John Bradley, Ian McLean, Margo Neale, Matt Poll and Lynette Wallworth, 23 February 2018
MARGO NEALE: I know there’s a lot of people here who have something to say that could be questions, responses, comments, provocative things, whatever. Because we cut you off in order to have our pit stop.
So we might go back to those people. There really is no design here. Everyone can say stuff, have a conversation, or whatever flows. And responses to the day or responses to the exhibition or responses to some of the issues that have been spoken of.
I know it’s very difficult to unpack the complexity of the things that are being said today. But that’s your intellectual challenge for the day.
QUESTION: Oh, hi. Mari Guisler. I’m just finishing off a PhD on Arnhem Land about painting, and we have here one of the great heroes, Bernice Murphy, sitting here. She was one of the most amazing people in the history of getting Aboriginal art accepted as contemporary by showing it first of all with mainstream Western art.
But apart from that, my question is because I’m on the art historical area, is I'd love to know what discourses or art historical discourses the Songlines exhibition can be spoken in. To everyone on the panel, or the art historians, those within the cultural area. When we talk about the songlines paintings and the songlines art how can we talk about them in the discourses of art history? Because Aboriginal art always gets discussed, or often gets discussed in just anthropological texts. It’s always struggling, or often struggling, to be seen as contemporary or actually engaging with contemporary issues.
So, just going back I’d like to see if that question’s understood, and if people would like to comment from their perspectives on what that Songlines exhibition, and all the work that Margo has done on so many levels, what discourses can we actually discuss it in? Because this is going on the public record.
MARGOT NEALE: Ian, you’re the guru of all the — I guess if I was just rephrasing it, so would it be correct to say, how would you talk about this exhibition? In what terms, what language, and how does it plug into or extend contemporary ways of speaking about this as an exhibition? Contemporary, in art history terms. If you must.
IAN MCLEAN: Well, I’d say a couple of things about — I’m an art historian by the way, so I have to defend my patch. But I’d say a couple of things. I think too much is made of the division between anthropology and archaeology and art history. And they each come out of the same discourse. And once upon a time when you did art history, you didn’t start 100 years ago, like you do now. You started way back with the Greeks and the Egyptians and their sort of archetypal stories that this is just one example of.
So it is, I think, very easy to — especially if you know your history as an art historian — it’s actually not very difficult to talk about. Not only the art but also the stories and the narratives that run through it within the context of art history. Because — this is probably a gross generalisation, I just realised as it was about to come out of my mouth, but I’ll continue.
MARGOT NEALE: Try.
IAN MCLEAN: Most art is about archetypes. So the sort of story that’s running through here — you know, someone mentioned the #MeToo thing — it runs through pretty well all art, whether it’s the Greeks, Italian renaissance, the baroque or Picasso and the 20th century, right up until now. It’s almost like the same story’s being told again and again. But, you know, within the contemporary context. So I don’t think that it’s a very difficult thing to do at all.
And of course the art itself or those paintings — you know, we’ve been talking a lot about technology but the acrylic painting on a rectangular canvas is also quite a recent technology that has come into the Indigenous art tradition. And it’s a technology that was, I suppose, brought here by the Western art tradition. But it was obviously not a technology that was all that alien to painting fairly rectangular designs on a chest. Or things like this.
And we’ve seen how technologies I know nothing about have been able to quite easily work with, you know, very ancient, as Lynette’s great talk talked about. So I don’t really see it as a difficulty at all. I see it as very interesting space to work in.
MARGOT NEALE: Now that you mentioned Lynette, why don’t we —
IAN MCLEAN: [inaudible]
MARGOT NEALE: Thanks Ian, that was — thank you.
LYNETTE WALLWORTH: I don’t know if it answers your question about the discourse of art history, but once you start talking about cave paintings and immersion there is a repetition worldwide about the way those sites were used. And if you listened to the last panel, about four times the word ‘transmission’ was used. It’s not a communication, it’s a transmission. It’s something that’s meant to go into your body.
