TRAVEL: Two days, three square kilometres and 40,000 years of culture and history
Only got a couple of days in Sydney and want to spend it near the world’s most beautiful harbour, but also take in art, culture, history and some exercise? Then join local author Anita Heiss as she shares her favourite contemporary spaces that demonstrate Aboriginal heritage in the city that will enrich and entertain.
We begin our tour at 9.30am at the Museum of Sydney (MoS) which stands on the site of the first Government House, built by Governor Arthur Phillip. The award-winning outdoor installation Edge of Trees – with 29 massive pillars made of sandstone, wood and steal – created by Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley, set the scene for the day. We slowly weave through the tall structures taking in Koori voices softly announcing the locations of difference clan/family groups around Sydney, while various organic materials embedded in the trees tell the story and evoke images of a life long past. Lose yourself in the moment, and then look up and see Sydney skyscrapers overhead. You’ll be quickly reminded of how the present meets the past.
On entering the museum we’re faced with Gordon Bennett’s painting ‘Possession Island’ which re-interprets Cooks ‘discovery’ of Australia, while Gordon Syron’s works ‘Invasion I and II’ give a powerful Aboriginal perspective of what happened in Sydney harbour when the First Fleet arrived.
In Gadigal Place, there’s a tribute to local historical personalities like Barrangaroo, Nanbaree, Bennelong, Colebee and Daringha, while the story of warrior Pemulwuy is told through a red, black and yellow mapping cloak designed by Sydney-based artist and poet Brenda Saunders.
We sit for a few minutes in the viewing cube to reflect on what we’ve read and seen, then stroll 800m to The Rocks Discovery Museum (we’re only briefly side-tracked by the gourmet fresh food markets in Argyle Street so as to refuel for the rest of the day), then enter the museum through a modest entrance in Kendall Lane. It’s here in the exhibit named Warrane – the traditional name of the area known as Sydney Cove – we can get a sense of the life of the coastal Cadigal / Gadigal people. It’s a great space for kids because they can see tools used in the past, hear a welcome in local language and they can touch things!
Afterwards, a leisurely 100 metre stroll takes us to the newly refurbed Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) near where Aboriginal people camped in boat sheds until 1879. Keith Munro, Curator Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Programs says, ‘Included in the opening hang is a diverse selection of work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. This includes work from our major Maningrida and the Arnott’s Collections as well as works by Sydney shell makers Esme Timbery and Lola Ryan.’ The shell works bring back memories of my own childhood spent at the beach at La Perouse.