I’ve been thinking about these artworks for a long time. I think it’s an important story to tell. Having recently read David Marr’s biography of Patrick White, which has great sections on Australian artist Sidney Nolan who created the Fraser works, I decided that I just needed to take the first step and see what happens. So, what am I talking about?
I’m talking about shipwrecked British sailors and Bengali seaman who walked over 700 kilometres through Aboriginal Nations in 1797. As they passed through different Country of Aboriginal people, they were fed by them, ferried across rivers by them, shown shortcuts through difficult terrain and, in some instances, it was made very clear they were not welcome. You can read Clark’s diary entries here.
As Mark McKenna, author of From the Edge Australia’s Lost Histories writes:
“These men experienced the most sustained contact with Aboriginal people in the early colonial period beyond Sydney. Between March and May 1797, they traversed 700 kilometres of Australia’s south-east coastline, meeting and sometimes camping with Aboriginal people from at least eight distinct language groups between northern Victoria and Sydney.”
Part of the reason I am struggling is because I want to tell the story, but the Aboriginal part of the story is not mine to tell. For now, I am just focusing on creating the works, making landscapes that dwarf the wayfarers. The First Nations people and their Country are indivisible.
The irony is not lost on me that I’m writing this on a Day of Mourning for many First Nations people. For me, we need a day the whole country can come together. And in some way that’s why I want to make these works, to help reconcile our past and move forward together. Always was, always will be.
“It is overwhelmingly a story of cooperation and hope.”McKenna, Mark. (2016). From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories. The Miegunyah Press.
“The account that unfolds is one of invasion and conflict, but also of reconciliation; it is a rediscovery of history which offers possibilities of national understanding and rebirth.”Noel Pearson, excerpt of review; McKenna, Mark. (2016). From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories. The Miegunyah Press.
The story of Clark’s walk along the coast is one of strangers who pass through vast areas of the country and leave Aboriginal cultures intact.”McKenna, Mark. (2016). From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories. The Miegunyah Press.