And the artists as we wouyld have called — we may not have called them artists, the people who were working in the caves, they might have been called shamans or they might have been called magicians or magic people. They’re working to create a transmission which is meant to go into your bones, into your bodies. And it’s not just about a thing that — we can’t just use the word ‘artwork’ about some of these things. And the person who spoke before was alluding to that saying the things that are talked about in the day and the things that are transmitted at night are of a different thing.
This chanting, singing is part of it. The kind of singing with a repeated echo. Imagine hearing that in a cave. So it’s swirling around you in a trance-like form, and it’s echoing. It’s a repeated phrase, and then it echoes in a cave. And what that does, if you’re attuned to it, especially if you’ve been prepared for it, is that it takes you into a different state. That slightly altered state, or very altered state, is where the other layers of travelling through time, travelling through stars, could be communicated to you.
So I think we have to find different language for some of these things. We can’t just orient it within the history of art. We have to place it within the history of our humanity, and the way art has been used.
MARGOT NEALE: Anyone else want to add to that? Mr Morphy.
QUESTION: Hello. Look I’ll just say something very quickly in relation to that last question because I would have a very similar position to Ian, and I’m an anthropologist. So I think that this particular exhibition is one that in a sense transcends simplistic kind of categories. And I think one can also say in relation to what Lisa had said, that one of the things that you can say about this exhibition is that it is contemporary, but it’s a contemporary that is actually deeply connected to history as well as oriented towards action in the present.
So I think that one of the reasons this exhibition has been so successful is that it is both anthropological, historical, art historical, and that it is using innovative technology. And that it’s multidimensional, and that it has extraordinary engagement with cultures of production and with the artists who produced it.
My actual question was going to be at the end of the last session. Picking up on what the answer to, I think Lisa Stephanos’s question about resources, because although I actually do think it’s very important that cultural institutions do get resources from endowments and from billionaires, whatever their nationalities. I think that exhibitions like this are extraordinarily important, and are funded from multiple sources, including the Australian Research Council as well as the National Museum. That it’s unfortunate that many Indigenous communities — particularly in remote areas, but actually generally — are dependent on project funding. And project funding is something that requires enormous efforts and often actually coincidence of chance. You know, someone is inspired either with a lot of money to endow something for a particular thing, or there’s a long-term project that it fits in with, or there’s a gap in a program. All sorts of different things, but it’s a very contingent source of funding.
And I do think that it’s very, very important that governments should put resources into Indigenous cultural production. I think you mentioned education as one of those kind of areas where it’s absolutely vital to have Indigenous cultural in Indigenous communities but also more generally as an integral part of our educational system.
And I also think that there needs to be much more consistent funding of art and community art centres, community cultural institutions, holding institutions. We’ve got a framework in Australia that’s set up to enable that with the kind of links that, I suppose, Matt and others have been talking about between major institutions and local communities. We need the resources to be able to follow those kind of links and build on them.
So I mean my question in a way is to all of you, whether, you know, you see the solving of those particular problems as a priority. And it needs vast resources in order to do that.
COMMENT: Howard Morphy for Arts Minister, I think. Seriously, I mean if only there was that level of insight into the long-term investment that’s required. I’ve already stated our case which is that we need to go out, you know, with our hats to collect money to do anything beyond opening the doors and keeping the lights on. So I haven’t really got anything to add.
MARGOT NEALE: Anyone else? There’s a number of points made there.
QUESTION: Ian, how much would it cost for you to — sorry. John, how much would it cost to actually, you know, spread the one-song cycle to encompass the 11 or so that you have deep recordings [inaudible].
JOHN BRADLEY: Well, the actual cost is $5,000 a minute. And we got a big bequest of a million dollars of which the university gave us matching funds. And that’s enabled us to work in Broome, [inaudible] in northern New South Wales, [inaudible], three languages in Victoria, two in the Gulf, and we’re nearly at the end of the money. And now we’re trying to find more.
And, I think, you touch on something that’s really important for all of us — is what do we call art? You know, because if — you know, I said before in my talk there is no visual art in the Gulf. It’s very recent where I work. The actual art form in that community was song poetry. And trying to get people to understand that Indigenous people were poets, and are still composing is like, ‘Really?’ Because you can’t hang it on a gallery wall.
