Possum Cloak Making and Teaching through Art with Vicki Couzens

Transcript:

 [00:00:26] [In Aboriginal language]
Hello/Greetings to you all

 

[00:00:28] My name is Vicki Couzens Kerray Wooroong Gunditjmara.

 

[00:00:31] [In English]
My name is Vicki Couzens,

 

[00:00:32] I'm a Kerray Wurrung Gunditjmara person
from the Western Districts of Victoria.

 

[00:00:38] I'm a grandmother of fifteen;
eleven boys and four granddaughters,

 

[00:00:44] And the mother of five daughters,
hence why we've got fifteen grand kids.

 

[00:00:51] I live in West Footscray, currently, and I
work across Melbourne, but also across Victoria,

 

[00:00:59] And sometimes I get to go overseas or interstate.
So it's really fantastic.

 

[00:01:05] Gunditjmara mob is in Warrnambool.

 

[00:01:10] If you don't know where Gunditjmara country is,
it's along the Great Ocean Road and all the way to the border,

 

[00:01:16] almost Portland and Heyhwood.

 

[00:01:18] My grandmother comes from over the west part of
Gunditjmara country 

 

[00:01:18] and my grandfather's from the Framlingham
mission near Warrnambool.

 

[00:01:27] My mum's Marlborough, mostly Scottish.

 

[00:01:30] So I'm a bit partial to
many kilts and bagpipes occasionally.

 

[00:01:36] I have two younger sisters and lots
of nieces and nephews,

 

[00:01:41] And my partner is a Yuin Bidjara man and musician-filmmaker,

 

[00:01:48] So we have lots of work and encounters 
and involvement in lots of creative projects,

 

[00:01:59] festivals, and it's pretty good. 

 

[00:02:02] [Soft Music]

 

[00:02:08] For 40 years, I've been working in
Aboriginal community work, affairs, business 

 

[00:02:16] like many people, as my father and grandfather, before me,

 

[00:02:20] So a lot of that work involved activism
and rights, working for the rights of Aboriginal people;

 

[00:02:29] And arts, wasn't a high priority as such in my
work then.

 

[00:02:34] Although, I would call some of my work creative and 
growing and nurturing things.

 

[00:02:41] For example, setting up organisations,
including arts organisations, wasn't until

 

[00:02:49] probably the mid 80s, that I was
still not considering myself an artist,

 

[00:02:54] but I was actually a coordinating arts projects
at the mother of Aboriginal Co-op in Geelong.

 

[00:03:00] And I had a bit of a dabble,
but still never considered myself as an artist.

 

[00:03:05] And it wasn't until probably the mid 90s, Maree
Clark, people might know Maree for her wonderful

 

[00:03:12] practice, along with Kimba Thomson from Blackdot Gallery,
travelled around the state of Victoria and

 

[00:03:18] insisted to everyone they met, including myself, 
'oh, you can do an artwork, Vicki',

 

[00:03:24] Because they were curating this massive exhibition,
and something out of its time called 'We Iri, we homeborn' 

 

[00:03:31]  at the Access Gallery at of all places, 
the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

[00:03:37] Like, wow.
[Chuckles]

 

[00:03:39] One of those major arts institutions
that not very many, particularly Victorian Aboriginal

 

[00:03:44] people, have been able to access before.

 

[00:03:47] So they dropped off a canvas and some paints and
brushes and said,

 

[00:03:51] We'll come back in a little while and pick up your painting.

 

[00:03:53] And I'm like, 'okay then'.

 

[00:03:57] And so I made my first painting, it was with
acrylics, and it ended up in the exhibition We iri we Homeborn.

 

[00:04:06] And and my involvement as a practising
artist or creative, really began then.

 

[00:04:14] Following on from that, like I said out before, 
I was living in East Gippsland at the time,

 

[00:04:21] And I was also part of a group down there that set up the
East Gippsland Aboriginal arts corporation.

 

[00:04:28] So we were running that and running printmaking programs.

 

[00:04:32] At that time also, my husband had a band so we had a group of friends we were doing performances and playing music with.

 

[00:04:45] We used to do some pyrography and burn things, and
have ceremonies and do all sorts of wonderful things

 

[00:04:55] around East Gippsland at different festivals, 
and also at things like reconciliation marches, 

 

[00:05:06] that were just kind of beginning.

