‘Relatedness’: Land, culture, heritage and Aboriginal identity today.
For 65000+ years Australia’s First Nations people have had a special connection to their ancestral homelands. Why is this connection to country so important to Aboriginal communities and what is it exactly? This is not an easy concept to explain to a non-Aboriginal person.
Catherine Liddle says that: “Connection to country is inherent, we are born to it, it is how we identify ourselves, it is our family, our laws, our responsibility, our inheritance and our legacy. To not know your country causes a painful disconnection, the impact of which is well documented in studies relating to health, wellbeing and life outcomes.” [i]
She is right. Everything in our vast landscape has meaning and purpose. You see our connection to country is part of our lore, our religion and spirituality and our kinship systems. The land, the rocks, the water, the trees, the animals are our extended family. We are all connected.
It is not only our responsibility to care for the land, it is where our ancestors are, it is where we go for guidance, where we go to invigorate and re-charge, where we gather strength and understanding, it is here we learn to survive, and it is where we obtain sustenance. Country is in almost everything we do, and we are taught this through ancestral memory and from our elders from a very young age.
Western science is now catching up to this knowledge and is beginning to understand this idea of connectedness; as principles of Indigenous knowledge are beginning to be understood through scientific research relating to quantum physics. Scientists are starting to understand what Indigenous clans across the globe have known for tens of thousands of years (if not longer), we are all fundamentally connected to everything around us. It seems that spirituality and science are connected after all.
Even the Dalai Llama has come to understand that “spirituality without quantum physics is an incomplete picture of reality.” [ii]
As science and spirituality finally meet, it unearths more questions than answers for first nations people looking for a deeper understanding of what connectedness means in today’s landscape.
This work, ‘Relatedness’, is an exploration of what that connection to country means as a person with Aboriginal heritage in a contemporary ecosphere. It is likewise an investigation into using country as a healing mechanism as much as it is an examination of Aboriginal identity.
Acknowledgements: People that must be acknowledged for the countless conversations, cultural sharing and knowledge exchange that led to this work. Many of whom influence and inspire me. Thank you to each of you, you never know the massive impact a simple conversation can have on other human being..
Aunty Jo Clarke, Aunty Janet Bromley, Aunty Stephanie Armstrong, Aunty Julie McHale, Mishel McMahon, Kathryn Coff, Jida Gulpilil, Uncle Rick Nelson, Frederick Bubb, Cahsn Pholley, George Filev, Michael Firth, Denis Chapman, Noel Hourigan, Robert Scholes, Roberta Foster, Shane Carey, Gerry Gill, Dee Gill and many others.
Karen Martin & Booran Mirraboopa must also be acknowledged for their research: Ways of knowing, being and doing: A theoretical framework and methods for indigenous and indigenist re‐search.
Relatedness - Take Two
A portrait of Lake Eppalock
All my life I was taught littering was bad. My parents taught us to respect the land and animals, as children it was drummed into us to take our rubbish home with us, at school this teaching was reiterated and we learnt about environmental issues and the effect that litter has on our earth, there were documentaries made, on TV we’d watch shows like Captain Planet, every few months there was a new anti-litter advertising campaign from our government and organisations like ‘Clean Up Australia’ and ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’ were formed.
But at some point all of that stopped and people just forgot and I was annoyed.
In the spring of 2013 I moved to the outskirts of a regional city after living in the urban hub of Melbourne for most of my life. I was immediately fascinated by the local flora and fauna and the beauty of the natural landscape. I began to spend the majority of my spare time exploring the national parks, forests and local waterways. But everywhere I went I spent some of my visit disgusted, because everywhere I went there was litter. It activated thoughts about growing up in the 80’s and 90’s and how there was so much visual material dedicated to environmental causes, we were taught to ‘Do The Right Thing’ and to ’Keep Australia Beautiful’, but 2 decades later we seem to have learnt nothing. We spent two decades learning about environmental health, and the next two forgetting everything we learnt. It irked me. I felt personally insulted that this litter could exist out there in the elements today and hardly anybody cared.