But it goes a step further, and I think Howard will pick up on this. Our university at Monash has just made Indigenous knowledges a key component of what they think all graduates should have some understanding of.
Now, you think about just that word Indigenous knowledges. You know, and my boss wasn’t even told it was going to happen. It was just announced. And you know, the catch up that’s required to even educate those that sit above us as to what they’re actually opened their mouth to is actually quite extraordinary.
MARGOT NEALE: Yes, well, that’s a good point because that’s what I propose to do here. Obviously, you know, things grow out of things, grow out of things so it’s an organic process. So no one’s made a pronouncement like that here. However, it’s so obvious the next place to go with this, given that it encompasses all of the disciplines we’ve been speaking about, and because we’re now, you know, not looking at divides between archaeology and anthropology or art or — clearly this demonstrates it here today.
So a knowledge centre, which is an Indigenous way of being, thinking and learning and teaching, is just, you know, a no-brainer. But it’s one thing for a university to say, to announce it, obviously it’s the in thing, and it’s going to get them funding or kudos or something. Clearly it’s just a bit of a mouthpiece, because they haven’t even talked to the Indigenous studies centre or the bosses of the people who’ve been doing the Indigenous knowledges. So clearly there’s another little backstory there.
But I think in this case, this is the natural progression for us to go into and people like, you know, Scott and all these people here, in various ways, could all have some role and part in. I don’t know what it looks like, just know it’s absolutely what has to happen. And it may be called the Songlines Indigenous centre, or Songlines may be just one project of many under an Indigenous knowledge centre, or let’s not sort it out. But it’s obviously — there’s nowhere else to go.
And I would suggest that museums like this are probably moving in that place, to that place anyway, across the board. This Museum at least, I can’t speak for the others, has had three themes. You know, Australia Society and History, People and the Environment, PATE Ash and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Peoples. That’s it.
Now that is so, I mean it’s so dinosaurial now, right? That you can’t — that the Indigenous is separate from Australian society and people. And I know that it was important to make political differences and have our own place and all that.
But I think now, the knowledge centres which may exist maybe many across the Museum the roles in all those sorts of things — So I guess what I’m saying in a way is that the white institutions will learn about what learning is really about, or what knowledge is really about, and how you really hold it and transmit it. I mean it’s got a very good track record.
So thanks for that, John.
JOHN BRADLEY: Can I just make a quick announcement —
MARGOT NEALE: Yes, please do.
JOHN BRADLEY: [inaudible] work this.
LYNETTE WALLWORTH: Just press the button.
JOHN BRADLEY: No, no, okay, just press the button, got it. I mean, I’ve —
MARGOT NEALE: Yes, yes, yes.
JOHN BRADLEY: That says something about how long I’ve spent in the bush. I’ve lost the plot of what I was going to say now. Oh, in terms of the — I have a slight saying, which is not a very good saying, but I’ve kind of — where Aboriginal people have experienced colonisation of their land I’m concerned that they have also experienced colonisation of their mind. And the institutionalisation of knowledge kind of slightly concerns me. So my, in terms of the art history and the money for exhibitions and things, that’s a real issue, but there’s a — for me, as someone who spends a lot of time in the bush — there’s a real need for money to get people in the bush.
And so going back to $5,000 a minute. I can go out in the bush and take young men out who learn the songs in ceremony, as I say, but they don’t know where the places are in the country. So they’ve got a theoretical knowledge of their religious lore at the moment, they don’t know where it is.
Now we can go out in the bush for about $8,000 a day, is the sort of running cost.
COMMENT: That’s all right if all the people are still alive.
JOHN BRADLEY: Sorry?
COMMENT: I said, that’s all right if all the people are still alive.
JOHN BRADLEY: Yes, that’s for sure. And they are.
COMMENT: That’s the other impact of colonisation.
JOHN BRADLEY: Of course. It’s a fraught space. But they are, and that’s another side of the dynamic. So if people know the country and can actually maintain the songs in country and do effectively what you said, sit round a campfire and learn them.
MARGOT NEALE: I’d just say, I think Howard touched on a — these knowledge centres, if they do have a base in an institution like this, which is as I said is a natural — it’s done the yards to get to that place. It hasn’t just said, ‘What a great idea, let’s do it.’ But it has to be connected to all of the regions, you know remote and regional and so on, anyway.