 

[00:05:09] And in places like Bairnsdale, it was pretty,
new for them, and the community there.

 

[00:05:18] We had lots of really great fun. And I sort of thought 
'oh, yeah, well I suppose I'm an artist'.

 

[00:05:24] [Soft music]

 

[00:05:28] Then in 1999, I went to Melbourne with three
other Aboriginal artists from Gippsland 

 

[00:05:36] And we ended up with about twelve or thirteen
of us from across the state,

 

[00:05:40] And the roving curator from the Melbourne Museum
had organised the printmaking workshop with the

 

[00:05:49] Australian Print Workshop in Fitzroy.

 

[00:05:51] We went there to do an experience copperplate
etching,

 

[00:05:58] Which none of us had had the opportunity to do before.

 

[00:06:01] So with the Melbourne Museum, the idea was that we
would go there to look at the collections

 

[00:06:05] and use them as inspiration for the printmaking.

 

[00:06:10] So we went there, we looked at all these
wonderful objects that the staff there had gotten out of

 

[00:06:18] the collections, got baskets and other wooden 
and stone objects.

 

[00:06:23] Then they led us over to a big table with a big box on it,

 

[00:06:28] They lifted the lid and in that box was the possum skin cloak.

 

[00:06:33] And there's only two of those historical cloaks in
Australia left – maybe three, there's one in South Australia –

 

[00:06:41] But the Melbourne Museum has two.

 

[00:06:44] One is the Lake Condah possum skin cloak, which is from my grandmother's country.

 

[00:06:49] And the other is the Yorta Yorta cloak from Yort Yorta country.

 

[00:06:53] And there's only a few left in
the world because they're very significant objects.

 

[00:06:59] So we were exposed to this cloak and I'd seen the
cloak at other times and, you know, I'm very proud of it.

 

[00:07:06] It's a significant thing, without realising back
then just how important and significant they were.

 

[00:07:15] So I felt this very visceral and very profound connection,
And you could feel the ancestors spirits enter into the room.

 

[00:07:25] It was such a powerful experience. 
Everyone else felt them come in.

 

[00:07:32] And later on, after we finished looking at everything,
we were walking back to the workshop in Fitzroy. 

 

[00:07:40] And it was this... not so much a voice, 
but this message coming through from the ancestors

 

[00:07:47] about those cloaks and that cloaks needed to belong
back in communities,

 

[00:07:52] That was sort of the sense of what I was getting.

 

[00:07:54] So it was from there that the reclamation of
possum skin cloak practise back in communities was born.

 

[00:08:02] So that's twenty one years now.

 

[00:08:05] And from there, there was no real kind of
plan on how we would go about that.

 

[00:08:12] But I went back home, I started applying for
funding, and I did a few projects down home in Warnambool,

 

[00:08:18] with three other communities –Gunditjmara communities–.

 

[00:08:18] Then the Commonwealth Games come along in 2006.

 

[00:08:28] And prior to that, I'd done a couple of things with Kimba
at Black Dot.

 

[00:08:32] One of my cloaks had gone to New Zealand, and we were invited to a think tank 

 

[00:08:37] around an Aboriginal contribution to the opening ceremony.

 

[00:08:43] And Kimba just bought my cloak back from New Zealand.
So she came and nobody had really been. 

 

[00:08:56] That up close and personal with a possum cloak at all, or much before.

 

[00:09:02] Wesley was beside himself in tears and wrapping
himself in the cloak, and everyone else was

 

[00:09:08] very deeply affected.
And it was actually joy

 

[00:09:10] who spoke the words 'we should have
to cloaks at the opening ceremony'

 

[00:09:16] So that idea was born, and because it was the Commonwealth Games and there was enough resourcing around,

 

[00:09:22] because there's this relationship between the state, the
city and the M2006, which is the Commonwealth Games people,

 

[00:09:30] The Aboriginal Advisory Committee took that idea on
and it was all agreed at that high level,

 

[00:09:39] So I became the artistic director 
and we engaged with Regional Arts Victoria. 

 

[00:09:46] As the arts body to help facilitate.

 

[00:09:49] And so, then I worked with Ben Dixon Ward, who
was the program manager at the time,

 

[00:09:57] And Ben supported me in designing
how the project would roll out.

