Jonathan Jones is a Researcher with Jumbunna, his latest works untitled (gidyirriga) 2018 is on show at Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Sound Design Luke Mynott, Sonar Sound; voices Karma Dechen, Renna Dechen, Beth Delan, Jenson Howard, Lilia Howard, Taj Lovett, Mincarlie Lovett, Phoebe Smith, Ben Woolstencroft and Mae Woolstencroftfrom Parkes Public School; with thanks to Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM, Uncle Geoff Andersonand Lionel Lovett
Commonly known as a budgie, the budgerigar is a small seed-eating parrot endemic to Australia. They are around 18cm long and are green and yellow to blend in to the arid regions of Australia. As a species they are about 5 million years old. Widespread throughout mainland Australia, today they have become the most popular bird to keep and are the third most popular pet in the world, after dogs and cats. They are promoted as ‘easy to keep’ and can be trained to talk. Since the 1950s budgies have been exported around the world and bred in captivity. This breeding has seen a variety of ‘mutations’, including in colour and size. There are at least 32 primary mutations, enabling hundreds of possible secondary mutations. Birds taken to shows and exhibited are known as ‘English budgerigars’ and are over double the size of wild ones with fancy feather shapes and colours.
The word ‘budgerigar’, like many Australian words, is a corruption of an Aboriginal word. In Wiradjuri we call them gidyirriga (like many birds their calls will teach us their names). Budgerigars are social birds and prefer to live in flocks. Large flocks can be seen throughout Australia’s interior and, like other noisy flocking birds, lead you to water sources.
Budgerigars are not only a popular pet but the subject of a decorative ceramic figurine movement. Collectable sculptures of the budgerigar have been made by many factories including Royal Crown Derby and Beewick in England, Ernst Bohne & Soehne and Goebal in Germany, and Bing & Grondahl in Denmark, along with a number of other unknown factories around the world. Budgerigar figurines have been collected worldwide. Because of mass-production the relief features of the figurines become streamlined to accommodate the ceramic moulds, causing the bird to mutate. It’s sometimes unclear if these sculptures are inspired by the birds themselves or have become imaginary depictions. Neck hackles swell, birds are enlarged and garishly painted; the beauty of the subject is lost.
Growing up with my great-grandmother I remember objects like this. Cast animal figurines like these budgerigars were part of her world. I remember playing with them and the sound of high-fired porcelain clinking. I quickly learnt how to be gentle.
As we move into the 21st century the protection Aboriginal knowledge and our intellectual property, the bedrock of our cultures, will be paramount. Our knowledges, which have sustained us for over 60,000 years, will be vitally important if we are to live for another 60,000 years. Our knowledges are embedded in our country. How our knowledges are implemented, respected and acknowledged will be essential to Australia’s relationship to Aboriginal communities. Knowledge can be duplicated, mutated, disrespected; or it can be used gently with respect.
This work is made up of over 60 budgerigar figurines that have been collected over many years. They have come from all across the world. I’m interested in the process of collecting both within a western and Aboriginal framework. The figurines are on show at the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne and are set against a hand-stencilled wall design using a stamp made from domestic sponges. This design speaks to both murruwaygu, or south-east cultural markings, and the designs seen on crocheted doilies. The design itself is an elongated diamond or gum-leaf design.
Accompanying the budgerigar figurines and wall design is a soundscape created in collaboration with Wiradjuri and non-Aboriginal children from Parkes Public School, in rural NSW. Children include Karma Dechen, Renna Dechen, Beth Delan, Jenson Howard, Lilia Howard, Taj Lovett, Mincarlie Lovett, Phoebe Smith, Ben Woolstencroft and Mae Woolstencroft who are engaged in learning the Wiradjuri language under the leadership of their teacher Lionel Lovett and local language champion Uncle Geoff Anderson.