So that it’s a bit like that slide I showed you where you come into this office and you go into that office and you swap your, sort of, mobile offices. It can’t be based in a physical sense only here. It has to be mobile and has to have all those relationships and connections with all the communities. In fact in the way the Songlines project did progress.
JOHN BRADLEY: Exactly. [crosstalk]
MARGOT NEALE: It has to go that sort of way, so it’s not colonising the Indigenous [crosstalk]
JOHN BRADLEY: No, that’s correct. [inaudible] the long [inaudible] going up to [inaudible] country is part of the package.
MARGOT NEALE: Sorry. Who hasn’t spoken? Hang on, let me just get someone who hasn’t spoken. Did you — oh, you’re having a — okay. There’s a girl up there, and a boy down here.
QUESTION: I can go. Hello everybody, and thank you for a fabulous day. I’m absolutely exhausted and brain dead. My name’s Chris and unlike just about everybody else in this room I’m not doing a PhD, and I don’t have one. I’m actually —
MARGOT NEALE: Stay clean.
QUESTION: I’m actually — I work at the chalk face, what I call the chalk face; I’m a teacher. I work with Aboriginal children in Sydney. And it’s an amazing job and I love it. However, that’s nothing to do with what I want to ask.
I want to ask Matt, you talked about the processes of repatriation and I want to just ask you about that as a means of future-proofing. I’ve seen some of the objects in the Macleay and I wonder what is the process? How do you choose? Do you choose what goes back? Do people come to you and say, ‘We want that back?’ How does it work? And do you think it’s going to have — I think you alluded to that before, that there is going to be an ongoing thing and therefore I assume that’s what you’re saying, that there will be some sort of future-proofing? Do you get me?
MATT POLL: No, it’s a great question. I mean, when you do repatriations of ancestral remains, ‘old peoples’ as communities call them, you realise very quickly that just the diversity of mortuary experiences around this country. I mean, every community that you repatriate something to is different to the one that you’ve just done, or the one that you will next do as well.
There’s just so much work that needs to be done. And I’ve definitely seen it bring a sense of closure to communities. Museums have this — people have this image of museums as these, you know, dark scientific dusty sort of things. But you know, repatriation’s one of those things that Australian museums, for example, can really hold their heads high amongst their international contemporaries.
There’s not many repatriation programs as extensive as the Australian one. You can look to NAGPRA in America, other sorts of things like that. But in my very limited experience, you know, repatriation also needs a national conversation attached to it. Because when ATSIC existed there used to be these great frameworks where the Aboriginal medical service would transport remains and all the logistics were using Aboriginal organisations. And they went quite smoothly.
You might have seen the car was pulled out of the Melbourne Museum to repatriate Mungo Man recently. Because that was the old Aboriginal medical service.
But where — you know, there’s also this thing called unprovenanced which is the bane of anyone who works in a museum. And there’s a lot of unprovenanced remains, and there’s a lot of undocumented. And there’s often a lot of mis-labelled things which can be really devastating for modern communities to be, sort of, tricked again like that. That, you know, here’s something sacred that’s coming back and it’s no, it was something that was faked in the fifties and looked a bit —
So, you know, it’s a very, very fraught process. Each repatriation, you know, is an object in itself. There’s no, sort of, simple way to go through it, which I think is why governments especially are a bit hands off. But, you know, we should — even documenting the process of what’s happened in the last 25 years is really sadly lacking. So yes, I don’t even know where to start in terms of offering a future-proofing of it.
COMMENT: I think you are saying that where you do repatriate certain objects that it was obvious that it had an effect on the people who received the object, or whatever it was, and that you felt that a relationship was set up for the future, and that’s what I’m talking about. Perhaps within those kinds of, you know, networks or whatever, that perhaps there’s a hope for future-proofing.
MATT POLL: Actually there is because when something is reburied it’s geotagged in the national parks databases, and development can’t happen there in the future. So there is great outcomes like that.