 

[00:10:04] And so it was on a cultural model of working with 
language groups or traditional custodian groups

 

[00:10:12] And ensuring that Aboriginal protocols was embedded in the
process, because there was issues,

 

[00:10:20] Because in the Western frameworks, we had contracts and
we had to have a contract with M2006.

 

[00:10:27] They had to own everything, and we're like, 'no, you can't own
the possums', and anyway, all that was negotiated

 

[00:10:33] It was very much a big learning curve for everyone. 
So clauses were made to make sure that the cloaks

 

[00:10:40] did come back to, and remain with custodians of origin.

 

[00:10:43] We implemented protocols with regional and Victorian local artists.

 

[00:10:49] The other big thing was to make sure artists
got paid, because we all know as artists and

 

[00:10:54] creatives that it's not a lot of money around often, 

 

[00:10:58] And we never get paid an hourly rate or we'd be
all very rich, because we know how much time

 

[00:11:05] Creativity takes and creation and production of work.

 

[00:11:09] So we had a local artist to design it. 
That a local artist was the paid person and the rest

 

[00:11:15] Of the community would come and work in a series 
of workshops.

 

[00:11:20] And to facilitate the roll out again,

 

[00:11:24] And I got Leon Trainor on board and Maree
Clarke then came on board to work.

 

[00:11:30] So we kind of divided the state up,
Trainor was in the north east,

 

[00:11:34] I lived in the south west at the time.

 

[00:11:37] Maree was in Melbourne, but she has North
West connections and Lee lived in Gippsland,

 

[00:11:41] So we kind of divided that up, where
we lived under our cultural affiliations.

 

[00:11:48] And then we would work with the communities in those regions 
to support the local artists to deliver the workshops.

 

[00:11:57] So we did all that and we did this amazing ceremony, 
opening ceremony, and it was crazy and wonderful.

 

[00:12:04] And I look back, it was very significant in
that it was the catalyst then for myself, 

 

[00:12:11] Maree and Lee went on to form our own arts
organisation and get funding to carry that teaching

 

[00:12:17] Out into other communities beyond Victoria.

 

[00:12:21] So we've worked with probably, easily eighty 
communities.

 

[00:12:26] And you probably have seen possum
cloaks and know about them.

 

[00:12:31] My grandkids don't know any different,

 

[00:12:33] they've been grown up around
them, whereas we didn't.

 

[00:12:38] So my second eldest daughter started
making possum cloaks when she was pregnant.

 

[00:12:44] So she's also a great teacher now for sharing
that knowledge and that practice.

 

[00:12:50] So the possum cloaks, whilst might be considered
in the arts and creative,

 

[00:12:57] I've kind of moved from considering myself what is
labelled an artist, to someone who does creative work 

 

[00:13:08] and creative expression, whatever that is, whether it's
with film or song or dance and obviously cloaks,

 

[00:13:16] And cultural works like weaving.

 

[00:13:21] When I was in Gippsland, I worked with auntie Linda
Turner and we set up all these traditional weaving workshops,

 

[00:13:29] And at the same time, down in my home country
auntie Connie Hart was working with the women down there,

 

[00:13:33] So the 90s was like this beginning of seeding of cultural revitalisation practices.

 

[00:13:41] The men were getting into canoes and things.

 

[00:13:44] So whilst it's art, on one level, it's
this cultural practice that's so central

 

[00:13:52] like my other passion, language revitalisation.

 

[00:13:56] So I've been doing that for about twenty odd years
now, which my dad started again back in the 90s.

 

[00:14:02] It is an expression, but it's also a continuing of
those stories and those song lines in what I do.

 

[00:14:09] So obviously possum cloaks have been huge, 
and then my public art; I kind of fell into that

 

[00:14:16] very luckily. I've been very privileged and honoured
to do the work that I do because,

 

[00:14:25] You carry that kind of responsibility to
take things forward and to represent.

 

[00:14:35] It's not something I take lightly, and if I've been 
given that opportunity, then I have a responsibility

 

[00:14:41] To do that well, because you're opening doors and it's important, because no one should be left behind, you know.

 

[00:14:50] So there's all that that comes into what you're
thinking and what you're trying to do.

 

[00:14:58] Possum skin cloaks are significant cultural objects in our
culture and in pre-European times, they were and still are.

 

[00:15:09] It would cost you two stone axes to trade for possum cloak.

 

[00:15:13] So to give you a bit of an idea of the value of
a stone axe, you have to make them and you have to

 

[00:15:21] make the tools to make them.

 

[00:15:23] You've got to have a stone axe to climb the trees,

 

[00:15:27] to catch the possum, so they're of high value
because they're very labor intensive,

 

[00:15:33] But also possum cloaks, the possum fibers in the fur 
are hollow so they have very good thermal properties

 

[00:15:44] And they keep you warmer and drier than
any other fur, and the fur doesn't freeze.

 

[00:15:48] It's like polar bear fur. I believe that's probably how we
survived some of the ice ages.

 

[00:15:56] Well, for us, we've been here since the
beginning, so they're significant in lots of ways.

 

[00:16:02] We had other animal-skin rugs
and cloaks that we used,

 

[00:16:05] but this one was significant, because whilst being
very utilitarian and used to carry babies into sleeping,

 

[00:16:12] It was also ceremonial and you would wear it to ceremonies
and corroborees.

 

[00:16:20] The women would sit with the cloak stretched across 
the knees and drum,

 

[00:16:26] while the men were up there dancing and shaking
a leg, showing off to the women,

 

[00:16:33] And people are buried in cloaks, 
they were used for healing.

 

[00:16:41] So you might be shrouded full steam or smoke.

 

[00:16:45] Just wearing them actually is better
than like blankets.

 

[00:16:49] Because when the Europeans came and blankets were the
main source, people got colds and influenza and died,

 

[00:16:56] Whereas these would keep you warm.

 

[00:17:00] Aboriginal people were engaging very actively in
the economy, in trade at that transition time,

 

[00:17:09] We continued with that doing of business
and possum cloaks featured a lot in those days.

 

[00:17:18] Speaking to some of the station owners, the
settler families who came and first set up

 

[00:17:27] on our lands, often acquired possum cloaks when they
were driving around in their coaches,

 

[00:17:32] in their carriages, because they're so warm.

 

[00:17:34] Possum cloaks today, are now also used for all of
those kind of things, in sleeping, sleeping in,

 

[00:17:44] Being buried in. You see people at Welcome to Country
and other ceremonies using cloaks. 

 

[00:17:50] Or sometimes a stole, because cloaks are very warm, so
in some of the warmer weather

 

[00:17:56] it's probably not the greatest thing to wear, but
they're very significant in their uses in our

 

[00:18:04] life, but also the cultural and spiritual meaning
and strengthening they give to people's identity,

 

[00:18:12] because the markings on the skin...so if you've seen a possum skin cloak, there are markings that we used to etch them in 

 

[00:18:20] in the pre-European. The skins we use in contemporary times,
we burn designs and or paint into them because the surface 

 

[00:18:31] Of the pelts now are completely different, because they're
tanned in the contemporary method.

 

[00:18:38] And this is completely different than the European, where we
use raw skins and sun dried and scraped, and you'd scored them 

 

[00:18:49] With a mussle shell and implement to put the designs in
so you would have your maker's mark like your signature, 

 

[00:18:58] and other designs, talking about family and country and
places or foods,

 

[00:19:06] or your totem, things like that.
And of course, decorated with ochre paints.

 

[00:19:12] So the ones today, in a world that's gone a bit crazy, 
and in a world where different species have been migrated 

 

[00:19:24] all over the place, the possums got taken to New Zealand in 1847 by a Dutch guy who was intent on making a profit 

 

[00:19:33] In the fur trade in Europe.
So he took possums to New Zealand, where they're 

 

[00:19:39] now considered a pest and a big industry.
There's 80 million of them and they breed twice a year 

 

[00:19:45] And there are no predators in New Zealand, so there is a big hunting industry and a fur plucking one,

 

[00:19:53] because they pluck the fur and mix it with

 

[00:19:55] merino wool to make fabulous socks and scarves, and
jumpers. They're really, really warm and nice, soft, fluffy.

 

[00:20:05] We get most of them from New Zealand now so in a way, 
we're kind of trying to help balance out 

 

[00:20:11] That ecological imbalance, but I think numbers are against
and for the Maori, particularly, in New Zealand the

 

[00:20:26] possums are destroying the forests and the trees, the ancestor trees of the Maori people, so they're having not just

 

[00:20:35] an ecological impact, but very much cultural-spiritual impact.
The imbalances of these things that happen to the environment.

 

[00:20:44] So what has happened with the impact in the
revitalisation and the living legacy of possum cloaks in

 

[00:20:52] community now is that they've become iconic, obviously
from the outside, looking into south east of Australia.

 

[00:21:01] And for Aboriginal people, they've become
very much this tangible, powerful connector, 

 

[00:21:01] reconnection to culture, ancestors and country.

 

[00:21:13] I said to Leon Trainor, quite a few years ago, 
these cloaks, their stories

 

[00:21:20] –because all the stories, particularly from the
Commonwealth Games project, all this amazing

 

[00:21:26] cultural knowledge and information got
put into these cloakes–

 

[00:21:30] so I said 'You watch. People will be using
these in their native title claims'

 

[00:21:33] And it's actually happening now
in some instances.

 

[00:21:40] So that other way we have, as different cultures, where our oral history and our visual communication is 

 

[00:21:49] the way our history is kept and told and handed on.

 

[00:21:54] it's very much also that recording of our stories.

 

[00:21:59] [Soft music]

 

[00:22:04] Working in the arts industry, the creative industries, 
as they're called now.

 

[00:22:09] And there's a whole lot of them.

 

[00:22:10] There's lots of issues that we can come up against.

 

[00:22:13] And one of them is about community engagement 
and so-called consultation,

 

[00:22:20] And I think, from an indigenous perspective,
consultation's kind of become and not so good word,

 

[00:22:27] because it sort of implies that someone's
coming to you, asking you and taking again.

 

[00:22:34] Collaborative and partnership engagement with
people needs to be real,

 

[00:22:42] And I think one of the
key to that is relationships.

 

[00:22:47] And you don't just get a relationship overnight.
You have to build one.

 

[00:22:51] And we talk a lot in the indigenous community.
And I'm particularly thinking of languages 

 

[00:22:58] And linguistics now where we have a lot of non-indigenous involvement,

 

[00:23:02] how you have to build that relationship and continue it.

 

[00:23:07] It's not like, 'oh, hello, let's do this
project and, oh, thank you very much. See you later.'

 

[00:23:12] It's an ongoing relationship and I think that's one of the key things.

 

[00:23:17] And also, when you're coming up against the system
and the requirements of the system, and even people

 

[00:23:22] who are working in the system, and then they're not
necessarily aware of the way that the system or

 

[00:23:30] the way they're operating is impacting on them,

 

[00:23:34] and the project or your idea, your creative idea
and what you're bring in your perspective (to),

 

[00:23:40] Because our world views are all different.

 

[00:23:44] We're all humans and we all want
to be treated with care and respect.

 

[00:23:48] But there are different
cultural views and perspectives.

 

[00:23:51] So I think it's really important that people, if you're
working with people who are not of the same background,

 

[00:24:00] then it's always really good to kind
of negotiate that space and call out stuff

 

[00:24:06] if people are doing... Because the time has passed, you
know, the line is in the sand,

 

[00:24:13] the time is passed and the burden of responsibility is  the
other –of which I'm talking from my perspective–

 

[00:24:21] The other is the non-Aboriginal, Anglo
Eurocentric paradigm that we're living within.

 

[00:24:31] And not withstanding as people of
color, we can come together.

 

[00:24:35] I think there's an automatic recognition, unspoken
of acknowledgment and respect for that difference

 

[00:24:44] and understanding that there is a difference, and that
it's valued, whereas we come up against the

 

[00:24:51] system and is just a steamroller, mate. And will crush all of us to death if we don't resist. [Chuckles] 

 

[00:25:01] So never give up the fight. But to call it
out, because in our community, that's what we're doing.

 

[00:25:07] We're kind of 'reconciliation's a done deal', like
it's ongoing and that is about relationship building

 

[00:25:15] and needs to continue because not
everyone's on the same page yet.

 

[00:25:20] The time has passed that we are putting
that burden of responsibility for people to educate

 

[00:25:26] themselves about indigenous Australia, not put the burden on us to be educating them, and that includes how to go about things.

