Opening on 25 November 2023, the narrm ngarrgu library and family services recognises and celebrates Melbourne’s First Nations community. Alongside other makers and creators, artist Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung) made a significant contribution to the space, including:
a carpet representing the seven seasons of Kulin Nation
a mirrored glass forest passageway
a cast of her husband Nicholas Hovington’s (palawa) coolamon for smoking ceremonies
a six metre eel trap with a three metre flute for children to interact with
a watercolour carpet with maps of the Kulin Nation over the top
The City of Melbourne has created a video of the space, which includes footage of Maree talking about her work. The video can be viewed here.
Following up on our fieldwork in Ngukurr in May/June 2023, the Living Archive team have put together a film about the trip (the film was launched recently at a conference at the University of Melbourne. See previous blog post). It was made entirely on mobile phones, with additional music supplied by the Yugal Band from Ngukurr. The film tells the story of the cloaks’ trip to Ngukurr, the stories that evolved during the marking of designs on the cloak, and the cultural exchanges and relationships that were established during the trip. The cloak provides a creative outcome that reveals the importance of listening to and learning from Indigenous knowledge holders to care for Country, and acknowledges that these ways of knowing are essential in supporting ecological sustainability into the future.
In mid-November 2023, Robin Rogers and Owen Turner travelled from Ngukurr, in southeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, to Naarm/Melbourne. The main purpose of their visit was to view Ngukurr/Roper River cultural heritage material held at Museums Victoria, and in the collection of anthropologist Donald Thomson. The men viewed the material over two days, and saw items such as photographs, feather items, spears and large artwork, as well as restricted men’s material.
Robin and Owen also visited the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) storage unit, where they saw acrylics on canvas by Ngukurr artists, and three possum-skin cloaks by women artists from southeast Australia, who were responsible for reviving the practice: Dr Treahna Hamm, Dr Vicki Couzens and Maree Clarke. That evening they joined Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung) and her family for a BBQ, as well as a visit to a warehouse in Footscray to see a river reed canoe that is currently drying out, made by Maree’s great-nephew Mitch Mahoney (Boonwurrung/Barkindji).
Robin is currently employed as the Living Archive’s community-based archivist in Ngukurr, based at the Ngukurr Arts centre. HIs position was made available through some funding in a Mellon Foundation grant, aligned with a fellowship our Partner Investigator, Dr Sabra Thorner from the USA, is working on while she is in Melbourne. To provide Robin with information about the Ngukurr archive, both he and Owen spent time with members of the Living Archive project team discussing and learning how to include the community’s knowledge and stories in the archive via audio recordings. Later, Owen, Robin and the team attended the conference, A Profound Reorganising of Things, where project members Fran Edmonds, Richard Chenhall, Sabra Thorner, Mitch Mahoney and Kerri Clarke (Boon Wurrung) launched the film of the Ngukurr field trip, from May-June 2023. The film can be viewed HERE.
Owen and Robin’s last evening in Melbourne was spent at Brunswick Street Gallery, Fitzroy, celebrating the launch of the Ngukurr Arts exhibition Kalawan Kantri. The exhibition was curated by fellow Ngukurr community member, and Robin’s niece, Karen Rogers. The exhibition is open until 3 December 2023.
Kerri Clarke, Maree Clarke, Owen Turner and Robin Rogers with the river reed canoe made by Mitch Mahoney.
The Millowl (Phillip Island) community assisted First Nations artist Mitch Mahoney (Boon Wurrung/Barkindji) to build a traditional stringybark canoe. Mitch learnt to build the canoe ‘by reading books on the craft from his family members and having conversations with different communities.’ Mitch made the canoe as part of a residency at Baluk Arts in late September 2023. Read the ABC article to find out more.
Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung) and Dr Fran Edmonds gave the Loris Williams Memorial Lecture at the ASA Conference on Tuesday 5 September 2023. During their lecture, titled What is a Living Archive? A conversation, Fran and Maree explained the concept of the ‘living archive’ and gave an overview of the activities of the project to date, including the digitisation of Maree’s significant collection of early 1990s photographs, the work undertaken in Maree’s backyard, the courses at Mt. Holyoke College, Massachussets, and the work on the possum-skin cloak in both Newcastle and Ngukurr. Fran and Maree also highlighted the difficulties the project team have had in creating a database and website, which will conserve and make accessible the material in the Maree Clarke Collection (MACL) and the Ngukurr Collection (NKCL) to both communities – ie Ngukurr and south-east Australia – and ensure their knowledge and stories can be added to the archive.
A Q and A with colleagues, following the talk, revealed similar stories and challenges in other archival projects. Discussions focused on ongoing issues to achieving sustainable relational digital databases, that consider Indigenous knowledge systems and support First Nations communities to control and manage their data in culturally safe ways.
With the aim of on-going discussions between these groups, our hope is that together we can create a tool that is useful, accessible, and allows communities to have control over their knowledge, culture and stories.