MARGOT NEALE: Thank God for technology.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Janet. I just wanted to say thanks so much for everything you’ve brought to light this afternoon. It’s been so inspiring to hear you all speak and to, just to realise what an exciting time this is that these incredible technologies are coming to light at the same time that communities are really feeling the urgency to tell these stories, and to insure these stories. So I just want to say thank you for that.
My question is as far as the Songlines exhibition, how is that feeding — are there plans to take this exhibition back onto country or back to those communities, because I imagine that a lot of the young people haven’t been to visit Canberra and seen the full extent of this. And how do they continue to benefit from all this amazing research?
MARGOT NEALE: Yes, well clearly it’s developed a life of its own, it’s got away from me a bit. Yes, actually it’s an interesting question. There are lots of things in the pipeline. Clearly it’s come from country to come here in order to bring everyone else on board who, once on board, can help it get back to country and engage young people. And there’s the ARC project that went before, so all the archivers — I don’t know whether you were here earlier — the Ara Irititja archive in Alice Springs, which is digital platforms and so on. So there’s a lot of interactivity there. So everything that led into this ends up there and backstops at other places. Which comes through with Diana James and Howard Morphy in the ANU part of it.
You know, there’s all sorts of — it’s an open field, it’s got a life of its own. It will keep moving it’ll do a national tour, it’ll do an international tour, it’ll go in a full scale, a smaller scale. The dome’s able to travel without anything else. It’s a collapsible dome. It could end up at Araluen, it could end up in Magnet, it could end up out in the community. Who knows? It’s unlimited possibilities and it’s that that’s sort of flowing back in now.
I can assure you that the Museum will be as absolutely responsive, as it is physically capable of being, to any interest or requests or anything to re-engage. Particularly with younger people because that’s what the whole thing is about in the baseline.
But anyway that’s what’s in plan now and it could be some, all, part of — and the digital programs that will also assist. So I know there’s already a lot of interest with young people and communities that are now looking at this exhibition and there’s an interactive website, as you know, and there’s even more going on in that space.
COMMENT: Thank you. My name is Bernice Murphy. I just wanted to give you a little reflection that arcs over a number of key issues that have been raised here from Howard’s question about getting greater government support through to so many important experiences that have been opened up for us in this, I must say, one of the most wonderful symposia on these issues that have been tracked through for a very long time.
My reflection first. Some years ago my partner and I were at a real Labor Party in Sydney at the home of Evan Williams and we had the chance to talk with Gough Whitlam for a little while. And my partner had been the first director of the Visual Arts Board and very close to that period of Gough’s agency implementing that marvellous vision of his, that we had the chance to ask him, how did he hit the ground running, so to speak. With so much agency, commitment and vision, that so much was done that it created a kind of velocity of energy that irradiated the whole country, had an impact in the world, and so on.
Just briefly — and I’m going to link this back to Jen’s talk — you see, Gough was so well educated. I will say, not just in the Western sense, but Greek and Roman culture — takes us right back to archetypes, mythology, stories — the power of irradiating stories was something very much in Gough’s whole culture.
And before he became Prime Minister, when he was in opposition, he and Margaret Whitlam used to take all the trips that a lot of the other politicians on the government side didn’t want to take. To all kinds of boring places like Athens and Egypt and other sites where people were very happy to let them go and represent Australia in some meeting. Gough and Margaret were always going straight to the archaeological sites, the museums, the cultural sites.
Slight difference with Keating — I won’t go on too long because I’m coming back to the exhibition. I don’t want to diminish or take away from Paul Keating’s great impact — the Redfern speech, the work he did on native title — but Keating did not have anything like that cultural vision that Gough Whitlam had. And hence the mistakes of creating the Keatings, these over-exaggerated scholarships at that time. And a lot of things fell away.
So I want to come back and link this, and again back to Howard’s questions and others, the power of these exhibitions. And I believe that it finally comes down to not splitting hairs between anthropology and archaeology, or art spaces, or where things occur. The most important thing is the demonstrative power of these projects, and Songlines is one of the greatest ever.
Because you create a velocity of energy in the public space and through that, that is your reference point to go to politicians. Not going with some well written submission or whatever in detail. They don’t understand the detail. It’s the power of this kind of experience that is the greatest artery to opening up the work that needs to be done.
