Readers Contributions: First Nations Exhibition at The Leo Kelly Blacktown Arts Centre

First Nations Exhibition at The Leo Kelly Blacktown Arts Centre

06/03/22 By Sheilagh Kelly and Sue Storry

Friday, 4th March we headed to Blacktown to the opening of the Exhibition Proper Way: Us Women, Us Men. We were warmly greeted by a sea of smiling faces, taken to the refreshments and told to enjoy drinks and a mountain of sandwiches. The room was a bustle of activity, where artists and visitors mingled and shared stories. We introduced ourselves as members of the Women’s Reconciliation Network and said we’d like to write an article on the event for our website, which was so warmly received. Then we were all asked to step into the side room for the welcome and official opening.

Elder, Uncle Greg Sims welcomed us onto Darug land in both Darug language and English. Uncle Greg spoke of sharing culture with non-Indigenous people. We are all one mob, he said and need to work together, like music, it will sound better if we use black and white keys. We don’t own the land, he told us, the land owns us. We are all learning from the old people. When you take that next step just remember the ones who walked this land before.

Kathie Collins, Councillor and longtime resident of Blacktown spoke to us about this Exhibition – in the making since the beginning of the Pandemic. Co- curated by Jamie Eastwood and Dr Virginia Keft, Proper Way: Us Women, Us Men, ‘exhibits ancient and evolving traditions of women’s and men’s business- through art, sculpture, weaving and digital media. The artists who call Blacktown home came together to explore and celebrate the uniqueness of producing art from a culturally proper perspective’. Kathie suggested that perhaps there is no better way for us to come together than through art.

Jamie Eastwood said to learn about us we must get out amongst the community, not books. And at this launch that’s exactly what we were given the opportunity to do. Among others, Brad Burrows chopped wood into clubs and digging sticks, Tarni Eastwood led us through a weaving circle and Danny Eastwood entertained us with his drawings.

As Brad chopped away and a club began to take form, he told us a story an elder had once told him. When working on the tools if someone got a splinter, they would get a certain bug from that same tree and put it on the splinter. The bug then ate the splinter!

In the centre of the Women’s room, in a weaving circle we learnt to use raffia to form a woven base, which we shaped gradually into a small concave vessel. These were then pinned to a calico hanging which started to form its own artistic shape. All around us hung the artwork of the ‘Us Women’ section of this inspiring exhibition, which included woven art, paintings, an eel trap and videos by renowned artist, storyteller and photographer Barbara McGrady. The Exhibition showcased two videos of Barbara’s workAlways Will Be and Desperate Measures.

Back in the Men’s room, with Brad still industrially chopping away in the background (finished tools piling up beside him) Danny Eastwood was entertaining the crowd with his drawings. Many will know Danny from his work as cartoonist with the Koori Mail. Sheilagh, pictured with Danny is spellbound as Danny first spells out her name then in true cartoon style turns letters into faces and animals, and the outline of crumpled tissue paper into an Aboriginal man. Extraordinary! Here’s Danny standing beside his 2018 satirical painting: Bondi Beach: The Sacred Cows Beach if you live in the Western Suburbs of Sydney.

One of the most joyful looking paintings we admired, nearly filling one wall was a colourful gathering of young people representing the artists who had produced the work. Later over a cuppa and delicious lunch we learned about the inspiring work that Solid Ground staff do promoting artistic talents among Years 10 and 11 students in several local schools.

The Arts Centre staff and artists present made us feel most welcome and we plan to return as soon as we are able, to yarn, listen and learn at the Centre’s weekly Friday Learning Circle. We also hope to attend a unique event to be held at the Centre during the month of April. It will be the launch of centenarian Uncle Wes Marne’s Book of Poetry. Several of Uncle Wes’s poems are showcased in the exhibition

Thank you for an uplifting experience!

Proper Way: Us Women, Us Men runs till 2nd April.