Author Archives: jumbunnaresearch

Aunty Joan Tranter

Aunty Joan Retirement

Aunty Joan Speaking about her days at UTS

As we approach the end of 2018 we farewell Aunty Joan Tranter. Aunty Joan has been the inaugural Elder in Residence for Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at UTS for the last six years, and previously a part of the equity team as an Indigenous Employment Manager. She has been a part of the UTS family for the past twenty years. We wish her well with her retirement. We did a short documentary on her journey here at UTS.


Aunty Joan’s family, her co workers, long time friend Aunty Jean South from UWS and students who have received her support for many years came to celebrate her  achievements.

For those of you who where unable to be there, the great news is that Aunty Joan has not left the building. She will be returning to to participate in an Elders group here on campus.

Law and Poetry with Alison Whittaker

By Pauline Clague and Missi Pesa

Alison Whittaker is a new addition to the Jumbunna Research team, we caught up with her to talk about her year at Harvard and her new works Blakwork.



Podcast with Alison Whittaker

Transcript of Podcast with Alison Whittaker

I’m Alison Whittaker. I’m a Gomeroi woman, and I’m a research fellow at the John Brunner Institute. It’s great to be in a position where I’m not putting out fires. I think, for good reason, a lot of people are drawn to Legal Aid, and the Aboriginal Legal Service, because they want to immediately help people in the front line, and that is worthy work, and that’s work that people need to do. But it also burns them out so quickly.

There’s a reason, I think, people last maybe two or three years in this position. It’s difficult to sustain, and especially when your mob and these issues aren’t abstract, or you can’t just fly into these issues, and then, once you’ve built up a skill in criminal law, fly out of them. They’re with you forever. I guess we have, as legal practitioners and legal scholars, a really complicated relationship with the law. But I’m trying to go into it with the view that the law is a tool, and not an end, and because it’s imperfect, we have to be really strategic, about how we represent ourselves in it.

So, while I was in the US, I did research into effectively kind of trying to answer the question of why Norm was going to prison, for debts in custody, or why there wasn’t, really, seemed to be much justice available for families and loved ones.I had to go over there, with the intention of writing about that, but this time last year, when I was thinking about my topic, September 2017, there was a massive spike in especially atrocious Indigenous death, and it felt devastating, and it seemed necessary to me, to do something about it, or to at least understand the problem that the courts impose upon us a bit more generally.

The issues I kind of looked at were, how do coroner’s courts, which have a compulsory jurisdiction over every death in custody, or death under a police operation, how do they funnel their cases? It turns out, they’re all kind of funnelling them away from liability, and now, funnelling them away from what we see as the arc of justice, and trying to blame the deceased for their own death. They were doing that in ways that there were, I guess, interpersonally racist. They would be more willing, I think, to see an indigenous person as defeated, or inevitably dead, but they were also doing it in a really structural way. There were particular features of the coroner’s court that would make it impossible for us to achieve what we currently want to achieve, using the coroner’s court. That becomes a problem, when it’s the only court of public record that deals with all of these matters. It could actually be inhibiting the justice we want, rather than helping us.

The experience at Harvard was a bit odd, in many ways, I think, for them and me. Harvard was doing a lot of soul searching, especially the law school. The law school was having its two hundredth year anniversary, and there was a very celebratory tone to it, but I think a lot of students, especially students of colour, were trying to point out to the law school were its various failings. One of the biggest ones is, I guess, it’s history, in displacing, local mob, displacing Wampanoag mob, and profiting, actually being based on slave labour. The profits that founded the law school came from a plantation owner, and that’s something that’s never really been addressed. So it was a very tense time to be in the US, learning, especially, about race politics in the US. But I got through it, because everybody over there was so generous. The Native American law student associations were really welcoming, and inclusive, and it was a great chance to learn from one another.

 Cocked angle, warble, I flit to my knee. Shame perched on shoulder. Feel heavy there? It does to me. Turn the eyes out the window, because it’s a comfortable way for us to talk. Get in my car, all swoop around, we shame.