And the kind of resources you want would be a rounding-off error in defence department budgets. So you don’t go with the sort of well-argued case and achieve greater success. You go with the vision, and this is going to cost millions maybe, and often you will get it.
If you can communicate the imaginative power of the cause, the idea and its impact to change this country. So I just wanted to draw those few remarks together and hope they strike some resonance. Thank you.
MARGOT NEALE: Thank you Bernice. Actually that’s exactly our thinking. I mean, again it’s a cumulative thing. Clearly from the genesis of the exhibition, the research project, the energy, you have to keep that energy going. And, I think, those who would have done the tour yesterday, the thing that — the mob wanted to have their material archived for future generations. But then as I say, well, then why do you need an exhibition? You don’t need that to put the knowledge into an archive. You know, and the question — the answer is, apart from my flippant one — everyone wants a party, apart from that one, it was really, I think, strategically the elders were being — the custodians were being very strategic.
They know that if you want to save the songlines, depositing the knowledge for the young is only one way to go. You’ve got to capture the entire nation, you’ve got to get the political will, you’ve got to get everyone so engrossed and involved and sensorially attached that they do exactly what you’re saying. They’ve got to absolutely enter the way everyone’s spoken about today.
It’s got to go beyond the rational and beyond the cerebral, and I think all the stuff you would have heard this morning, this afternoon, it’s all about that. And when you think about this whole knowledge system we’re talking about. Oh, it’s up there.
Yes, you even got people like Amanda comes out with tears out of her. She doesn’t know why. I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ ‘I don’t know, we’re so visceral,’ she says, and then you go to, you know — and all these other people like — and I used to have a tear brigade, you know, at the cloakroom saying, ‘Tell me how many people you see coming out crying today.’
Because that’s the mark of success and, you know, my role in it at least — that’s my final benchmark is you got to have a) the exhibition must sing, and then you got to get people crying. And then you know you got it, you know? You’ve got them in here. And you’re so right and I totally — I was going to say ‘approve’. I totally agree.
Anyway, off my platform.
COMMENT: I would like to, because the trouble isn’t, Howard mentioned this, is that we can’t — we have these corridors of funding, and this is not just around art. So actually the funding needs to come beyond art, because actually where it should come from is what are we talking about in terms of health? What are we talking about about legalities? What are we talking about in terms of sustainable land management in this country? What are we talking about in terms of history?
And all of those branches which have their own funding need to contribute, not just this wonderful kind of framing, but under a banner of art where the arts are not fully funded. It’s not just about art funding then.
MARGOT NEALE: No, definitely not, this is the one that — anyway I’d better not keep talking. There’s a question — I’m just looking for people who may not have had an opportunity to speak yet.
COMMENT: I’ll be quick. Sue Berry. I said one thing before.
I have the privilege of being the mother of Aboriginal children, yet I was born outside of Australia. I’ve got a Grad Dip, going to become a teacher, and I’d gladly apprentice myself to any of these people here, because I think it all comes together.
So I just wanted to say in terms of transmission from what I’ve learnt from the people that have taught me, is I wanted to correct something up there you had the guy from The Australian saying this was about five people and he visited Anugu as one of these people.
Well, just so nobody takes away the wrong message, Anugu, as my partner and family says, means people. It means human being. And that’s about why the people brought to us Anugu here, everything they’ve brought and everything within Central and South Australia. And then the other groups which I don't know so much about because I’m not related to them.
But when you learn to say those words and you have a warm feeling towards them then you automatically have to be included in that big family. Because there’s no such thing as stranger in the people of this land. So you have to be given a kinship so people can communicate with you. So then you become Anugu, you become a person in this language. And I just think that’s how important — or this is why we’re all here today.
MARGO NEALE: Thank you.
COMMENT: Hello, thank you. John Lamb is my name.
Yes, firstly, thank you for a truly inspirational day. And I suppose what to me it was about, and the learning for me, was that depth of Aboriginal culture and knowledge, its pervasiveness and all those storylines and what we should value in that. And it’s all been about the value of that Aboriginal culture in everything we do.
