Two bronze sculptures of Indigenous leaders Bennelong and Barangaroo have been unveiled at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in The Rocks.
The ceremony, held on the afternoon of December 12, saw NSW Governor Margaret Beazley unveil the two busts that sit on either side of the Church doors.
“If you haven’t already done it, can I say embrace [the history and culture] because there is a sacredness in the Aboriginal culture of which we have been deficient in our understanding over the years,” she said, as reported by SBS News.
Bennelong, a member of the Wangal clan and Barangaroo, a member of the Cammeraygal clan, were married and also known as leaders of the Eora nation and mediators between their people and the British.
St Patrick’s Parish Priest Father Michael Whelan said that the statues are important to recognise and honour Indigenous Australians in a way that they haven’t been before.
“By having these permanent representations, we will have a reminder of the legacy of the Indigenous people who were custodians long before we got here.
“I think it’s easy for us to lose perspective … when we become forgetful of such things, we lose our way. Remembering is such a crucial thing and I think these sculptures will help people,” he said.
Eora woman Theresa Ardler, who acted as a consultant to sculptor Roger Apte, told City Hub that the first thing that came to mind when she saw the sculptures for the first time was – simply – “wow.”
“Roger really captured the elements that we’d worked on. He really listened to what I said, to really capture the character of them. It was eerie in a way, because I felt their presence very much there as they were unveiled,” she said.
Ms Ardler, who comes from a family of shell-makers, explained that during the creation process, she brought Mr Apte a necklace that was then replicated on Barangaroo’s statue.
“My ancestors used to wear shells. Being Eora people, that connected them with the ocean … to have a shell necklace on her, really brings that out,” she said.
Ms Ardler is the Director of Gweagal Cultural Connections, an organisation that provides Aboriginal cultural learning services to schools and educators across Australia.
“[The sculptures are] a great acknowledgement in regards to building the Australian curriculum … having the sculptures of these two important people really brings out all those things that people can’t get from a book,” Ms Ardler said.
Roger Apte hopes that viewers of the pieces will find them relatable and interesting.
“In knowledge there is great power and potential for understanding to occur. I’m hoping that they will alert people to the fact that these weren’t just historical figures, they were people with relationships and who have a very interesting story.”
“Sculpture has an incredible power to generate stories and send messages for people … it is a significant thing in Sydney to have someone invest in sculpture in such an extensive and well thought-out way.”
The sculptures are some of the only public monuments in Sydney that recognise First Nations people, among many others of colonial figures including Captain James Cook, Lachlan Macquarie and Queen Victoria.
Photo: Giovanni Portelli, the Catholic Weekly.
Sydney’s bronze monuments have often sparked debate and been subject to vandalism. In 2017, “change the date” and “no pride in genocide” were painted on the statues of Lachlan Macquarie and Captain Cook in Hyde Park.
Ms Ardler said that recognising Indigenous leaders in the form of public monuments is especially important for the future of education.
“It was a really powerful moment, especially in regards to having them acknowledged and for people from all walks of life to actually learn about them.”