It’s interesting to me how poetry changes every time that you read it. I read something as, recently, Poet in Residence at the Queensland Poetry Festival, and I gave up a reading … it was about 10 minutes long, on the opening night, and I got two very different responses from people about how that reading went. One of them was a written review in Overland, and it said that I was shy, or lacking confidence. I thought that was interesting, because I didn’t feel that, in that moment. But the other one, which is from a friend who’d worked with me a long time, said that he thought I was finally comfortable with silence.  But sometimes, it can be embarrassing to read poetry in public, like, I blush on my chest when I read poetry, so I always try to wear turtlenecks.  I admit, for a lot of the time, I spoke quite quietly, because I wanted them to have to lean in, to listen. Other times, poetry can be big, it can fill the space. I don’t know, they’re both, kind of expressions of power, in a way. When you read, you have unparalleled attention on you. Maybe that’s me being bratty, but it’s nice to have that attention!

Artwork. It’s ancient work. The machine rolls on. A winding program tells her hands, expertly, where the fibres slip from lands, and for the lands, here, land. Her threads all line up, decades long. Continue, defray, and touch, but briefly. Her fingers mottle. The rope is made, by which time, she’s greyed and grisly. It’s ancient work. The machine rolls on. Mob macramé splicing cord, sealing fire, licked, chase its end. A plywood 10-buck boomerang.

I wrote that poem, thinking about hands, thinking about the calluses that you had developed between your forefinger, I guess that’s called, and your thumb, as you were kind of teasing fibres to get them in a weaveable state, and I mean, that the pain that … I guess it’s superficial, in that it’s a worthwhile pain, but the pain that that caused, it felt bigger. It’s difficult in a way, to articulate, I guess, the significance of what hands feel, when they’re doing weaving work, in particular, but there’s something to it. It just feels like, driven by the body itself, and makes me feel really whole. What’s exciting most about having poetry as a medium is that you don’t have to get it all, and you can still get enough.

The Black Work is kind of like, looking 50 years back, into the history of indigenous labour, and that includes labour of indigenous bodies and country, and then, looking forward to where the next 50 years can be. And so, the progression, from art … one of the chapters is called Bad Work, about the bad work we’ve had to do.  Then kind of pivoting, in the later parts of the book, towards new work, and sovereign work, and all of these exciting possibilities for what we can … the work that we can put ourselves to, if we’re going, if we’re committed to the work of decolonization. And that those stories, as well, I think, are really past, present and future-oriented. So the school, and then, kind of looking backwards towards, yeah, the Abo trial work that we, perhaps, have to do, that has a rich history, that has more than sustained us, but we might no longer want to do. And then, the center, which is looking forward to the work we might be doing in future.

I’m so, so glad to be here. It’s what I’d been thinking about the whole time when I was overseas, knowing that I can come back, and do ambitious, accountable work, that’s committed to our modelling. Where else can you do something like that? That’s a real honour.


Sydney Elders: Continuing Aboriginal Stories

by Jonathan Jones


Sydney Elders: Continuing Aboriginal Stories                                                                                          State Library of New South Wales Saturday                                                                                                  6 October 2018 – Sunday 13 October 2019.

Sydney Elders is an exhibition of interviews, objects and artworks created in collaboration with Uncle Chicka Madden, Aunty Esme Timbery, Aunty Sandra Lee and Uncle Dennis Foley. It tells the stories of four traditional owners of the region we know today as Sydney. This project was developed for the State Library of New South Wales as part their redevelopment and the 2018 launch of their new galleries, and has emerged as an appropriate way of telling Sydney’s Aboriginal story within the State Library. Each Sydney Aboriginal family has dealt with colonisation in their own way, they have their own stories of resistance and methods of survival. These stories form a beautifully complex web that knits Sydney’s landscapes together. In order to tell these stories with authority and to create a layered portrait of the city, we have turned to four traditional owners and elders who guide us through their histories.

