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Public artworks unveiled at new Melbourne library narrm ngarrgu celebrate Kulin culture

[by Caroline Hendry]


Giant eeltrap, roof terrace playground by Maree Clarke, narrm ngarrgu Library and Family Services. Image: Lucy Foster

The City of Melbourne today unveiled a suite of public artworks and commissions celebrating the richness of Kulin culture at Melbourne’s newest community hub in the historic Queen Victoria Market precinct, narrm ngarrgu Library and Family Services.


narrm ngarrgu Library and Family Services is the first library to open in the City of Melbourne in nearly a decade – offering a suite of family health and wellbeing services, and a collection of more than 30,000 new books. Now open to the public, narrm ngarrgu is the first space of its kind dedicated to sharing the wisdom and voice of the Kulin people, and was designed to be a place of value and significance for the local community.


The Council collaborated with Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung elders, artists and community members to reflect their knowledge and lore in the curation of the narrm ngarrgu art program.


At the heart of the program is a series of culturally-significant immersive works by Aboriginal artist Maree Clarke, a Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta, Boon Wurrung and Wemba Wemba woman, which tell a First Nations story of the history of the site.


Created in collaboration with artist Hillary Jackman and designers and artisans from Artery Cooperative, the works take visitors on a journey into Kulin culture throughout the building, providing opportunities for reflection, learning, ceremony and play.


Clarke welcomes visitors to the space with a series of coloured lenticular prints representing the Kulin seasons, before inviting them to locate themselves ‘on Country’ – a gesture of inclusion – in the main library, with carpet design themed around ‘Walking on Country’ and featuring contour maps of the five Kulin nations.


The Children’s Library and passageway features carpet designed with native Wurrundjeri plants and animals, with colour coded artwork motifs to signify the Kulin seasons, and native landscape glazing.


On the rooftop terrace, Clarke’s works include a coolamon cast from a giant eucalyptus burl for smoking ceremonies, made in collaboration with Palawa man Nicholas Hovington, and a 6 metrelong eel trap playground artwork surrounded by cultural patterns and Kulin graphics in the playground soft fall area.


Clarke said she was incredibly proud of her commissioned artworks at narrm ngarrgu.


“I wanted to create and integrate pieces that reflect the Kulin Nation culture and knowledge that have always been here – giving anyone who walks into the building a chance to connect in a playful and thoughtful way. 


"If people don't know about the five clans of the Kulin Nations, what better place to start learning than in narrm ngarrgu.


"I feel incredibly proud to have worked with my dream team – Lucy Foster, Hilary Jackman, Ellen Sayers and Jeph Neale. Jeph sadly passed away in January this year but helped create this vision for everyone to share and learn about our connection to country, culture, and place."


Continuing the Kulin story is a collection of 60 contemporary artworks and heritage items displayed throughout the building that reflect the site’s layered history. Curated by dr megan evans – with support from Clarke as her long-time collaborator – the collection includes three new commissioned works by Wergaia/Wemba Wemba artist Kelly Koumalatsos and Ngarigu artist Peter Waples-Crowe, alongside existing works from the Council’s Art & Heritage Collection.


Koumalatsos’ Bubup Gurrk-Bap’s Coat – Baby Girl-Mum’s Coat/Cloak (2023) is a sculptural portrait representing the childhood of her mother, which sits at the entrance to the family gallery, while Waples-Crowe’s collages made of receipts from Queen Victoria Market in the early 20th century (Underneath #1, 2023) reflects the power of the Country on which the building stands.


The collection also features works by influential Aboriginal artists Josh Muir, Kelly Koumalatsos, Leah King-Smith, Stephen Rhall, Hayley Millar Baker, Clinton Naina, Brian Martin, Naomi Hobson, Kent Morris, Blackgin (Georgia Macguire), Julie Gough, Lisa Waup and Sonja Hodge, as well as photography by Clarke of the 1990s NAIDOC protests in Melbourne.


Also on display is a series of glass condiment bottles and dishes from the early 1800s-early 1900s, discovered at the site during its redevelopment in 2018-19 and excavated with consent from Heritage Victoria, which further showcase the site’s historical significance.


Wrapping the exterior of the Munro building which houses narrm ngarrgu is artist Rose Nolan’s large-scale artwork Screen Works (ENOUGH-NOW/EVEN/MORE-SO) – an optimistic, complex and bold design presented as a series of connected words that reference the market’s role in social and economic exchange and conjure a sense of perseverance and forward-thinking.


Nolan’s work anchors the site and speaks to its transformation from a mercantile past to a place that considers and respects the influence of its Indigenous heritage. Lord Mayor Sally Capp said as the first public library to open in the City of Melbourne in nearly a decade, narrm ngarrgu marks an important milestone for Council and the community.


“With doors officially open, we welcome everyone inside to explore the remarkable collection of 30,000 items and celebrate our longstanding and important connection to Aboriginal art, heritage and knowledge.”


narrm ngarrgu Library and Family Services opens to the public from Friday 24 November at 10am with a Community Day on Saturday 25 November from 10am – 4pm.



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