Artworks by the first peoples of Australia and New Zealand

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Aboriginal artwork panel

Aboriginal artwork panel - Billabong

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Aboriginal Artworks

Billabong – A secret place by water where travellers' gather in the cool of dusk. Arduous journeys across hot and dusty landscapes test the tribe’s resilience and capacity to adapt to danger and opportunity. Clan groups follow the tracks of their ancestors through sandhills and creeks to seasonal camping grounds by the billabong. Fish and turtle are caught and waterlily seeds are gathered to feed the tribe.

Totem Stripes – Body paint applied with soft white ochre warmed by summer sun. Patterns of the dreaming are painted by the songmen, in rituals passed down from men to boys, from one generation of warriors to the next. Ancient art is etched into cave walls and rocky cliff faces, or painted with earth pigment on the body of dancers and songmen. Designs are sometimes everyday decorations, sometimes secret, ceremonial symbols.

Artifact – The wisdom of ancient tribes is a sustaining force of country. Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation around campfires under desert skies. The warriors’ shields are a symbol of protection. Navigating country comes from knowledge passed from warrior to warrior. Shields of clansmen carry ceremony marks to re-enact story and preserve identity. Tracks lead the warriors across dry dusty landscapes in a procession to new hunting grounds. 

Abudji Dance – Women’s dance of the creator snake ancestor. Women play a vital role in the ceremonial life of the tribe and have their own secret songs and dances. These are performed at women’s camps at times of importance. Knowledge is shared around the women’s campfire, as food is prepared after long journeys. Body paint and dance sticks tell the stories of the Dreaming when spirit ancestors crossed the land and named the mountains, rivers and seas.


Maori artwork panel

Maori artwork panel - Whanaungatanga

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Maori Artworks

The artist Jacob Manu Scott drew inspiration from the poetry of Hone Tuwhare and Maori values to develop the pieces carved into three granite panels of the Australian Memorial. He describes the columns of the memorial in the context of the New Zealand landscape being seen as “Pou, memorial marker stakes in the ground [which] usually epitomise an ancestor or tipuna of repute”. Scott goes on to describe the works as “recognising the values of relationships and the principles that underpin the sustainability and development of culture and these relationships”.

Pou 1 – Wairuatanga, the embedded spirit. The physical realm is immersed and integrated with the spiritual real and within this construct many Maori concepts and values are imbedded within everyday practice, people and things influencing attitudes and behaviour.  Wairuatanga can also be looked at as a way of sustaining relationships between people and place in a positive multidimensional way. To acknowledge and practice Maori beliefs and values is acknowledging both the physical and spiritual realms bringing them together as one for purpose.

Pou 2 – Whanaungatanga is based on ancestral and spiritual connections and inter-relationships. The concept of whanaungatanga embraces whakapapa yet also extends beyond, encouraging group relationships and a sense of family connection. Rangatiratanga recognises people’s rights to self-determination. People and things should be able to be seen to have responsibility for aspects of their own future. Manaakitanga supports and values the idea of individuals and concepts, it could be seen as welcoming and embracing ideas, people, places and things. When combined with concepts of mana and rangatiratanga, maybe this could be explored in the validity of new ideas and solutions. Mana involves acknowledgement and respect. This could be seen as acknowledging and valuing the life inherent in qualities of people, materials and place.

Pou 3 – Kaitiakitanga involves guardianship and stewardship.  In architectural terms this could translate to recognition of a need to sustain cultural and environmental features. Orangatanga seeks to maintain health and well being of a community. Mauritanga involves the essence life force inherent in all things. This provides a challenge to give things life and ensure they are vital and dynamic.

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