Uncle Dennis is a Gai-mariagal man from northern Sydney. He spent much of his early life growing up on his grandmother’s country on the Northern Beaches and has since worked in education. A descendant of Maria Locke, Aunty Sandra is a Dharug elder from Blacktown, where she is an active member of the Western Sydney Aboriginal community. Uncle Chicka is from Gadigal country and a recognised member of the Redfern and inner-city community. He has worked most of his life in the construction industry and has been involved in many Aboriginal organisations. Aunty Esme is a celebrated Bidjigal and Dharawal artist and elder from the Aboriginal mission community of La Perouse on the shores of Botany Bay. Aunty Esme is a renowned shell-work artist whose artworks have been widely collected. Each elder represents the different nations, clans and groups that have survived in Sydney.

The process of working with the elders has centred on conducting long interviews that chart their family’s histories, their own personal stories and their connections to Sydney. We did the initial interviews at their homes, on their country. We then dove deep into the State Library’s collection, searching high and low for any material that connected with the elders and the stories they shared. After pulling together as much related material as we could find, the elders visited the Library and we again interviewed each as they looked through the material. They provided much-needed knowledge about objects in the collection. In this way the exhibition brings into view the Aboriginal knowledges, histories and voices that are locked away in collections.

Sydney Elders has been designed around the interviews we filmed with Uncle Chicka, Aunty Esme, Aunty Sandra and Uncle Dennis in their homes and on their country. Prioritising their voices and presence is the real focus of this project. In the exhibition space their interviews are screened in portrait format so that they appear life-sized; the viewer can feel as if they are taken inside the elders’ homes, sharing a cup of tea and having a yarn.

Sydney Elders: Continuing Aboriginal Storiesis on display at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, over Saturday 6 October 2018 – Sunday 13 October 2019. Admission is free.

Wiradjuri giran gulbanha (Wiradjuri wind philosophy)

by Jonathan Jones


Wiradjuri giran gulbanha (Wiradjuri wind philosophy) 9th Asian Pacific Triennial 2018 Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art 24 November 2018 – 28 April 2019

untitled (giran)in a new major installation that has developed from the Wiradjuri gulbanha or Wiradjuri philosophy created in collaboration with Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr, leading Wiradjuri language expert and elder. Wiradjuri gulbanha is a long-term project developing Wiradjuri philosophy based on significant materials and elements; these are wiiny (fire), galing (water), wood (madhan) and giran (wind). The giran, or wind, project draws on our cultural understanding of wind as an important part of country, connected to emotions, knowledge and change. The project builds on the embedded knowledge within Wiradjuri language, the movement of wind in country and stories of different winds, each with their own role to play and relationship to country and community.

This work is made up of 2000 traditional tools and an immersive soundscape. Each tool is affixed with feathers and speaks to the concept of how winds carry ideas and knowledge and to the close cultural relationship birds have with the wind. The traditional tools are bagaay (egg spoon), bindu-gaany (freshwater mussel shell), waybarra (weaving start), bingal (bone awl), dhala-ny (spear point) and galigal (stone knife). They map wind currents, bird flock formations or the flight of the boomerang, encircling and animating the space. The notion of adding feathers to traditional tools to represent wings speaks to the concept that knowledge is on the wind. Each tool is an idea, limitless in its potential.


Wiradjuri giran gulbanha (Wiradjuri wind philosophy)

In order to achieve the 2,000 objects this project has engaged with important issues around access of resources and cultural revitalisation. untitled (giran)has seen the creation of many cultural objects for the first time in generations, in vast proportions, including 2kms of handmade string, 300 spear points and bone awls. In addition, the project has seen the active involvement and contribution of countless elders, knowledge holders, artists and community members. Importantly, untitled (giran)required over 6,000 native bird feathers, which were provided through a public call-out. In addition to collecting feathers, the aim of this call-out was to encourage people to show yindyamarra (respect) and engage with their local environment, take note of the birds who inhabit parks in cities and towns, and learn to move slowly through country. The call-out was a huge success and countless feathers were received to achieve the project.