Please read on for an outline of a recently published article by Fran Edmonds, Maree Clarke, Kate Senior and Daphne Daniels, called ‘Feather Flowers, ‘Home’ and a Global Pandemic: Collaborative Storytelling and the Relationality of Things’
ABSTRACT: This chapter is a response to an experiment held during the initial Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020, called Massive/Micro Autoethnography. The experiment asked researchers from around the world to write a daily response to a series of prompts that revealed how they navigated new pathways in their research during lockdowns.
In this chapter Fran, Maree, Kate and Daphne collaborate to explore the interconnections between the materiality of ‘things’ in a global pandemic. Their story focuses on ‘feather flowers’ from the Aboriginal community of Ngukurr in southeast Arnhem Land now located in Melbourne Museum, the authors’ experiences of lockdown, and how the story of the feather flowers intersect with the idea of ‘home’ as a ‘living archive’. Coalescing global crises at the time of the pandemic, such as climate change and the Black Lives Matter movement, are discussed as they impact the authors’ lives. The story is a collaborative/intercultural autoethnography written between four women—two Indigenous and two non-Indigenous—with the aim of progressing research which supports Indigenous knowledge systems to comprehend the relationality of everything. How the authors resolve to tell their story as an autoethnography reveals the continuing intersections of their lives across multiple contexts.
Unfortunately, this article is not open access.
To access the article through your institution cut and paste the link below into your browser:
Edmonds, F., Clarke, M., Senior, K., Daniels, D. (2022). Feather Flowers, ‘Home’ and a Global Pandemic: Collaborative Storytelling and the Relationality of Things. In: Harris, D.X., Luka, M.E., Markham, A.N. (eds) Massive/Micro Autoethnography. Studies in Arts-Based Educational Research, vol 4. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-8305-3_5
Otherwise request a copy through the comments section below.
Maree Clarke’s latest work now you see me: seeing the invisible #1 is currently on display at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) as part of the exhibition Between Waves. The exhibition, curated by Jessica Clark, ‘aims to illuminate interconnected shapeshifting ecologies within, beyond and between what can be seen.’
Maree consulted and collaborated with staff at the University of Melbourne’s Histology Platform to create images of microscopic river reeds for her piece. To read more about this fascinating process, click HERE.
An extension of the exhibition, which shifted it outside the walls of ACCA, is the animated projection of the microscopic images, now you see me: seeing the invisible #2 . This was displayed on the large screen at Federation Square, Melbourne, from 21 August – 3 September 2023.
The exhibition at ACCA is open until 3 September 2023.
Now that the Ngukurr field trip has ended, researchers and artists from Ngukurr and the southeast are processing the outcomes of the visit. This includes analysing how knowledge sharing about the project, inclusive of cultural information located in the Ngukurr digital archive, alongside the work of designing the stories that were marked on the possum skin cloak by artists from the north (Ngukurr) and the south (Vic/NSW), can be controlled and managed by the appropriate people. Finding ways to ensure that Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) is supported, is an ongoing process for the Living Archive project (see this link for more information about ICIP https://www.terrijanke.com.au/icip).
Kriol is the main language spoken in Ngukurr. There are, however, up to 10 language groups represented in Ngukurr – a result of the dispossession of people from their traditional lands from the late 19th to early 20th centuries (see this link to the Ngukurr Language Centre https://ngukurrlc.org.au/). Following the colonial invasion, many people from the region found their way onto the Roper River mission (the precursor to the current Ngukurr community). For many in Ngukurr today, English is their third or fourth language, which means that written information, such as consent or copyright forms, may not be the most appropriate way for obtaining permission to store or access their stories and/or cultural material in a digital database. While we were in Ngukurr, a range of alternative procedures for obtaining copyright/consent were set up. These are to ensure community can consider how they manage their ICIP with respect to the digitally archived material (both historical and contemporary) inclusive of the possum skin cloak we took to Ngukurr during our fieldwork (see post below) and the new designs that were marked on the cloak while it was in Ngukurr.
During our visit we were able to facilitate discussions about how material held in the Ngukurr digital archive (much of which currently resides physically in institutional collections) could be controlled as a resource by Ngukurr community representatives. This included consulting and collaborating with key Elders and Senior Knowledge Holders, who viewed a number of images from collections in galleries, libraries, archives and museums in Australia and overseas. A meeting took place at the Yugul Mangi Development Aboriginal Corporation where an agreement in the form of two letters were signed by community representatives (one that supported the Living Archive project at the University of Melbourne and the other from the director at Yugul Mangi). These letters endorsed the formation of the Yugul Mangi Living Archive Committee. Yugul Mangi comes from one of the local languages – Ngalakgan – and means ‘all together as one’. The Yugul Mangi Living Archive committee will now form the basis for ongoing consultation and collaboration about the Ngukurr digital archive.