 

[00:25:34] So if you're engaging and you're from a different background, then you call it out if people are doing the wrong thing,

 

[00:25:43] because the time is past for letting it go to the keeper
and having to suck it up, you know, it's not on anymore,

 

[00:25:51] Not in the world that we live in. 
And as humans we have to live with our mother, on our mother,

 

[00:25:58] Look after our mother, our shared collective mother,
wherever you come from.

 

[00:26:03] So we have to start learning to love one another.

 

[00:26:08] Sounds pretty corny, but, you know...
and have respect. 

 

[00:26:18] In my practice, now, I have a focus on, instead of
being like this, 180 degrees,

 

[00:26:28] working with the wider community and all out
there, I'm trying to bring my focus back in

 

[00:26:35] to my community and my family, so that what's left of
my life, I have this idea of legacy so that it

 

[00:26:42] becomes real and realised, and living.

 

[00:26:45] 
So the artworks and practice I've done, possum's, whatever,

 

[00:26:49] people know those stories, in my family
and in our community, our tribe.

 

[00:26:56] But for it to continue living, I need to
focus 'cause I've got that living legacy focus.

 

[00:27:02] And I'm trying not to be out there, doing all
of that with everyone, because my family and community,

 

[00:27:11] we still can't talk our language. So I have to focus.

 

[00:27:16] So that's my my kind of approach, or trying to
be my approach in this last part of my life.

 

[00:27:23] Hopefully I've got about another 30 years and that's what I'm banking on.

 

[00:27:29] It's probably going to take that long.

 

[00:27:31] The project I'm doing currently is around
language and that creative cultural expression.

 

[00:27:37] So I'm working with five family clan groups and I'm
working with one or two key people who we get together,

 

[00:27:45] and I help them with language, conversational
language, and they go back and practice it

 

[00:27:51] and teach the rest of their family.

 

[00:27:54] And then we're having a camp in December and probably
a couple more next year where we get together

 

[00:28:00] and we can actually practice speaking together.

 

[00:28:04] So trying to build speech communities and to have language.

 

[00:28:09] And like the possums living, as part of your everyday living, cultural living in your practice,

 

[00:28:17] Because right now we use the odd few words, or people do
Welcome to Country speeches, or they sing a song,

 

[00:28:23] But it's not in everyday lived settings.

 

[00:28:25] So this is my focus as well.

 

[00:28:29] In that legacy practice, I'm also looking to support traditional ways of knowing, being and doing, 

 

[00:28:37] So oral transference of knowledge, you know, that... because we're doing so much digital, and we absolutely gotta do it. 

 

[00:28:37] It's vital and important. But that sitting down, learning from listening to your old people, or whoever 

 

[00:28:56] sitting around the fire or the kitchen table,
that doesn't happen enough.

 

[00:29:00] So I'm also trying to recreate and give,
and privilege that practice of doing that,

 

[00:29:08] In the projects that I'm building and doing
now, and building into the future.

 

[00:29:18] I was very fortunate to be able to get
into public art, which I really enjoy now.

 

[00:29:25] It was kind of accidental.

 

[00:29:26] I'd done a little bit in Gippsland with festivals and
things, but it was working with Jeff Neil and

 

[00:29:35] Hilary Jackman from the Artery Cooperative in Northcote
that enabled me to take on and continue,

 

[00:29:42] I still continue to work with them
nearly 18 years later in public art.

 

[00:29:46] So I went from basket weaving, which was
probably the most sculptural form, about this big,

 

[00:29:52] to major public art. And the first gig was the Birrarung
Wilam installation, behind Federation Square,

 

[00:29:52] where I worked with Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm.

 

[00:30:03] And then we also brought Mandy Nicholson on board
to do some elements of that work.

 

[00:30:10] That was a massive engagement project with our
communities, because we were again working with

 

[00:30:16] language groups from across the state, as well
as the traditional custodians, So in terms of

 

[00:30:22] engagement and working with community.

 

[00:30:25] I've done a lot of working off
my own country, so in our protocol.

 

[00:30:29] I can't bring a Gunditjmara story down
here and put it in Melbourne.

 

[00:30:34] So it's about working in place.