The soundscape has been composed with Wiradjuri languages and recordings of wind on country, breathing, birds and the sounds of ceremony. Uncle Stan has been instrumental in this project and has recorded a number of statements relating to the wind that anchor the project.

untitled (giran)2018, is a major sculptural installation accompanied by a 48-channel soundscape. It features in the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, over 24 November 2018 – 28 April 2019,


South East | Aboriginal Arts Market by Jonathan Jones

South East Market

South East | Aboriginal Arts Market Carriageworks, Sydney November 2019

In October this year we held the South East Aboriginal Arts Market for the second time at Carriageworks, Sydney. As the name suggests, the market exclusively showcases the cultural heritage of south-eastern Aboriginal Australia, with the artists involved all tracing their heritage to New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, the Murray Basin Catchment and Tasmania. Featuring 26 stalls, the line-up was a mix of established and emerging creative collectives and independent artists employing traditional and contemporary materials including weaving, ceramics, carving, photography, painting, shell-work and textiles. The market was a huge success.

The south-east is a culturally specific region in Aboriginal Australia bound by epic river systems, mountains ranges and coastal waterways. South-eastern communities have long ancestral connections that tie the region together, while subsequent waves of colonisation bind it together in new ways. It’s the region where most Aboriginal people live today, but it’s not generally associated with Aboriginal art. Yet, there is a cultural awakening happening in the region, with people learning languages and traditional skills for the first time in generations. There are artists who hold on very deeply to inherited traditions and those who are reviving and breathing new life into these traditions.  Some aunties have described it as having ‘memory in their fingers’. Then there are extraordinary artists with new expressions and new ideas, tapping into old stories and old knowledge in new forms.

One of the key attractions for collectors of all levels and interests is that the South East Aboriginal Arts Market is curated to reflect the strength and diversity of this region. For the artists it is a significant opportunity for recognition and to extend their audience reach and professional development. For the public the market offers works of a high quality and reputable provenance as well as a chance to meet the makers.

Curated by Hetti Perkins and Jonathan Jones, the South East Aboriginal Arts Market has received a three-year commitment from Carriageworks and will return in November 2019.

Ngabinbiyi dulmarra (measured pressure): Michael Riley and Lorraine Connelly-Northey

by Jonathan Jones

Ngabinbiyi dulmarra (measured pressure): Michael Riley and Lorraine Connelly-Northey

Ngabinbiyi dulmarra (measured pressure): Michael Riley and Lorraine Connelly-Northey Wagga Wagga Art Gallery 10 November 2018 – 3 February 2019. 

This exhibition celebrates two visionary Wiradjuri/Waradgerie artists of national significance: Michael Riley (1960–2004) and Lorraine Connelly-Northey (b1962).

Born in Dubbo in northern Wiradjuri country, the late Michael Riley is recognised as one of Australia’s most important landscape and portrait photographers and filmmakers. As a founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative (1987) and Blackfella Films (1992), Riley was pivotal in the establishment of the urban Aboriginal art movement. In 2006 he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Ngabinbiyi dulmarra (measured pressure)includes his key photographic series Sacrifice(1992),flyblown(1998) and his iconic seriescloud(2000), along with his experimental 1993 film Quest for country. Also included in the exhibition is a digital version Yarns from the Talbragar Reserve(1998), created with permission from the Michael Riley Foundation.

Born off country, Lorraine Connelly-Northey is connected to Gundagai in southern Waradgerie country and creates objects and installations with discarded materials associated with the pastoral industry to reference both her European and Waradgerie heritage. Connelly-Northey has exhibited widely, maintaining traditional forms such as bush bowls and bags to speak Aboriginal innovation. Her work is held in many collections including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the National Gallery of Australia. Several major existing works feature in this exhibition, accompanied by a series of new works that Connelly-Northey has created, including a set of narrbang-galang made from ring lock wire often used for fencing. Connelly-Northey is part of the UTS Insearch South-East Aboriginal Arts Initiative.

