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Reconciliation Place - The Stories Behind The Sculptures

Home > Canberra > Walks | Outdoor | Art
by Sue W (subscribe)
New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published September 20th 2017
A walkway of Indigenous art, history & culture
Reconciliation Place is located on a promenade which starts opposite the National Library of Australia and ends at the High Court of Australia. This walkway of indigenous sculptures was created in 2001 as a monument to the reconciliation between Australia's indigenous people and the settler population. Its location is right in the centre of the Parliamentary Triangle and national institutions, which shows its importance in Australia's culture today. It is also built on the traditional land of the Ngunnawal people, whose ancestors date back thousands of years in the Canberra region.

At the time of writing there are 17 sculptures along the public promenade, however more may be added in the future. They each represent the indigenous culture in a variety of ways and draw attention to issues such as the reconciliation process, indigenous people during wartime, the stolen generation, the referendum for indigenous people to vote and women who have dedicated their lives to cultural harmony. The following are just some of the stories, behind the sculptures...

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Walk along Reconcilation Place, starting from the National Library of Australia. Sculpture on bottom right is Fire and Water


FIRE & WATER (Artwork 1)

This striking artwork is located at the very beginning of the walkway, opposite the National Library of Australia. At the start of the sculpture is a large rock with a flat top, which represents the Yuriarra Moth Stone, which was used to cook Bogong moths that migrated into the local area. As you walk into the middle of the sculpture, there is the long, flat gathering stone. If you stop and listen, you can hear the sounds emanating from the stone, which reflect the migration of the moths and the sounds of people coming together to feast. The metal reeds which curve inwards over the stone represent the coming together of two sides. At the far end, there is a misting pool which symbolises cleansing. See here for the full details.

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The misting pool of Fire and Water. Artist: Judy Watson, Sound Design: Michael Hewes, Cultural Advisor: Matilda House


SEPARATION (Artwork 4)

The sculpture Separation is in the colour of red oxide, which symbolises the colour of the Australian land. There are also small holes within the centre of the front panel in the shape of the map of Australia and down the back of the sculpture is a water feature, reflecting our island nation. This artwork addresses the many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children of the "stolen generation" who were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 - separating them from their identity, culture, language and extended family relationships.

Over the front of the sculpture there are quotes from people who were taken and their carers. Behind the steel panel is a speaker from which the song 'Took the Children Away', written and sung by Archie Roach, is played as people walk by. Unfortunately on my visit, this was not working. See here for the full details.

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Separation. Design Architects: Graham Scott-Bohanna, Andrew Smith, Designer of Fountain Base: Karen Casey, Graphic Designer: Cate Riley, Sculptor: Darryl Cowie


NGUNNAWAL (Artwork 7)

On the front of the glass of this sculpture are the words "Ngunna yerrabi yanggu", which means "(you may) walk on this country now" - which is the traditional welcome to Ngunnawal country. In the centre of the sculpture is a stone from a Canberra quarry and either side is a glass panel, which shows the migratory patterns of the Bogong moth on a map of Australia. As also mentioned in Fire and Water (Artwork 1), the Bogong moth migrates into the higher altitudes of the Canberra region each year and it was the only time that different clans of the region got together. After feasting on the moths they would also settle disputes, swap stories of where to hunt and conduct initiation ceremonies. The wedge tail eagle that features prominently on the front of the glass signifies the high country of the Ngunnawal people, in the Australian Alps. See here for the full details.

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Ngunnawal. Architect: Simon Kringas, Aboriginal Cultural Advisor: Sharon Payne, Exhibition Designers: Marcus Bree, Benita Tunks, Graphic Designer: Alan Vogt


RUBY FLORENCE HAMMOND PSM (Artwork 11), ROBERT LEE (Artwork 12) and WENTEN RUBUNTJA AM (Artwork 13)

Rock art is a traditional form of artistic expression and these three examples show off the beauty and colour of this indigenous art form, in a city environment. Walk around each one and see symbols of traditional dreamtime stories, such as the Murray Cod and Rainbow Serpent. The artwork at the front, titled "Robert Lee", has a beautifully smooth surface to run your hands over, with his quote:

"Take the responsibility and share parts of your country and our living cultures in a good way with fellow Australians and the rest of the world" - Robert Lee, 2003.

This is just one of three large rocks which have intricately scribed quotes cut into the rock surface. Take some time to read each quote and take in the meaning of each chosen word. The other two examples are shown below. See here for the full details.

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Robert Lee (front), Wenten Rubuntja AM (left) and Ruby Florence Hammond PSM (right)


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Closer detail of symbols and quote


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Bill Neidjie OAM (Artwork 15). Quote inscribed into the rock - This law...this country...this people. No matter what people...red, yellow, black or white...the blood is the same. Lingo little bit different...but no matter. Country - you in other place...But same feeling. Blood...bone...all the same (Bill Neidjie, 1996)


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Gatjil Djerrkura OAM (Artwork 16). Quote inscribed into the rock - If we want to break away from the colonial past, and begin anew, then we have to walk together - hand in hand and side by side - as a truly reconciled nation (Gatjil Djerrkura OAM 2004)


These are just some of the 17 intricate and thought-provoking sculptures along Reconciliation Place, which will make you think about the past, present and future of the Australia that we live in. Unfortunately the plaques along the walkway don't tell the individual story behind each sculpture, so I would recommend printing out, or displaying on your phone, the detail of each artwork, so you can refer to it as you walk along.

It is the stories behind the sculptures that make this such a special place to explore, appreciate and learn more about the indigenous culture of this land. The walk may not take long, but if you're anything like me, it will continue to be in your thoughts long after you've gone.

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Take your time in exploring each and every one...


As stated on the National Capital Authority website: "Visitors should be aware that names may be mentioned, or images portrayed, of people who are now deceased. Any distress this may cause is sincerely regretted..
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Why? Learn more about our country's indigenous culture & history
When: Open 24 hours
Phone: 02 6271 2888
Where: Reconciliation Place, King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT 2600
Cost: Free
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