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Alice Keath and Margo Neale with music by Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, produced by ABC Classic, 2021

ALICE KEATH: Objects and stories from Australian life.


LEONARD GRIGORYAN: A piece of ochre.

ALICE KEATH: Ok, close your fist and have a look at it. Depending on the size of your hand it’ll roughly be the same size and shape as this piece of ochre — or haematite — from Madjedbebe site in Arnhem Land and Mirarr Country. About 20 years ago this piece of ochre was on display at the National Museum of Australia, where Margo Neale is Head of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges.

MARGO NEALE: I didn’t quite realise the significance of it until we opened for the first time the Gallery of First Australians in March 2001. I was standing beside this object. This little inane-looking piece of ochre — rock, to most observers.

It was the New York Times, I think I was being interviewed by, and they said ‘Oh so they say that Aboriginal art’s been around for 60,000 years. How can you say that?’

I had an inspired moment and thought well actually, I’m standing beside a piece of ochre that has physical evidence of what’s called use ware of an Aboriginal person’s fingers rubbing the colour — the pigment — off the ochre for the purposes of mark-making.

Westerners like to hear the science part. I said there’s scientific evidence, it’s been looked at, it’s been studied, it’s done all that stuff. There’s very clear evidence of human hands rubbing it in certain part to get the pigment off it for the purposes or mark-making. On the body, whatever it’s on, right. Mark-making for ceremonial or other communicative purposes. That’s art. So, there you go. 59,000 years it said on the label.

ALICE KEATH: And how do you feel when you see this object? Have you ever held it? Are you allowed to.



ALICE KEATH: When you image holding this object.

MARGO NEALE: I imagine myself holding this and feeling it — and I’ve a very strong imagination, it’s almost real you might say. Just to know that 60,000 years ago, the fact that human fingers from ancestors of Aboriginal people touched all this. What else is there in this world that you can touch that’s 60,000 years old? If you could touch it, that is. [Laughs]

ALICE KEATH: That’s Margo Neale. And here is Slava and Leonard Grigoryan’s musical reflection on this object, it’s called ‘Deep Time’.

[‘Deep Time’ played by Leonard and Slava Grigoryan]

ALICE KEATH: ‘Deep Time’ written and performed by the Grigoryan Brothers. I’m Alice Keath and This is us: A musical reflection of Australia was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia to mark their 20th anniversary. Head to the ABC Classic website to view the objects, find out more and buy the Grigoryan Brothers album featuring all of the music in the project.

Disclaimer and copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.

The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy. Some older pages on the Museum website contain images and terms now considered outdated and inappropriate. They are a reflection of the time when the material was created and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Museum.

© National Museum of Australia 2007–23. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 09 March 2021

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