Through varied mediums and techniques, both artists depict Wiradjuri identity, capturing the enduring sense of beauty and the humour and strength amid decay and destruction that lie at its heart. Holding onto Wiradjuri stories, forms and country, Riley and Connelly-Northey help sculpt our understanding of what it means to be Wiradjuri today.

Ngabinbiyi dulmarra (measured pressure)is part of a long-term relationship and commitment between the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery and the Wiradjuri nation, with future events, workshops and exhibitions planned. The exhibition opening included a panel discussion with Connelly-Northey, Wiradjuri community leader and elder Uncle James Ingram, Professor of Indigenous Australian Studies at Charles Sturt University Sue Green, and curator Jonathan Jones.

Ngabinbiyi dulmarra (measured pressure): Michael Riley and Lorraine Connelly-Northeyis on display at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, New South Wales, over 10 November 2018 – 3 February 2019. Admission is free.

Shield with Uncle Chicka Madden

by Jonathan Jones

Uncle Chicka Madden with Shields

Uncle Chicka Madden with Shields. Through the investigation of south-east shields this exhibition called “Weapons for the soldier” is on display until Feb 2019 at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre, Sydney

One ongoing research project involves the investigation of south-east shields; this has included action-based research and the development of cultural revival programs. As I have lived and worked much of my life on Gadigal country, showing my respect to and supporting the local community is important. Several years ago I started a dialogue with Uncle Chicka Madden about Gadigal shields. A leading elder from Gadigal country, Uncle Chicka has lived and worked in and around Redfern and the inner city most of his life. As a trained ceramicist, his pots have been gifted and collected nationally and internationally.

Through a process of our conversations, archival investigation and action-based research, and through Uncle Chicka’s artistic vision, he has started to make Gadigal shields for the first time in recorded history. Key influential images include the etchings of the Yoo-long erah-ba-diang, or initiation, ceremony, which took place in 1795 at present-day Farm Cove in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens and was documented by Judge Advocate David Collins in his 1798 publication An account of the English colony in New South Wales. These images give the impression of an extremely significant cultural event and hint at the complexity of Aboriginal knowledge. Taking a key role in the ceremony is the unique elliptically shaped e-le-moong, or bark broad shield. In one image from the ceremony a lone man can be seen holding his e-le-moong in the middle of an arc of men also similarly holding their e-le-moong. As the central figure moves through the group, the other men seem to touch this significant object with their spear. In another picture, a central songman uses his e-le-moong as a drum, keeping the beat with his club to a striking row of male dancers. These objects are clearly not just ‘shields’ but important cultural objects.

Witnessing the importance of shields in these significant images, and the desire to not lose them from cultural memory, inspired the initial conversations with Uncle Chicka to make these unique objects again. The creative process involves long and ongoing consultations with Uncle Chicka. After collecting a piece of stringybark on country, the shield was then prepared and shaped; this involved peeling off the outer layers of bark to reveal the inner layer, carving out the shape and fitting a vine/cane handle. At each stage I took the shield to Uncle Chicka for approval and feedback. Together we worked through the construction details over many months. Then, with a combination of ochre and acrylic paint, Uncle Chicka painted the surface of the shield with an iconic Sydney design: a central line running from tip to tip, intersected by one or more horizontal lines. The result is a series of beautiful artworks that have re-awakened Gadigal practices of shield-making for the first time in generations.

The first shield was acquired by the Australian Museum and is currently displayed in their Gadiexhibition. Uncle Chicka’s second shield, made with the same process, was also purchased by the Australian Museum. Following this, a set of three were made and are currently part of the exhibition Weapons for the soldierat Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre. Developed during the ANZAC Centenary, the exhibition fosters dialogue around multi-geographical and multi-generational fights for land, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as well as the Indigenous experience in Australian military history.

Weapons for the soldier is on display at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre, Sydney, over 11 November 2018 – 3 February 2019. Admission is free.

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