One of the first ways of sharing the stories and images housed in the Ngukurr archive with the community occurred during a slide show evening. The ‘history photos’ were shown on a large screen in the recreation hall to about 50 young people from Ngukurr. The screening created a lot of discussion among the community, thanks to hosting of the event by Community Elder, Robin Rogers, who explained the photographs to the audience in Kriol and English. The audience also had the opportunity to engage closely with the initial mark-making on the possum skin cloak. The cloak was intriguing to many of members of the community, who wanted to know more about the markings/designs and were especially keen to touch and feel the soft possum pelts.
The marking of the possum skin cloak with designs relevant to stories/cultural knowledge that connect communities from the north and the south, also revealed how archives and cultural practices intersect through storytelling/art-making as a means of ongoing knowledge exchange. The outcomes of the cloak mark-making highlighted the way First Nations histories, artefacts and cultural heritage, often stored in collecting institutions, are alive and remain connected to Country and kin. The cloak designs revealed each communities, i.e. Ngukurr and southeast Australian Aboriginal peoples, connections to Country, their stories of activism and fighting for Aboriginal land rights, and of ecological knowledge, inclusive of seasonal plant use. This process reclaimed Indigenous knowledge from out of the ‘archive’ into the Ngukurr Arts Centre (https://ngukurrarts.com/), where the cloak design/mark-making process took place. The designs/markings on the cloak were the result of many hours of discussion between community Elders and Ngukurr artists, alongside the visiting southeast Aboriginal artists. All were involved in finding ways to continue knowledge exchange about their respective Country(s) and culture.
This twofold process of disseminating information about the digitised collections in the Ngukurr archive and the collaborations between Ngukurr and southeast Australian Aboriginal artists, simultaneously reinforced knowledge about their respective cultural practices and connections to Country, through the sharing of stories and creating of designs on a possum skin cloak. This collaborative approach also revealed the importance of supporting communities to maintain ongoing control of their cultural information/cultural heritage. The Living Archive project is setting in place processes, such as the Yugul Mangi Living Archive committee, that will ensure the Ngukurr community are able to manage their Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), including access and dissemination of historical and contemporary material located in the Ngukurr digital archive, as well as using this knowledge for creative practices. This approach includes supporting First Nations people involved in the Living Archive project (inclusive of those from the north and the south), with a means of controlling how their knowledge is used within their communities and how it may be shared more broadly. This is an ongoing process, which aims to provide First Nations peoples with the opportunity to determine how their culture and knowledge remains a living entity, rather than one that is located on the shelves and in the boxes of collecting institutions.
Written by Fran Edmonds
Robin Rogers (Ngukurr), discussing people in an old photograph of Ngukurr (c. 1940s) during the slide show evening – June 2023.
Daphne Daniels (Ngukurr) and Kerri Clarke (Boon Wurrung) admiring the almost finished cloak on the Arts Centre verandah – June 2023.
Kerri Clarke and Karen Rogers (Ngukurr) – revealing the final cloak in the Ngukurr Arts Centre – June 2023 (current Ngukurr works on canvas are displayed behind the artists).
Currently (late May 2023), members of the Living Archive of Aboriginal Art and Knowledge project are visiting Ngukurr to work with, share knowledge and learn together with Ngukurr artists and community members about their Country and culture through creative practices. Mitch Mahoney (Boowurrung/Barkindji), his mother Kerri Clarke (Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba), and Mitch’s dad, Wade Mahoney (Barkindji), took an unmarked possum skin cloak to Ngukurr. The cloak was sewn by Newcastle High School students last year (2022) – who were guided by Kerri Clarke to learn the possum skin cloak technique, which is traditionally connected to southeast Australian Aboriginal people and their culture. At the same time the young people also learnt about Ngukurr activist Dexter Daniels, who visited Newcastle in the 1960-70s to gain support from trade unions, university students and others for land rights and equal pay for Aboriginal people. The cloak from Newcastle was unmarked and is now in Ngukurr, where stories are being exchanged between Mitch and his family and the Ngukurr community, as they work out designs to be burnt on the cloak that will represent the knowledge exchange and interconnections between Aboriginal people in the south and those in the north. Already Mitch and his family have shared their stories about their Country, including their connections to the rivers in their Country, while Ngukurr artists, Karen Rogers and her family, including Daphne Daniels (Dexter’s great niece) have shared stories about their Country. It is anticipated over the next few days that the cloak story/design will evolve to reveal how Indigenous knowledge systems through art-making can transmit vital information about caring for Country, Aboriginal histories and cultural practices, while forging new and ongoing relationships between people from two diverse regions of Australia. Stay tuned for more as we work on creating the cloak as a Living Archive…
Some members of the Living Archive project team are currently in Ngukurr. We will be sharing more about the visit over the coming days, but in the meantime, here are some photographs from the Ngukurr Art Centre.
Yesterday Mitch Mahoney (Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba/Barkindji) helped rehang one of Karen Rogers’ (Ngukurr) magpie goose works in the Arts Centre, whilst Kerri Clarke (Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba) and Karen admired the handiwork.