by Yvette Gilfillan
Those Who Lost The Most: Aboriginal Australians 5th edition
The City of Hobart has recently installed a new contemporary artwork in the Elizabeth Mall in central Hobart to deepen awareness of Aboriginal culture.
The Elizabeth Mall is situated in the heart of the city’s retail and commercial centre and is the site of cultural and historic significance for Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
The artwork ‘Feeling the Country’ covers the walls of the Elizabeth Mall Information Hub that operates as a visitor information service, welcoming visitors from around Australia and the world to Hobart.
Created by Michelle Maynard, the artwork is a result of her innovative multimedia practice that bridges the old and the new. The work is vibrant and sophisticated and adds an engaging and dynamic contemporary perspective to the many layers of history within the mall and the city landscape.
This is the first in a number of the City of Hobart initiatives to address the importance of Aboriginal culture within Hobart’s urban environment. It embodies the City’s commitment to working with Aboriginal people so that visitors and locals can connect, learn, share and deepen their awareness of Aboriginal culture and history.
The artwork was launched in early October by the Lord Mayor Councillor Anna Reynolds, Linton Burgess (Aboriginal dancer) and the artist Michelle Maynard to the general public, Elected Members, Council employees, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community representatives.
Michelle and Linton took the audience through a guided cultural ceremony cleansing the site with peppermint leaf smoke.
Michelle spoke of the importance of the commission as the first solely Aboriginal artwork to address the need for a visible Aboriginal presence within Hobart city landscape.
“I hope that Feeling the Country will be a proud centrepiece and will help to build a committed and productive relationship with Tasmanian Aboriginal people,” said the artist.
Michelle acknowledged the Mouheneneer people who inspired the Elizabeth Mall Information Hub artwork and paid respect to the memory of their community who once lived, shared and thrived at the Elizabeth Mall site. Michelle said that the artwork celebrates the beauty and vibrancy of the culture of the Mouheneneer people that thrived in families and community.
“Feeling the Country also asks potent questions about why the Mouheneneer are no longer here and reflects upon our own current relationship to country and to the planet.”
Michelle gave thanks to the mentoring and support she received from City of Hobart staff and the collaborative spirit with which the project was implemented, encouraging other Aboriginal artists to consider applying for upcoming opportunities.
Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds emphasised the significance of the Elizabeth Mall site as a physical, cultural and spiritual intersection at the base of kunanyi / Mt Wellington and the intersection of the Hobart Rivulet and the River Derwent. She acknowledged the cultural and historical importance of Elizabeth Street for the Aboriginal community and that it will remain a site to gather, heal and share.
The Lord Mayor also announced that the City of Hobart is currently developing an Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan to guide the City’s work with Tasmanian Aboriginal people in the future. The Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan outlines actions in key areas including truth telling and making Hobart a safe cultural space for Aboriginal people.
“The artwork is an important piece of Tasmanian contemporary culture,” Councillor Reynolds said.
“It looks forward to a way of being beyond history and culture – to a sustainable and shared vision of respectful care for the natural world and all beings within it.”
Michelle Maynard is a contemporary Indigenous Tasmanian designer, cultural practitioner and facilitator of community connective experiences. She is a passionate and creative advocate for her people and country, working from the core of her family’s multigenerational experience of the Cape Barren Island Reserve.
Michelle focuses on the personal and community healing potential within art and cultural practice and facilitates opportunities for all people to connect with country and cultivate deeper listening, deeper healing and deeper belonging to place.
As a Producer and Mentor with the Nayri Niara Centre and Good Spirit Festival Michelle creates opportunities for people to engage in art, design and cultural practice, reconnecting and maintaining lineages of personal and communal storytelling.
Trained in Fashion Design and Project Management, Michelle is equally passionate about developing her own sustainable fashion range as she is collaborating with other practitioners on contemporary sustainable design projects. Recently this has included working with Liminal Architecture, Terrapin Puppet Theatre Company and the City of Hobart on separate projects.
Michelle is currently undertaking her apprenticeship as a Certified Practitioner in Grof Transpersonal Training. This framework adds to Michelle’s interpersonal skills and provides tools that Michelle is able to integrate into all aspects of her personal, community and professional output.
Michelle Maynard about her work “Feeling the Country invites us to converse with the ancient knowledge system of Country, to listen, to ask and to feel welcomed.”
“The colour palette is inspired by country and the beautiful vibrant marine-life colour that lies beneath the surface of the river. The richness of colour is also a deep symbolisation of the vibrancy of the Mouheneneer people, their culture, their country and their relationship to country.”
“The palette intends to infuse colour into the space. The rich, warm predominantly analogous palette with complimentary accents aims to evoke a sense of fun and curiosity into the contemporary space.”
We live in one of the most connected times on earth but never before have we been so lonely, so alienated from each other, from ourselves, and from the natural world. Whether this manifests as having difficulty finding community, feeling anxiety about your worthiness and place in the world, or simply feeling disconnected, the absence of belonging is the great silent wound of our times.
Toko-pa Turner, “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” (© 2017)
What is it to belong? What is it to really feel belonging? What is it to be and feel welcomed? Are the two connected?
The Mouheneneer people were the traditional owners of this country, Hobart, from thousands of years ago, up until a time, recent, exact date unknown. The impact of colonisation on their population was devastating.
This artwork celebrates and acknowledges the Mouheneneer people and their country. The beauty and vibrancy of a culture, of people in an ancient relationship with their land, sustaining each other, thriving together in families, in community, belonging.
Country is an ancient knowledge system, holding the memory of everything that has gone before. It continues to generously hold us as we create new story, new memory.
Can we be open to the idea of asking country itself, ‘may we be welcome’.
Can we celebrate and acknowledge the people who came before us in order to repair our own relationship with country, with ourselves, with each other. Feel our own belonging.
Can we feel country’s response?
Are we open to hearing the reply?
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35WDdLNBzuA
Michelle Maynard. Image: supplied
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