The Powerhouse Museum has an amazing range of Australian and international, historical and contemporary objects which tell us so much about who we are, where we came from and perhaps more importantly, they may help us identify who we are now and where we are going. NAIDOC week stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. According to the NAIDOC website, NAIDOC Week’s origins “can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920’s which sought to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians”. Today NAIDOC Week is commemorated on the first full week of July. It is a time to remember to pay tribute to and recognise Indigenous Australians vital connection and contribution to country, culture and society.
The photograph above is one of many historical Aboriginal or Aboriginal-related artefacts in the Powerhouse Museum collection, and it confirms Aboriginal Australian’s close connection to land. The photographer, provenance and origin of the photograph are unknown, though it’s highly unlikely to have been the work of an Indigenous artist or photographer. It is one of a set of 4 late nineteenth century albumen prints which document rock engravings in the Sydney basin region. A study of these photographs hints that the engravings are found on bushy terrain recently disturbed by the impact of encroaching urban development. They are part of a larger donation of socially significant material given to the Museum in 1981 by the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS), the oldest historical society in Australia (formed 1901). The RAHS documented and preserved records of extreme social and historical significance.
My colleague, recently retired Curator, Koori History and Culture, James Wilson-Miller was providing history notes for this photograph and the poster below, just before his retired (June 2014). Of the photograph James wrote:
“Rock engravings or petroglyphs are probably the oldest physical art form known to Indigenous Australians. This art form mainly consists of animal and marine life, weaponry and other wooden implements. The Sydney/Hawkesbury region is stated to be the most concentrated of all engraved sites. Koonalda Cave, under the Nullarbor Plain have engravings said to be over 20 millennia and at Lake Mungo in New South Wales, several hearths have been dated around 30-40 millennia, therefore carvings found in this (Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park) area could well have been created by people who lived then.”
The ‘Dispossessed’ poster below, designed and printed by Alice Hinton-Bateup for Garage Graphix in Western Sydney during the 1980s continues the tradition of expressing connection to land. It was purchased by the Museum in 1986. James Wilson-Miller also provide history notes for this object:
“The designer of this poster, Alice Hinton-Bateup, is a cousin of mine. We share the same great, grandmother, Harriet Waters, the elderly lady in this poster. I personally took this image of our great grandmother in early February or March 1961 when I’d just turned twelve years old. The cartography is also mine, it was taken from my book, Koori: A Will To Win (p.13) published by Angus and Robertson in 1985.”
Alice Hinton-Bate-up has entwined the following words into the poster:
“Dispossessed. Every time Aboriginals are forced to move because of poverty, harassment or white housing policy we lose more of our connection to the land and our people. So we travel through halfway places in our own land.”
As a curator at the Museum of Applied Arts And Sciences in Sydney, and a citizen of Australia, I cherish the fact that items such as these have been acquired and preserved by the Powerhouse Museum as they continue to provide poignant reminders of time, place, meaning and significance in multiple contexts and from multiple perspectives.
Written by Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator