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Who you callin' urban?

Who you callin' urban?

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that images of recently deceased persons may be viewed. All images are included with the knowledge and permission of the individuals involved in the project.

Posing the question 'Are you urban?' to an Indigenous person attracts a range of responses that reflect the diverse experiences of Indigenous Australians.

Images of some of the participants in the video

Here are some of the responses:

'We're city people. Most of us lost our traditional languages two or three generations ago, but we've got our own city language, we've got our own city culture.'
Samuel Wagan Watson

'I don't define 'urban'... I see the word urban as a European construct.'
Tjalaminu Mia

'I clearly identify as an urban blackfella. Definitely. I wasn't born on a mission.'
Odette Best

National Museum of Australia, 2006.

Check out the video or just read the transcript

Who you callin' urban? forum

This forum was held at the National Museum of Australia on 6 July 2007 to explore the diverse ways that Indigenous identity and culture is expressed in urban environments. The speakers came from diverse fields across arts and academia, including high-profile poets, writers, artists, curators, publishers and performers.

Speakers at the 'Who you callin' urban?' forum
From the left: Christine Hansen, Anita Heiss, Andy Greenslade, Gordon Syron, Sam Wagan Watson, Bronwyn Bancroft, Michael Aird, Richard Bell, Professor Peter Read, Stephen Hagan, Margo Neale and Wesley Enoch. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Panel 1: 'Who you callin' urban?' chaired by Michael Aird

Discussion topics

  • Is 'urban' an appropriate term of reference for Indigenous people living in urban environs?
  • What are the impacts on Indigenous culture from living in urban environs?
  • How has the relationship to country been addressed by Indigenous people in urbanised areas?

audio_w15 Listen to the audio or just read the transcript


Richard Bell – My art and race relations

Richard Bell is a Brisbane-based artist. He was a leader in the first group of urban Indigenous artists whose work provided a means of expression during the lead up to the 1988 bi-centenary of white Australian settlement. Richard's art practice focuses on 'challenging non-Indigenous artists who appropriated Indigenous imagery in their work' and the perceived notions of traditional and modern Indigenous art. As well, his work addresses contemporary issues such as religion, art and politics. In 2003 Richard Bell was the recipient of the 20th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Richard's works are described as examining 'the historical treatment of Aboriginal people after European settlement'. These works are seen as his personal response to issues of oppression, frustration and discrimination.

Vernon Ah Kee – My artistic practice

Vernon Ah Kee was born in North Queensland and is of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidindji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples. He has been living in Brisbane for over 12 years. His art is primarily a critique of Australian popular culture, specifically the black/white dichotomy.

Bronwyn Bancroft – Where the bloody hell am I?

Bronwyn Bancroft is a Djanbun Clan member from the Bundjalung Nation in New South Wales. Bronwyn is an artist who paints primarily for her living and has done for the last 17 years. Bronwyn teachers in disadvantaged schools and conducts regional workshops for Aboriginal people all over Australia. Bronwyn's work has been collected extensively within Australia and overseas. Bronwyn recently graduated from her second Masters degree in painting from Sydney University, Sydney College of the Arts. Bronwyn is an accomplished children's book illustrator with over 20 titles attributed to her.

Anita Heiss – Concrete Kooris with Westfield dreaming

Dr Anita Heiss (Wiradjuri nation) is an author, poet, social commentator and cultural activist. Anita is the National Coordinator of Black Words: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers dataset. She is the Deputy Chair of the Australian Society of Authors. Her most recent works are: Not Meeting Mr Right, I'm not racist, but and Yirra and her deadly dog, Demon.

Wesley Enoch – Cultural practice expressed inside artistic practice

Wesley has written and directed extensively for the stage and is noted for his focus on Indigenous issues, community storytelling and his ability to communicate with an audience in profound ways. His directing credits include The Dreamers and Conversations with the Dead for Company B at Belvoir St Theatre. In 2007, Wesley's The Story of the Miracles at Cookie's Table was directed by Marion Potts for the Griffin Theatre Company. Wesley was the winner of the 2005 Patrick White Playwright's Award for this play. Earlier that same year, he directed Howard Brenton's Paul and Alana Valentine's Parramatta Girls. Parramatta Girls earned Wesley a 2007 Helpmann award nomination for Best Direction and Best Production.

