source HSC online).
It is also interesting to note that on the 21st of september 2009 the town of Moree (around 80 Kilometres from Warialda) held a corroboree Yanay to Gamilaraay, This particular type of ceremony had not been publicly held in New South Wales since 1938. On the 23rd September 2009 one of the largest dust storms in recorded history swept over large parts of the entire eastern coast line of NSW between Sydney and Brisbane – dancing up a storm perhaps?
Giba (ke-ba) stone or rock
Stone Tool artefact from the Dharug
(Western Sydney/Penrith Lakes region)
Macleay Museum Object # 85-5-82-4 (above)
"A pebble chopper found in situ at the base of the gravels, when pumping allowed inspection below the water table and the discovery of bog-preserved logs nearby (Stockton and Holland 1974:65). These were then dated to about 30,000 B.P. Subsequent work on the geomorphology of the terrace by Nanson and Young showed that the dated samples had been contaminated with younger carbon in the ground water" (Nanson et al. 1987).
The modified pebble (object 85-5-82-4) which is shown above is a worked uniface pebble (presumably incipient or unfinished) which was interpreted as having being flaked with the intention of forming a chopper tool. This pebble is Figure 7a in Stockton and Holland (1974) and Figure 5a Nanson, Young and Stockton (1987). Stockton and Holland (1974, p. 52) described this as a flat pebble of weathered rhyolite, measuring 12 x 10 x 3 cm, with three flakes dislodged by conchoidal fracture, one overlapping, in a series on one face along a straight 7 cm side.
They stated that "obvious pitting from age covers all surfaces (cortex, flake faces and ridges)" The thirteen or more items from the gravel bed at Upper Castlereagh which are in the Macleay Museum' Stockton collection as broken-up pebbles and cobbles of a variety of rock types include the above core of large broken porphyry clast (cobble) that has been 'smashed' in a number of places. (Object 220.127.116.11) This discovery at Upper Castlereagh discovery was made by Fr Eugene Stockton, and it has been published on by him and others.