My particular interest and what I’d like to ask about though, is the multicultural background and how we fit it in. The Aboriginal story in Australia, the first Australian, has got connections through South-East Asia, the Makassans. It’s got the Chinese from the early gold rush times. It’s got the Japanese from the pearling, cane cutting.
It’s got this multicultural background that makes us Australian today. Exactly how do we fit it in and value and protect those original stories at the same time? Really important question. Every first-year lecture I do I talk about Makassans and Afghans. And even today maybe one student puts their hands up and says, ‘I know about Makassan contact.’ The people that get really excited about it in my lectures are the South-East Asian students. Because they find a connection to Australia that they understand.
And the white Australian kids or the Australian-born kids are going, ‘We didn’t know this.’ So there’s something here about a failure in education. There’s something here about primary school education and high school education that isn’t teaching exactly what you’re talking about.
About how Indigenous Australians actually were the first international ambassadors for Australia. How the first export industry wasn’t merino sheep. No seriously.
And that there were people where I work and going further north who could speak these languages and who travelled there and had children with people. And the kinship that we still know speaks to this.
So I think it is actually a really, really seminal question, not so much for Indigenous Australians but for white Australians to understand. Because I think part of the fear we’re still living with is that the White Australia policy was very powerful. And it still sits under all this understanding of our relationships with South-East Asia, the Afghani cameleers, which you didn’t mention but are in that. Which, interestingly, are also our first contacts with Islam. Going back six hundred years or more. It’s only a statement but I think it’s really an important one.
MARGO NEALE: I think we’ve probably got time for — it depends on how long it goes on. I think it’s a really good thing that we should hang and pursue another time.
There’s one, and perhaps Ann McGrath, and that might be it, I think, unless they are exceptionally brief.
COMMENT: And I take it all back. There is singing after all, Margot.
MARGO NEALE: I just had it put on for your benefit.
COMMENT: Thank you.
MARGO NEALE: Thank you. And we’ll be sung out of here at the end. Soon, very soon.
QUESTION: [inaudible] anthropologist working on the APY lands and in Germany hopefully very soon where actually arts funding and economy, public health is all coming together to restore an entirely destroyed landscape. Coal mining region into a new better, greener, bluer economy and environment, while the working-class lives of the people there are being shown in museums.
So culture and nature are being restored to a certain way but they’re looking towards the arts to make that happen and try and imagine a future that has never existed — doesn’t come out of the past but has to be re-imagined altogether.
But I wanted to ask, just critically perhaps, do we need to be cautious? Is there a limit to immersive technologies, or dangers that we should become aware of now going into the future, you know.
To shift country into the Museum and — I mean, I’m reading John Dewey at the moment, right. Art as experience — he would just be applauding you, Margo, I’m sure, you know.
But how does it really reverberate back into everyday lives? Bit connected to your question, where does that leave us all of us in our everyday lives in terms of aesthetic experience?
MARGOT NEALE: There’s two ways to go here now. Either somebody just do a little response to that, or we just leave that as a really interesting comment. And then it gives us time to have another really interesting comment. Is that okay?
You’re in trouble now, Ann. It better be interesting. It can be a question but I just know we actually have literally three minutes.
ANN MCGRATH: Thanks very much for the opportunity. I’ve got three minutes? Okay, yes. I’m Ann McGrath from the Australian National University and I’m a historian. And yes, I’d just like to congratulate everybody involved today — it was really inspiring — and Margo, and her co-curators from many different parts of Australia, the traditional owners of the songlines. And I think that that idea of co-curating is really important.
And as a historian I’m thrilled by this exhibition. I think it’s a game changer because I think that Australians, and perhaps the international people, had really come to appreciate Indigenous visual art, but as a commodity and as an aesthetic exhilarating experience. And so I think that this exhibition takes it beyond that. It’s about deep stories and human stories of connection. And sure, kids in Australia don’t learn about it at all when they study history, but it is a way to connect with the deep human past that took place on this continent.
