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Shoalhaven artwork arrives at National Museum

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Shoalhaven artwork arrives at National Museum

23 Apr 2015

by Cinnamon van Reyk

As one of the curators working on the Encounters project, I am delighted to announce that the National Museum has acquired two artworks by Jerrinja artist Noel Wellington from Nowra in the Shoalhaven coastal district of southern New South Wales. The two pieces, a carved wooden pole and a banner designed by Noel, arrived at the Museum from Nowra in March 2015.

The Cullunghutti banner

The design of the Cullunghutti banner represents the story and significance of Cullunghutti (Coolangatta) Mountain to its traditional owners, the Jerrinja people. This banner is the artist's proof. An identical banner was made for the celebrations surrounding the handover by the NSW Government of Cullunghutti land in October 2013. The handing back of land to the Jerrinja recognised their continued association with the mountain and acknowledged its spiritual and cultural significance to Jerrinja people.

A painting of a mountain by the sea.
Cullunghutti banner, 2013, designed by Noel Wellington. This banner was created for the ceremonial handover of traditional land called Cullunghutti (Coolangatta Mountain) to the Jerrinja people. Courtesy: Noel Wellington.

Noel tells the story in his own words:

Parks and Wildlife … wanted to come up with an emblem that represents that particular mountain. And they asked would I be able to come up with something. Well, because it's an area where it's known to our Aboriginal people that when they're getting near ready to pass away they go to the top of this mountain and they slide down off the rocks and step away and out towards the sea to go towards their afterlife. So … the banner actually represents that mountain … and the footprints coming down, but there's been a story that's been told as well, has been recorded, by one of the early explorers, that once you slide down [and] step off the mountain, you go out towards the sea. And there's this huge fire. And if you was a bad Aboriginal, well you wouldn't get past the fire. You'd go straight down. But if you was a good person, you would go on past the fire and head towards the afterlife. So that's how the design came about. And ... that turned out to be our emblem for our banner. Which really suited the celebration ... It turned out good. It was a great day.

The Shoalhaven Pole

The carved Shoalhaven Pole, also by Noel Wellington, depicts the Shoalhaven river, fish and a canoe. Through this imagery, Noel refers to natural resources that are significant to the Jerrinja, his ancestors’ tree-scarring practice and the canoe-building skills of his great-grandfather (whose last name was Carpenter).

Noel Wellington in his Nowra workshop.
Jerrinja artist Noel Wellington in his Nowra workshop, December 2014. Photo: Cinnamon van Reyk.

Expressing Jerrinja cultural identity through art

In a filmed interview for the Encounters project, Noel stated:

I’m expressing my identity within [my] art through these log carvings because I feel ... that I am reflecting back on my Aboriginal ancestral history of tree scarring. And it mightn’t be the same, well I wouldn’t want it to be the same. But I can reassemble it, or relate it, to what used to do back then in those days … Some of the designs that I have come up with … make me feel as though that there’s a little bit of a spiritual connection there in some ways. And … that’s where it became modern contemporary art.

Noel began making art a few years back through the Aboriginal arts and culture course at TAFE Illawarra’s Nowra campus, and his reputation as an artist and community leader has grown dramatically since then. He has exhibited works in art galleries including Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in Leichhardt, Sydney.

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