At a headland ceremony reminiscent of traditional Gadigal gatherings, First Nations dancers have unveiled one of Sydney’s most significant public artworks.
The gleaming 6.4m high marble monument, inspired by shell fishing hooks handcrafted and used by local Aboriginal women for generations, sits high on the lawns overlooking Dubbagullee (Bennelong Point) and Warrane (Circular Quay).
The artwork bara, meaning shell hook, by Waanyi artist Judy Watson honours the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.
Commissioned by the City of Sydney, the project has been guided by the City of Sydney’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel, curatorial advisor Hetti Perkins and Aboriginal community members and organisations.
Selected following an open invitation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, Judy Watson said she is inspired by historical artefacts that reveal discrimination and hidden histories from Australia’s past.
"The crescent shape is a beautiful expression of Aboriginal technology, with the shells fashioned into fish hooks by women who dangled them from their nawi canoes. The bara is like a reflection of the moon in the sky, the bays in the harbour, the sails of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge," Judy Watson said.
“bara reimagines ancient gathering spaces where people sat by fires on the headlands and feasted. bara will provide a quiet space for ceremony, reflection and contemplation in a busy and ever-changing city. It is inspiring and educational, beautiful and transformative.”
The fire at today’s event was lit by a flame delivered on board a boat by the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation. Official proceedings followed a community picnic and featured dance and musical performances.
Speaking at the unveiling, Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the artwork is a reminder and celebration of the enduring contribution of the Eora and First Nations people.
“This stunning artwork is about recognising the destructive impact of invasion on the Gadigal people, honouring Sydney’s first inhabitants and their descendants and promoting respect for the Aboriginal people that make this city what it is today,” the Lord Mayor said.
“This artwork goes someway to answering the clear call from the community for meaningful recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ identities and cultures in this city’s public spaces.
“Overlooking Sydney Harbour, bara recognises the cultural significance of the site and the deep connection of Gadigal people to Country.
“In its siting, not so far from where the British raised their flag to signify their “sovereignty”, bara reminds us that there was a rich, living culture that had been here over hundreds of generations, a culture that understood this place better than any newcomer could hope. It will remind us of what endures, of what is of lasting importance, and of how – in the 21st century – we must at last learn to live in harmony with the land and its resources.
“Those who visit the harbour will see bara and think about our obligation to care for Country, like the women who fished in this harbour did before us, and how our actions now impact future generations.”
The City of Sydney’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel has been involved in the Eora Journey public art program since its inception in 2010.
Speaking at the unveiling, Aunty Bronwyn Penrith, a member of the City of Sydney’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel, said referencing fish hooks also acknowledges the entrepreneurial role of women in society throughout history.
“The fisherwomen of Sydney fished to feed their families and were also entrepreneurs, trading their catches with other groups around the Sydney basin and beyond,” said Aunty Bronwyn Penrith.
“These fish hooks were a thing of beauty, carved and shiny in the water to attract the fish. Time and care were taken to make the tools of their trade. This embedded the important role of our women in society as providers and sources of sustenance, and providers of industry to our peoples.”
bara is a key milestone and the fourth public art project in the Eora Journey, curated by Hetti Perkins, to honour the heritage and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the public domain. The program aims to reactivate knowledge of places and events in Aboriginal history at key sites within the city. Seven major public art projects created by First Nations’ artists will form part of the Eora Journey.
“The cultural protocol of welcoming people to Country or acknowledging the traditional custodians of Country is at the heart of this artwork. The artwork exemplifies this symbolic and deeply meaningful public gesture in a tangible and respectful way and is especially important given the national significance of where bara is located,” said curatorial advisor Hetti Perkins.
“Standing sentinel-like on the headland of Warrane, bara echoes the lighting of signal fires on headlands which heralded the route of travelling ships and references the gatherings of the Eora clans.
“bara emerges out of an ancient and enduring Eora cultural context to eloquently express the nexus between the political, social and natural landscapes of historical and contemporary Sydney.”
bara is part of an upcoming 9km curated walk, Yananurala, that highlights Aboriginal history and cultures at places along the Sydney harbour foreshore. Translated as ‘walking on Country’, Yananurala will share Aboriginal perspectives and stories through artworks and installations along a walking route from Pirrama (Pyrmont) to Woolloomooloo.
bara has been supported by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the Australian Museum, the Sydney Opera House and the City of Sydney Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Public Art Advisory panels.
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