I began to photograph the litter everywhere I went. I began by taking crime scene photos of litter that evolved into beautiful landscapes shots with litter in it, I started collecting litter and taking it in to the photography studio, decontextualizing it and making litter typologies. But this recent body of work has seen me exploring a specific site, Lake Eppalock and experimenting with a different kind of image maker, a scanner.
This work highlights what happens when budgets are more important than our environment, when red tape hinders the health of our earth and is a prime example of what mis-management looks like. But most importantly, it illustrates the everyday citizen passing the buck to councils and other government organisations, when really they should just ‘Do The Right Thing’ and not litter in the first place. This is an exploration of what our society has become, it is a commentary on our laziness and a judgement on a colonial society that has failed.
This is my way of making peace with the litter so the anger and anxiety it causes me can subside and instead I can focus on recycling, re-purposing and reusing. I also like the irony of taking something discarded, worthless, wrong and giving it an element of value and beauty.
A day at the Lake
Note: These are stills from the video work.
This multi-faceted work responds to the reproduction of art, cultural appropriation, art factories and the social and political consequences of all of these aspects of the modern art world. This work also speaks of ethics; as well as the consequences of capitalism, industrialisation and globalisation.
One day in February 2016, whilst in a souvenir shop in Melbourne, I would make a discovery that would become my obsession. A discovery that would both shock and sicken me. Aboriginal souvenirs were being made in art factories in China and other Asian countries, only to be sold back to Australia and sold on to our tourists. Aboriginal art was being ripped off.
As an Aboriginal Australian and an artist, this was a complete slap in the face. In the coming months, I went out of my way to visit anywhere that souvenirs were sold, only to be faced time and time again with a painful truth: Asia, China and Indonesia are making fake aboriginal art and selling them back to us. I began collecting these items.
Every image in this video features a poorly reproduced “Aboriginal style artwork” that was made overseas and is now being sold to tourists in Australia. These cheap fakes, replicas of cultural art; and are inadvertently exploiting Aboriginal people and their culture, whilst also taking something very important and much needed away from Indigenous peoples. This is another opportunity to build capacity that has been taken from us. Again, we have been robbed. So much for us making a living. So much for our intellectual property. So much for our cultural integrity.
‘Cultural appropriation’ is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. ... Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating culture, or even as a form of desecration. At least that is what Wiki says, but isn’t it really theft? Isn’t taking something that does not belong to you stealing?
This body of work highlights theft. The theft of our cultural homelands, the continual theft of our cultural heritage and the theft of Aboriginal cultural arts.
For 229 years Australia’s Indigenous peoples have been oppressed. This latest attack on Aboriginal Australia is not OK. We’ve been through enough. What else is left to be stolen from us? Where does it end?
Note: These are stills from the video work. The original work featured audio of an unnamed Afgani refugee telling his story. From why he had to leave Afganistan and his journey to India, Indonesia, Christmas Island and finally to Australia. You hear about his two attempts to get here via a leaky boat and what happened thereafter. You'll hear him talk about the fear and longing he has for a family he might never see again. A story of heartbreak, tragedy, adventure and the journey for a better life.
“For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. With courage let us all combine to advance Australia fair.”
This work is a response to the above verse from the Australian Anthem and how it may be relative to political issues such as genocide, foreign aid, immigration, asylum seeking, boat people, detention centres, patriotism, islamophobia, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia.
In the spring of 2013 I moved from a multicultural hub in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne to a predominantly Christian Anglo-Saxon demographic in Central Victoria’s Bendigo.
At first the differences seemed all positive. I loved the laid back rural atmosphere and still had most of the conveniences of the city. I did miss the multiculturalism of Melbourne, particularly the food; but I figured I’d traded that off for the peace and quiet of country living.
People seemed so nice in Bendigo, so genuine and caring; despite my identifying as queer, having Aboriginal heritage and having a shaved head, I was accepted with open arms. But I later realized that welcome may have been very different had I been of Muslim faith.
I was living here approximately a year when I first realized that there was an anti-mosque campaign, and not long after, the demonstrations against the mosque began. I had previously been oblivious to this issue, sure I had seen a few ignorant Islamophobic rants on Facebook about all Muslims being terrorists or the halal certification conspiracy, but as I knew it is against the Islamic faith to hurt even an ant, I had simply put it down to ignorance and fear mongering. I had absolutely no idea that the anti-Islam campaign had gained so much momentum…. until it came to Bendigo.