And yes, the generosity of people sharing that through performance and through many different modes of what I call historical practice. And I guess the issue is that yes, young people do get taught other songlines — Captain Cook and Matthew Flinders and all these navigation lines that crisscrossed the oceans and landed up here. And they became the de facto Dreaming stories of the Australian nation. So, I think, thank god we’re finally connecting with very deep stories.
And I might say that as soon as Phillip arrived they were connecting with Greek legends and ancient legends, and they were ignoring the Indigenous legends, more or less. So hopefully this is a moment, and it’s wonderful that some school teachers are here, and I hope that the young generation can learn through this kind of exhibition.
MARGOT NEALE: Do you want to say something?
COMMENT: Well, Lisa and I —
MARGOT NEALE: Oh Lisa, okay.
COMMENT: If you have noticed we’re the only people — Okay.
MARGOT NEALE: Let the panel have the last say.
COMMENT: If the panel and the audience haven’t noticed yet, Lisa and I are the only people that haven’t spoken yet. Apart from Margot, who’s the only other Aboriginal woman that’s here. Just a little reminder about listening and that a brother down the front has been waiting for a really long time to speak. He had a question before so we’d like to [inaudible] that so —
LISA FULLER: And just noting that he’s the only person who’s actually been silenced which, yes, I’d like to hear from him.
MARGOT NEALE: Do you have a last word?
COMMENT: Sorry, it’s just the question about funding and what level of funding and indoctrination. I think it’s worth reading the Melbourne Declaration and the 15 contributors to the Melbourne Declaration — there was an Indigenous person that had been gone through a mission and contributed a mission voice. And that helped form our educational framework within Australia.
And if you consider the funding, if you go to the funding estimates for schools, per thousand students in a school’s about five million dollars. If you consider here in the ACT we have about 2600 identified Indigenous students, then that parity level would be 10 million plus funding.
If you consider the number of Indigenous schools that are Indigenous-owned, Indigenous-operated, because that declaration in Melbourne wasn’t a bilateral agreement to create the Indigenous framework as part of the curriculum or indoctrination systems, then it would give you an idea of how many schools we should have, and funded to what level, as part of that symbiotic relationship, the partnership.
And that’s just for parity. That's not looking towards, you know, the past. And, yes, I think there’s a lot to say about education and Indigenous engagement.
MARGOT NEALE: Now you’re the lady from New York? I was just thinking about that. I was thinking wouldn’t it be nice to find out how you — what brought you here, and what it’s done for you. And we’ll have to finish on that note otherwise we’ll be locked in.
COMMENT: I'll be very short and, again, I’m not a PhD student. My name is Grace. I’m here as a person in the world who heard the call of Songlines and when it came across my Facebook feed and said, ‘I’m coming.’
I thought I was coming to a funeral. I told people I was coming to witness the end of storylines, songlines, this culture that was dying these cultures. And how do you not go and bear witness to that? My tears were shed all before I came. Since I’ve been here, all the time I would cry.
This is a celebration. This is a renaissance, a coming back to life. I honour all the work and integrity and beauty and love that’s gone into this. That word ‘love’ someone shared before. I’m taking home a lot of love. I’m witnessing a lot of love, creativity and intelligence and plan to share a lot of the good news. And with a lot of respect for the challenges, and certainly you can appreciate the challenges that we are facing in other ways in my country right now.
But I want to say that, and say thank you. And really I’m heartened by the VR work and the other Indigenous peoples that you’re giving a voice to and a chance for us to connect with our deep humanity. So that’s what I have to say, thank you.
MARGOT NEALE: Well, New York’s in our sights. You might be able to help. Who do you know other than Trump? I’ll talk to you if — no never mind.
Look, thank you so much and I think, you know, we don’t want to end, and lots of people had things to say, I know. And I’m sure there’s — I wonder whether there have — anyway the time’s up, so we have to go, and I have to thank each and every one of you for making it such a wonderful day. And all of you people who were so interactive and warm. The love — all loved up. I hope everyone goes home feeling all loved up.
And we — I mean, there’s only three days, four days, five days left of this iteration of Songlines and you can all do what you have to do to activate for its continuance in your own ways. And I do hope the conversation continues in many different ways.
So thank you so much everybody for being here all day, and would you mind giving this mob a —
Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007-19. 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: 28 February 2019