Seeing the Land from an Aboriginal Canoe... indigenous knowledge ...
This project explores the significant contribution Aboriginal people made in colonial times by guiding people and stock across the river systems of Victoria.
Before European colonisation Aboriginal people managed the place we now know as Victoria for millennia. Waterways were a big part of that management. Rivers and waterholes were part of the spiritual landscape, they were valuable sources of food and resources, and rivers were a useful way to travel. Skills such as swimming, fishing, canoe building and navigation were an important aspect of Aboriginal Victorian life.
European explorers and colonists arrived in Victoria from the 1830s onwards. The newcomers dispossessed the Aboriginal people of their land, moving swiftly to the best sites which tended to be close to water resources. At times it was a violent dispossession. There was resistance. There were massacres. People were forcibly moved from their traditional lands. This is well known. What is less well known is the ways Aboriginal people helped the newcomers understand and survive in their new environment. And Victoria’s river system was a significant part of that new environment.
To understand this world we need to cast ourselves back into the 19th century to a time before bridges and cars, where rivers were central to transport and movement of goods and people. All people who lived in this landscape needed water, but water was also dangerous. Rivers flooded. You could drown in them. And in that early period many Europeans did not know how to swim. So there was a real dilemma for the newcomers settling in Victoria – how to safely cross the rivers and use the rivers to transport stock and goods.
The newcomers benefited greatly from Aboriginal navigational skills and the Aboriginal bark canoe.
CULTURAL WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander users are warned that this material may contain images of deceased persons and images of places that could cause sorrow.
Murray Darling Palimpsest #6... indigenous knowledge ...
In 2006, Mildura Palimpsest became the Murray Darling Palimpsest, emphatically underscoring the identity of the region and its environmental interdependence.
The Murray Darling Palimpsest, staged in locations throughout the Murray Darling Basin, continues Palimpsest’s direct engagement with issues of environmental and social sustainability. With land and water use no longer in the background, Palimpsest is remarkable in its recognition that art affects attitudes, and reflects the engagement and connection many contemporary artists have to the environment; perhaps the most pressing issue we now face.
In 2006, Palimpsest brought together artists, scientists, environmentalists and other academics and commentators with the future of the Murray Darling Basin firmly in sight.
Murray Darling Palimpsest #5... indigenous knowledge ...
Mildura is situated just south-east of the confluence of two of Australia’s great rivers: the Darling and the Murray.
As water and land use creep up to the top of our national agenda, the Mildura region emerges as one of Australia’s most contested places, with small ‘block’ farmers, multinational companies, State and Federal politics, among others, entering the debate.
As such, it was perhaps the most natural place for the biennial Palimpsest expositions and symposiums to arise. Following on from Mildura’s famous sculpture triennials, Palimpsest plays on the idea of the landscape as palimpsest, written and rewritten over both physically and with layers of meaning. Palimpsest engages directly with land, land use, water and issues of sustainability, involving artists, and scientists and other experts, spearheading the creative exploration of key environmental issues.
Possum Skin Cloaks... Indigenous knowledge ...
CULTURAL WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander users are warned that this material may contain images and voices of deceased persons, and images of places that could cause sorrow.
Continuing the practice of making and wearing possum skin cloaks has strengthened cultural identity and spiritual healing in Aboriginal communities across Victoria.
Embodying 5,000 years of tradition, cultural knowledge and ritual, wearing a possum skin cloak can be an emotional experience. Standing on the barren escarpment of Thunder Point with a Djargurd Wurrong cloak around his shoulders, Elder Ivan Couzens felt an enormous sense of pride in what it means to be Aboriginal.
In this story, eight Victorian Elders are pictured on Country and at home in cloaks that they either made or wore at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.
In a series of videos, the Elders talk about the significance of the cloaks in their lives, explain the meanings of some of the designs and motifs, and reflect on how the cloaks reinforce cultural identity and empower upcoming generations.
Uncle Ivan’s daughter, Vicki Couzens, worked with Lee Darroch, Treahna Hamm and Maree Clarke on the cloak project for the Games. In the essay, Vicki describes the importance of cloaks for spiritual healing in Aboriginal communities and in ceremony in mainstream society.
Traditionally, cloaks were made in South-eastern Australia (from northern NSW down to Tasmania and across to the southern areas of South Australia and West Australia), where there was a cool climate and abundance of possums. From the 1820s, when Indigenous people started living on missions, they were no longer able to hunt and were given blankets for warmth. The blankets, however, did not provide the same level of waterproof protection as the cloaks.
Due to the fragility of the cloaks, and because Aboriginal people were often buried with them, there are few original cloaks remaining. A Gunditjmara cloak from Lake Condah and a Yorta Yorta cloak from Maiden's Punt, Echuca, are held in Museum Victoria's collection. Reproductions of these cloaks are held at the National Museum of Australia.
A number of international institutions also hold original cloaks, including: the Smithsonian Institute (Washington DC), the Museum of Ethnology (Berlin), the British Museum (London) and the Luigi Pigorini National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography (Rome).
Cloak-making workshops are held across Victoria, NSW and South Australia to facilitate spiritual healing and the continuation of this traditional practice.
Stories of Women on the Land... recognised as farmers, prior to this they were defined as ‘non-productive "sleeping" partners’. And, It is only in recent years that scholars have finally acknowledged the 40-50,000 years of Indigenous knowledge and practice in complex systems of agriculture ...
From the grinding stones of Australia’s first farmers, Wagga quilts, butter pats and recipe books to family photographs, garden tools and agricultural equipment – women’s farm work is frequently found in museums. The contribution of women to Australian agriculture has a rich and very deep history. Yet these stories have been unacknowledged and continue to be undervalued.
The nature of women’s farm work is often rendered invisible because much of it is intangible and ephemeral, is characterised by relationships and oral tradition, and dismissed as just ‘domestic’ work when in fact this work is what has often sustained families, farms and communities. The layers of invisibility are even deeper for migrant and Indigenous women.
There has also been a long history of official barriers to recognising women’s work on the land. Farm women were deliberately omitted from the 1891 Victorian Census. Women were excluded from agriculture courses up into the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 1994 that women were legally recognised as farmers, prior to this they were defined as ‘non-productive "sleeping" partners’. And, It is only in recent years that scholars have finally acknowledged the 40-50,000 years of Indigenous knowledge and practice in complex systems of agriculture and aquaculture.
Victorian museums are a treasure trove of untold stories about the extraordinary lives of farm women and how they have shaped our land and rural communities.