Selling Yarns 2

Innovation for sustainability



A Koori garden: Tradition and innovation on the South Coast

Session: Sustainability and the use of materials Friday 6 March 2009 1:00 - 2:10pm

Vincent Bicego

Honours student, University of Wollongong


This paper focuses on the Indigenous artist collective, Boolarng Nangamai, whose studio and gallery space is situated in Gerringong, on the Southeast coast of Australia. As part of their initiative the artists and their extended community have created a bush tucker and medicine garden on a quarter acre block. Though used primarily for educating the community about the traditional use of native plants, it also provides a readily accessible supply of reeds and sedges for the artists’ fibre art and workshops.

As the practice of ‘putting aside’ a piece of land for intensive agricultural use is not a feature of traditional Aboriginal cultures in Australia, the Boolarng Nangamai garden is an innovative response to the realities of the contemporary urban landscape. It sustains tradition through an innovative construct and, as such, is a significant example of an increasingly active and self-directed discourse amongst Aboriginal Australians about contemporary Aboriginal art and culture.

Central to this discourse is the sharing of ideas. Boolarng Nangamai workshops and visiting trips have seen artistic and spiritual exchanges with Yolgnu country artists of Northeast Arnham Land, the ‘Tjanpi’ Weavers and Papunya painters of Central Australia, and the West Womens Weaving collective from Western New South Wales, just to name a few. These communal gatherings are both exciting aesthetic and educational activities, and can also act as a much needed form of solidarity in the face of two centuries of cultural dispossession.

Works by Boolarng Nangamai members, Mabel Dungay, Lila Lawrence, Phyllis Stewart, and Steven Russell, vary from traditional woven works - such as eel traps and string bags - to abstract sculptural works of their own individual expression. This balance of traditional and contemporary sensibilities emphasises the realities of urban Aboriginal art culture, and why an acceptance of both is important to their identities as Aboriginal fibre artists living and working in Southeastern Australia.

See also: Vincent Bicego's biography