Arts & Entertainment

Sydney’s Forgotten Indigenous History

Photo provided by the City Of Sydney

By Mel Somerville.

Indigenous culture is alive and well in Sydney, we’re seeing it thrive and cultural knowledge being shared in places like Centennial Parklands, art galleries and beaches.

Centennial Park up until now hasn’t had an Aboriginal focus and most people don’t realise it was used historically as a traditional meeting area for the Nations.

Centennial Park has gone into partnership with Shared Knowledge, an Aboriginal company established to do Aboriginal themed experiences as well as transferring knowledge to all Australians and inbound tourists.

Drew Roberts is from Arawkal Nation, his Heritage Tours include Aboriginal weaving, Aboriginal painting, bush tucker tours and holiday programs for children.

“People learn [Centennial Park’s] history and how Aboriginal people utilised the site, they get to know the uses of the plants and animals there and put it into context.” said Roberts.

The Heritage Tour takes you to look at what botanists call Golden Wattle, that has a long finger like flower. This plant is very important to Aboriginal people who call it Black Wattle.

“She’s called Mother Tree because she actually tells us the change of seasons. She tells you what you can eat, when you can eat and what you can do, just like your mum does,” Roberts described beautifully to City Hub.

“Traditional culture, my culture, you don’t own knowledge, the knowledge you get through your life’s journey you’re meant to pass on, you put it out there in the community,” said Roberts, who says he was lucky growing up with traditional knowledge.

Indigenous art work displayed by the Ultimate Art Gallery in The Rocks is also expanding indigenous culture by featuring beautiful paintings from people of the Papunya Tula, Utopia and Irrunytju Communities. For these artists, land has always been symbolically and literally the foundation of cultural knowledge.

“The Aboriginal culture in Sydney or in the communities is tribal within a particular region and Aboriginal art forms a unique form to pass the dream time history to the next generation,” explained Tim Neaverson, owner of Ultimate Art Gallery, which has daily tours.

Indigenous culture and artwork is not just confined to art galleries. The Torres Strait is a vital part of our shared cultural heritage in Australia and an exciting new line of swimwear is helping to spread the Torres Strait story.

StraitSwim is a chic, sophisticated and customary swimwear line that is both inspired by and tells the stories of Torres Strait. Each piece in the line is hand drawn in water colour by a local Australian artist and sold with an accompanying story that inspired the work.

Founder Alyssa Levesque created StraitSwim after living and experiencing life with her long time partner, NBA star Patty Mills. Upon meeting Mills it was clear to Alyssa how important the Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture was to Mills and thus inspired the creation of StraitSwim in order to educate and promote that beautiful culture.

Last year saw a heated debate around changing the date or name of Australia Day, in sympathy with First Nations people. The Aboriginal campaign group FIRE, Fighting In Resistance Equally, are organising this year’s Invasion Day Rally, on Friday which starts at The Block, Redfern.

Rally Organiser Ken Canning from the Bidjara Peoples urged City Hub readers to come and support Sydney’s Aboriginal community in opposing the racism they continue to experience at the hands of the colonial system imposed on this continent from 1788.

“This is a day we’re mourning, it was the beginning of an act of genocide,” said Canning who, if he had his way, thinks we should come together and have a day for Australian people to tell their histories, a day called Unity Day.

In 2015, 4,000 people marched, 2016 saw 5,000 and last year almost 10,000 and a lot of those people were non-Aboriginal but it can only grow this year if more non-Aboriginal people show their support.

“There is a cultural aspect to the march, smoking ceremonies, a welcome in the local language and via our protest there is some awareness happening that Aboriginal culture is alive and well,” said Canning.

What is totally new this year, and a possibility to make the rally bigger, is the Yabun Festival in Victoria Park at the finish of the rally which is an opportunity to explain to the people what they are fighting for.

Raul Bassi, member of FIRE, grew up with a social conscience in Argentina where he saw people work together to get changes. Through his work he met Ray Jackson, a campaigner of Aboriginal Rights and member of the Indigenous Social Justice Association who was connected with the case of Thomas Hickey, the 17-year-old Indigenous Australian who died in 2004, sparking riots in Redfern.

Bassi explained his sympathy towards Indigenous Australians, “I try to do as much as I can but the change has to come from the Aboriginal people, they have to do their own job but we can work with them, we the non-Aboriginal people have to understand their situation.”

Centennial Park Heritage Tours. Feb 4. Centennial Parklands, Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney. $39. Tickets & Info: www.centennialparklands.com.au

Ultimate Art Gallery. 199 George St, Sydney. Info: www.ultimateart.com.au

StraitSwim. Info: www.straitswim.com

Invasion Day Rally. Jan 26. The Block, Redfern (Corner of Caroline and Louis Streets). Info: www.facebook.com

Yabun Festival. Jan 26. Victoria Park, 1001 City Rd, Camperdown. Info: www.yabun.org.au

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