Panel 2: 'These are modern dreamtime stories!' chaired by Peter Read

Discussion topics

  • How is culture and identity expressed by Indigenous people living in urban environs?
  • What significance has the 'art' movement had on Indigenous people?
  • How can Indigenous cultural material be better 'read' as documentary text?

audio_w15 Listen to the audio or just read the transcript


Gordon Syron – Living with the invaders

Gordon Syron has made many significant contributions to his community, as co-founder of the Eora College with Bobby Merritt, he was also the first art teacher there. He was the President of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in the late 90s. From 1997 to 2007 his gallery, Black Fella's Dreaming, has supported and encouraged new, young and struggling artists. Gordon Syron is known for his political and historical oil paintings. Syron is a self-taught artist who has carved himself a remarkable career which has influenced his peers in the artistic, political and cultural arenas. Darren Cooper states: 'He dreams for all of us'. The extent of Syron's work was seen in two retrospectives, the first in 1998 and again in 2004 at the Australian Museum, Sydney. He exhibited his paintings in Paris in September 2007 and in Dubai in October 2007.

Sam Wagan Watson – 'Insertion' re-seeding the landscape with Indigenous identity

Samuel Wagan Watson was the winner of the 1999 David Unaipon award for emerging Indigenous writers for his first collection of poetry, Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight. Since then he has written three more collections; Itinerant Blues (2001, University of Queensland Press), Hotel Bone (2001, Vagabond Press) and Smoke Encrypted Whispers (2004, University of Queensland Press), which won the 2005 New South Wales Premier's Book of the Year and the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize. Samuel's opera die dunkle Erde (The Dark Earth) premiered in Brisbane in 2004 and again in 2005 for the Brisbane Music Festival.

Stephen Hagan An international perspective on urban migration of Indigenous peoples

Stephen Hagan is the 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year, an internationally renowned author, academic, film maker and commentator of race relations. He writes for the Koori Mail and works as part of the Kumbari/Ngurpai Lag Higher Education Centre at the University of Southern Queensland.

Panel 3: 'Writing onto public record our stories' chaired by Andy Greenslade

Discussion topics

  • In what ways are Indigenous cultures from urban areas represented in museums and keeping places?
  • In what way has having the Indigenous voice 'active' in research changed objectives, outcomes and types of research projects?

audio_w15 Listen to the audio or just read the transcript


Peter Read – What we'll never see again: the Indigenous holdings of the New South Wales Archives Office

Peter Read is a Visiting Professorial Fellow in the Department of History, University of Sydney. The author of The Stolen Generations and Charles Perkins: a Biography, he is currently researching a biography of Joy Janaka Williams, and a history of Aboriginal Sydney.

Michael Aird – The dream of a community museum

Michael Aird was born at Southport and has spent most of his life living in the Gold Coast region, the traditional country of his ancestors. In 1990 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Queensland. His main interest is urban Aboriginal photographic history. He has worked in the area of Aboriginal cultural heritage for more than 20 years and in that time has curated several exhibitions as well as having books and articles published. For five years Michael was the Curator of Aboriginal Studies at the Queensland Museum and is currently the director of the Aboriginal owned publishing house Keeaira Press.

Christine Hansen Stuff that falls between the cracks: material culture and the public record

Christine Hansen is a doctoral candidate at Australian Centre for Indigenous History, Australian National University. Currently the Australian Research Council Linkage scholar on the project 'Australian Indigenous Collectors and Collections', being conducted in partnership with the National Museum of Australia, she is carrying out collaborative research with the Yuin community in Eden, New South Wales on the role of material culture in the construction and maintenance of identity.