 

[00:30:37] And if you're working in a place, you need to
understand that place

 

[00:30:42] and get to know that place,
and the story of that place.

 

[00:30:45] And you can only do that through engagement
with the traditional custodians of that place.

 

[00:30:51] And therefore, if you're doing a public art job, then
you need to, obviously, learn all that and then

 

[00:30:59] seek their permission to interpret 
some of their cultural knowledge, some of their

 

[00:31:05] story. And so I've spent a lot of time
in those processes. 

 

[00:31:10] And working with traditional custodian groups to do that.

 

[00:31:14] So that's a very important process people need,
whether they're a landscape architect, a city planner

 

[00:31:21] or a public artist or people doing creative projects.

 

[00:31:26] I think it's really important that engagement and understanding.

 

[00:31:30] So my practice in public art has led

 

[00:31:34] to me doing a lot of work around
Melbourne and a few down home.

 

[00:31:39] I'm on my third project in my home
country, which is really exciting for me.

 

[00:31:47] But I think the other aspect for me, going
from being mainly 2D artist

 

[00:31:56] to working in 3D form, was the learning and
understanding, obviously learning about sculptural form and

 

[00:32:05] design in that 3D, and within space and place, but
also the fact that if you can accept that

 

[00:32:14] you're not necessarily going to be the fabricator or
creator or producer of your piece of artwork or

 

[00:32:21] your idea, then there isn't anything you can't do.

 

[00:32:26] So that's really exciting as a creative to think there are
no limits and you get to work with a lot

 

[00:32:31] of different mediums So experiencing that.

 

[00:32:34] But then the other deeper kind of side of
my practice is creating that story, giving that opportunity

 

[00:32:43] for that story of that place, and therefore creating a
vehicle for that story to emerge,

 

[00:32:51] and to create visibility about Aboriginal presence, 
traditional custodian presence in the first instance.

 

[00:32:58] But that awareness and presence and visibility to
the viewer of 'this is Aboriginal land'.

 

[00:33:07] And because it's NAIDOC week,
it always was and always will be.

 

[00:33:12] But that's a really important aspect in
that public space work that I do.

 

[00:33:18] [Soft Music]

 

[00:33:23] Also in my practice in public art in particular,
but that mentoring stuff is really important

 

[00:33:32] And I kind of do it any way, because
it's a natural part of my practice.

 

[00:33:39] But also, for example, recently I've been called in
to work with this non-indigenous

 

[00:33:45] Company who does big public art jobs

 

[00:33:48] And their role in this project is to facilitate
the public art that's happening around this

 

[00:33:54] building that's being built in the
city, and it's an indigenous commission.

 

[00:33:58] So I've been brought in to
curate and provide advice about engagement.

 

[00:34:03] And part of what I brought to the table
was to include a mentorship, because whilst they had some

 

[00:34:10] traditional owner artists in the artist list,
–the commissioners, the developers and Victoria

 

[00:34:16] University, they would be selecting the artists–

 

[00:34:21] So they they had a list of national and
then Victorian, and then traditional owner artists,

 

[00:34:27] Which we added to that list and shortened 
that (other) list over there, the National, 

 

[00:34:33] And I suggested a mentorship role
so that if a traditional owner, a traditional

 

[00:34:39] custodian artist didn't get the commission, they had to 
mentor a traditional custodian artist in the role.

 

[00:34:50] And there was a process we set up around how
that would happen, but it was part of the EOI response.

 

[00:34:56] So there's those kind of things that I like to try to embed, and be much more active aboutcthat in 

 

[00:35:07] those kind of commissions and practice, because
again, that kind of goes back to calling it

 

[00:35:15] out or saying, when you come up against things 
that seem like they're not really supportive

 

[00:35:23] of your idea or your thoughts or your practice, 
then you should absolutely speak your mind,

 

[00:35:31] because if you don't, nobody's going to necessarily ask
you, because I was sitting around the table with a

 

[00:35:36] lot of non Aboriginal people in designing the
project, and they'd never even thought of

 

[00:35:44] the idea of the mentorship, which for
me was an obvious no brainer, really.

 

[00:35:49] But that to me was about those different ways
of thinking and from a cultural way of thinking as well. 

