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Cleansing smoke welcomes indigenous art to country

• Gunaikurnai and Bunurong elders and some younger members of their tribes light the fire for the smoking ceremony welcoming artists and art lovers to country and the opening of the NAIDOC Week indigenous art exhibition at the Stockyard Gallery
in Foster on Thursday July 4, 2019.

A WAFT of cleansing smoke from burning gum leaves welcomed indigenous artworks, the artists who created them and art lovers alike to country and the opening of the NAIDOC Week exhibition at Stockyard Gallery in Foster on Thursday July 4, 2019.

The Foster show is one half of a joint exhibition curated by the Bass Coast South Gippsland Reconciliation Group and shared with the Inverloch Community Hub where the second part was formally opened on Friday July 5, 2019.

The exhibition at both galleries is open every day between 10 am and 4 pm until Sunday July 28.

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee and the theme for the Reconciliation Group’s exhibition this year is “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future”.

The smoking ceremony at Foster was conducted by Gunaikurnai man Uncle Lloyd Hood together with Bunurong men Uncle Shane Clarke and Eric Edwards, who kindled a fire in a small metal pit outside the gallery before inviting all present to pass through the smoke to the sound of a didgeridoo.

Uncle Lloyd said smoke cleansed people’s souls, chased bad spirits away from places, and was an important part of the welcome to country ceremony.

“We have travelled with groups of young Aboriginal people throughout Victoria and Australia, and every country we went on we did the fire ceremony,” he said.

“The Gunaikurnai, the Bunurong and our neighbouring tribes have been together for tens of thousands of years and our culture is still here today as part of our ancestors, the ones who have gone on before.”

Uncle Shane said, “we want to share our knowledge, to learn from each other and to learn what others know, as their elders are as important to me as my own.”

South Gippsland Shire acting chief executive officer Bryan Sword led the gathering in offering respectful acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land, past and present elders and their spirits and ancestors.

Exhibition opening master of ceremonies and South Gippsland Shire community strengthening co-ordinator Ned Dennis said the NAIDOC Week exhibition was “for the whole of the South Gippsland and Bass Coast community.

“There is a lot we need to learn about the indigenous community, and we appreciate the Gunaikurnai and Bunurong people and those of other clans and tribes who have come to this celebration of indigenous culture and art,” he said.

“Thank you to the indigenous artists who were prepared to provide artworks for the exhibition, and also to the Bass Coast and South Gippsland Reconciliation Group, the South Gippsland and Bass Coast shires, the two galleries and the TAFE Gippsland students who are taking part.”

Reconciliation Group exhibition co-ordinator Mary Mutsaers said the group had been involved in the NAIDOC Week exhibition for the past 15 years, though this year was the first time it had been divided between two galleries.

“We invite all Australians to join us in celebration of indigenous culture and to walk together,” she said.

“We [the Reconciliation Group] were key players in campaigning for the Australian Electoral Commission to change the name of the McMillan electorate, and we were delighted in one way that the name became Monash but saddened in another way that it wasn’t an indigenous name.”

Stockyard Gallery committee president Wally Birkenbeil thanked the artists represented in the exhibition for “taking a risk” by entrusting their works to the gallery before promising to look after them, “as it is a privilege for people to get to enjoy them.

“A picture is worth a thousand words and we have to interpret and understand them,” he said.

“Art is a very powerful medium and it can cross cultures and languages.”

There are 23 works by 10 different artists on display at the Stockyard Gallery’s NAIDOC Week exhibition, including five paintings by Foster district resident Lisa Kennedy. 

Lisa is a descendant of the Trawlwoolway people on the north-east coast of Tasmania and is also recognised for her beautiful picture books for children and adults.

She wrote and illustrated her own Wurramatyenna and the Magic Canoe and Wurramatyenna and the Call from the Sea and collaborated with Wurundjeri elder and author Aunty Joy Murphy, providing the pictures for their multi-award-winner Welcome to Country.

Lisa also produced the illustrations for the picture book Wilam: A Birrarung Storywritten by Aunty Joy Murphy and Yarra Riverkeeper Andrew Kelly, described in a Readings bookshop review as “absolutely stunning”.

Trafalgar artist Dr Auntie Eileen Harrison has three paintings at Stockyard Gallery, including Kangaroo Spirit, which was purchased on the night by the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation’s chief executive officer Roger Fenwick for display in the GLaWAC head office at Kalimna West.

Other artists in the exhibition are Patrice Mahoney, Ric Harrison, Melissa Fenton, Safina Stewart, Casey Sweetman, Melissa McDevitt, Ronald Edwards Pepper and Norman Harrison.

The evening was catered for by the South Gippsland Hospital Auxiliary, with an impressive and tasty choice of fare and a selection of drinks.

The NAIDOC Week exhibition continues at Stockyard Gallery until Sunday July 28, 2019.

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