I was flabbergasted, this all seemed so surreal to me and not in a good way. Maybe this was because I spent most of my teen years in and around Broadmeadows in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, which is still a predominantly Islamic and Christian demographic. Resident’s families have immigrated here from Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Vietnam, Timor, Italy, Greece, England and other parts of the world. We always lived together peacefully and shared in each other’s food, cultures and religious holidays. We had Muslims teaching us, serving us in the local businesses and on our local council. We went to school together, worked together and lived as neighbors. I had Muslim friends and I had always found people of the Islamic faith to be kind, gentle, peaceful people that were grateful to be here in this country.
It’s unbelievable that Islamic people have been living in Bendigo since before 1901, and previously celebrated publicly, yet now suddenly are targets of xenophobia and bigotry. 
Australia’s indigenous people are the true owners of this land. What that means is that YOU ALL are immigrants and asylum seekers of some sort, BUT you are welcome here. Regardless of your age, gender, skin colour, cultural roots or your religion, you have been welcomed here and have been made to feel that this is your home.
This country has been built on multiculturalism and diversity, it is what makes Australia unique and so beautiful. Bendigo too was built on multiculturalism and up until recently we all lived together peacefully. It is time for us to educate ourselves and others, show acceptance and tolerance, and unite as a nation once more.
“A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Mahatma Gandhi
What does our culture say about us?
 Noble, P. (2015). Bendigo Weekly - News. [online] Bendigo Weekly. Available at: http://www.bendigoweekly.com.au/news/recalling-bendigos-mohammedan-tribute [Accessed 3 Oct. 2015].
Note: These are stills from the video work.
‘Surface’ - Ideas of ochre, ink and colonial bogans.
This work is a pastiche of ‘No Limit’ a work by Chinese artist Cindy Ng Sio Ieng. My interpretation of the original work ‘No limit’ speaks of industrialisation and globalisation, as well as the merging between Chinese and western culture.
Much like ‘No limit’ my work ‘Surface’ is also multi layered, it responds to the merging of cultures, but focusses on the relationship between the West, East and Indigenous Australia.
It also speaks about identity, and poses a question: Who are we as people with Aboriginal heritage today? Our culture has evolved due to both time, and the influences of the other cultures permanently present in our country; and European, Western, Eastern and Aboriginal cultures all project expectations onto each of us regarding who we are meant to be and what it is that makes a person an Indigenous Australian.
The work also talks about similar experiences shared by both the Chinese and Aboriginal Australians (and anyone ese that was not a white male) in Australia since colonisation. ‘Surface’ speaks of the many xenophobic policies that were implemented by the Australian government that affected both the Chinese and Indigenous Australians and assisted to add to Australia’s white supremacist culture.[i]
It acknowledges the race riots that both Indigenous Australians and the Chinese have been faced with in this country. [ii] The work also pays tribute to the loss caused by the impact of western invaders on Aboriginal Australia and immigrants in this country.[iii]
‘What is on the surface is only ever a small part of our unseen story.’
[i] Such government policies include but are not limited to: the White Australia policy - the Immigration Restriction Act, the Assimilation policy and the Aboriginal Protection policies.
[ii] Such as the countless colonial massacres of indigenous peoples and the massacre of Chinese goldminers on the Buckland River in Victoria, and at Lambing Flat (now Young) in New South in the 1850’s.
[iii] As many Australians are now aware, Aboriginal culture was almost lost due to the stolen generation. First peoples were forced to adopt the culture of the colonisers, European religion was thrust upon them and they were forbidden to practice their Aboriginal culture. Now as a result there is this merged culture among Aboriginal Australia. It encompasses lore and law, the dreaming and Christianity, urbanisation and tradition. It embraces the new whilst practicing and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Hi, I am Ray.
I am Australian
Male, Female or Freak?
Male, Female or Freak?
This work is an investigation of failure, utopian realities and an exploration of the decline of central Victorian farming communities.