 

[00:35:58] So for people of color and any creatives, 
you know, negotiate and

 

[00:36:06] speak out, because they're still learning too, the
commissioners, and I pointed out the advantages to them,

 

[00:36:15] 'You're going to be at the leading edge of development by offering mentorships' and probably a good hint 

 

[00:36:23] If you haven't already, if you're doing art these days, 
is to either have someone who's really good about. 

 

[00:36:30] Arts-law stuff and your rights, because now places like that have minimum rates of pay for different kinds of gigs 

 

[00:36:42] that you might get asked to do, like a studio commission or a gallery commission, or a public art thing, film and production 

 

[00:36:49] and curators. They have different rates for junior, senior...
All that kind of thing to understand that.

 

[00:36:56] But art-law stuff, because that's really
tricky and it's an ongoing thing.

 

[00:37:01] And I don't know how much they teach
at art school, if you go to art school.

 

[00:37:06] But a lot of people still think if you sell
a painting, you've sold copyright. No, your copyright is

 

[00:37:12] an asset, you can put it in your will.
It survive by 70 years.

 

[00:37:16] So you need to be diligent about that stuff.

 

[00:37:19] And I've never had a lot
to do with mainstream galleries.

 

[00:37:23] It's not really of interest, and I know they take
like fifty per cent or something, 

 

[00:37:30] And I know they do a lot
of work writing submissions

 

[00:37:34] You know, with public art.

 

[00:37:36] I do all the writing, I'm the wordsmith.

 

[00:37:39] I'm lucky I can do that.

 

[00:37:41] Not everyone can.

 

[00:37:42] And EOIs are much better than tender's,
tenders are horrible, because they are so complicated.

 

[00:37:49] But for all of this stuff, the skillset you need, skill yourself up or get people

 

[00:37:54] you trust and know, and organizations like
Auspicious Art who provide insurances and financial

 

[00:38:01] management, and help you with your financial reporting for
grants, because it's too easy to end up

 

[00:38:08] with a tax debt if you don't, you know.

 

[00:38:12] So there's that whole business side of the arts, which
is really hard for people to manage. 

 

[00:38:23] And to learn all that stuff, you definitely need help.

 

[00:38:25] An arts law, they're  good. So They have template contracts and

 

[00:38:29] things that you can wave at the people, and
they have all the right clauses in them so that's good. 

 

[00:38:35] [Soft music]

 

[00:38:40] It's really hard to talk about inspiration because
sometimes, 

 

[00:38:44] like one public art job we did was sitting around the kitchen table at Jeff and Hillary's Studio Cooperative 

 

[00:38:53] and we were just talking about this thing and I'm like, 
'let's just do a feather, because it's...'

 

[00:38:58] There was this like ding! In my head: Feather. I've seen 
the feather.I did a rough sketch and that was it.

 

[00:39:05] It was about the story, .

 

[00:39:08] And I had to get permission because it's
on traditional custodian country down in Oakley.

 

[00:39:14] And the story was about the land that was there,
it was all bare, and it had been developed 

 

[00:39:20] there was nothing really happening.

 

[00:39:22] And Bunjil released a feather from
his breast to renew the land.

 

[00:39:27] And sometimes they come instantly like that.

 

[00:39:30] And then, the Port Campbell, one I've been doing for
the last couple of months, took a bit longer

 

[00:39:36] till I could sit with it and go to a space, that space where all that creative energy of the universe is floating around 

 

[00:39:48] And then suddenly it comes into you or something. 

 

[00:39:52] And your ancestors, they're always there.

 

[00:39:57] They're you guide, your moral compass, you know, 
they wack you over the back of the head,

 

[00:40:04] If you get it wrong, sometimes to remind you.
That's my my kind of inspiration and

 

[00:40:14] you know, as Aboriginal people,
we're always approaching things holistically,

 

[00:40:22] And, you know, I'm always aware of my ancestors.

 

[00:40:28] This is the word for ancestors in Auslan. So either shoulder is your ancestors, and this is your descendants.

 

[00:40:37] I think that's beautiful.
I love (it).

 

[00:40:40] But including my father and my grandfather in
my most immediate, 

 

[00:40:40] you know, and the work that they've done.

 

[00:40:47] And so, you're carrying that forward.

 

[00:40:49] [Soft music]

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