Bangarra Dance Theatre’s upcoming production Bennelong (Sydney Opera House 29 June – 29 July) highlights a significant figure from our city’s history. It tells the story of Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the Eora, from the Port Jackson area in Sydney. Bennelong’s extraordinary curiosity and diplomacy involved acting as a mediator and interpreter, while maintaining resistance against British settlers together with his people.
Much of Sydney’s history is inscribed in the city’s fabric and cultural productions such as Bennelong are one way to delve into our stories. Another way to understand your city’s past is through public art. Here’s a brief tour of public art around Sydney to get you started:
1. YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall by Tony Albert in Hyde Park, Sydney
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have always defended their lands. Long before they were recognised as citizens and counted in the census, they put their lives at risk to defend Australia. They continue to serve our country.
However, among the numerous injustices experienced by returned service men and women, was the denial of recognition of their service. Further, Aboriginal land was being taken and given to non-Indigenous veterans.
This artwork honours the sacrifice and service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women. You can see it in Hyde Park South, a place that is a historic ritual contest ground, a crossroads for walking trails, a place of gathering, and home to the Anzac Memorial.
Bangarra dancers performing a segment of Shield from the work Terrain
2. Bibles and Bullets by Fiona Foley in Redfern Park, Redfern
When Redfern Park was upgraded in 2008, artist Fiona Foley created sculptures designed for imaginative play for children. She themed it around native flora and one of the most important Aboriginal creation figures in South Eastern Australia, Biami.
Park visitors can see the constructed ‘seed pods’ in Intuitive Play, the fountain/water play equipment of Lotus Line and a skate park and basketball courts titled Possum Play. The artist gathered reference material from walks throughout the local area and themed the play elements
Two inscriptions feature in paving near the play equipment. One commemorates artist Michael Riley (1960 to 2004) with a text written by Aboriginal curator, writer, artist and activist, Djon Mundine OAM. The second is an excerpt from former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s famous 1992 ‘Redfern speech’, given in this park.
“It begins, I think with that act of recognition. / Recognition that it was we who did the / dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and / smashed the traditional way of life. / We brought the diseases. The alcohol. / We committed the murders. / We took the children from their mothers. / We practised discrimination and exclusion.” – Extract from the Redfern Speech, Year for the World’s Indigenous People by Paul Keating PM on 10 December, 1992
3. Wuganmagulya by Brenda L. Croft in Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney
This artwork pays homage to the Eora, including the Gadigal clan who originally inhabited the site, as well as clans who travelled great distances to attend ceremonies at Sydney Cove. It depicts figures from Sydney rock carvings, including the names of men and women, places, animals and objects. The artwork also acknowledges recent Indigenous history, such as the 1988 Long March of Peace, Justice and Hope.
4. Welcome to Redfern by Reko Rennie on the corner of Caroline and Hugo Streets, Redfern
Welcome to Redfern is a terrace-scale mural in front of the Redfern Community Centre. Redfern is known across the nation for its almost century-long cultural and political activism. A patch of land in the area known as The Block, originally rows of terraces bounded by four streets, was the first time Aboriginal people were granted ownership over urban land.
Directly adjacent to The Block, the terrace mural forms a landmark and monument to the neighbourhood’s Aboriginal history, activism, community and culture.
Artist Reko Rennie worked with local young Aboriginal artists from the Tribal Warrior program to bring Welcome to Redfern to life with the theme of ‘local heroes’. The process was a skills-sharing exercise, with the young participants receiving practical street art and stencil making skills.
5. In Between Two Worlds, Jason Wing in Kimber Lane, Chinatown
This artwork references the diverse nature of contemporary Indigenous identity. Created by Chinese–Aboriginal artist Jason Wing, who strongly identifies with his bi-cultural heritage, In Between Two Worlds is near Dixon Street, a place where the artist’s family often gathered for lunch.
Incorporating wind, water, fire and earth, the artwork references Chinese and Aboriginal motifs. The artwork’s half-human, half-spirit figures represent our past, present and future ancestors. It also celebrates the universal themes of heaven and earth and expresses respect for ancestors past and present.