NAIDOC Week 2019 Reflection

NAIDOC 2019

Another NAIDIC Week across the country has provided opportunities for sharing culture, community and the political reality of First Nations peoples in Australia.

I spent much of the week taking advantage of the many local events to immerse myself in relationships and awareness of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Three moments stand out for me as highlights of the week:

On Monday of NAIDOC Week I attended the Brisbane Launch in City Hall. Later in the afternoon I dropped into a local city bar which is a favourite hangout. I was wearing my trademark hat with the Aboriginal colours around the brim. As I walked into the bar a women called out to me and admired the hat. She introduced herself as Jackie from the Torres Strait Islands and we chatted about some of the events scheduled for the week. Jackie insisted on a selfie with me in my hat and asking my name said she would tag me as “Uncle Tony Robertson” in her post. To be tagged and named as “Uncle” in such a way is an honour and a responsibility particularly as a white fella. This is the tag that some of the young Murris have also given me from our conversations and encounters on city streets.

The second moment happened on Friday of NAIDOC Week. I boarded a bus from my usual stop for the city and three young Murri boys sat a couple of seats in front of me. Again I was wearing my trademark hat with the Aboriginal colours which they noticed. After a few minutes one of the boys turned to me and asked where I got the hat. This was the beginning of a conversation that took us into the city over the next 25 minutes. We sat across two seats, a 66 year old white man and a young 18 year old holding the plastic bottle from which he inhaled as we spoke. It was a remarkable conversation about the reality of addiction, the alienation from culture and the families and people we knew in common. My phone camera with its collection of images of Aboriginal Elders is a great asset in these moments. The young man told me his name and proudly spoke of his tribal group for which he had a hand signal. He trusted me with. his personal details and I promised to look out for him if I was around the spaces he hangs out. We got off at the same stop but walked in different directions.

My third NAIDOC moment was on Friday evening at the launch of an art exhibition at the Francis Rush Cente for the Cathedral of St Stephen Art Group. I was honoured to do the Acknowledgement of Country. The place in which the exhibition was held also included works by well known Aboriginal artists. Judy Watson‘s Empire Stakes feature as part of Brisbane’s Heritage Trail and are installed just outside the Francis Rush Centre in the Cathedral Precinct.

The other Aboriginal artist whose work is currently displayed in the Francis Rush Centre but not mentioned in the online resource is Fiona Foley. A panel of the Cathedral art collection is a brief clue to the series that are mounted in what is now a foyer space:

The story of these beautiful works and their mistreatment is recorded strangely enough in the documentation published by those who agitated for the works removal from their original installation inside the Cathedral of St Stephen. Since their removal the works have suffered from neglect and abuse in unprofessional storage.

Telling the story of Fiona Foley’s was an important part of acknowledging that the voice and truth themes of NAIDOC 2019 will take all of us into uncomfortable places on the journey to reconciliation.

My images and captures of my support for events during NAIDOC 2019 are available here.

George Gittoes, Sydney Peace Prize 2015

As I grow older and perhaps a little wiser I am more convinced that art will touch the heart and challenge the attitudes of people as much as politics and religion.

The winner of the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize, George Gittoes deserves to be among those we name as national treasures.His biography  is a litany of grace and power for social change.
In 2015 George Gittoes was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize

Some highlights of a remarkable life

1986: Travels to Nicaragua, Central America and visits the arts collective on Solentiname Islands, collaborating with Miriam Guevara, Olivia Silva and Ernesto Cardenal.

1992: Awarded Blake Prize for Religious Art for the painting Ancient Prayer, inspired by the death from motor neurone disease of his close friend and artistic collaborator Ronaldo Cameron.

1994: Awarded Blake Prize for Religious Art for the painting The Preacher, which came out of the Rwandan series of works.

1997: Travels to Northern Ireland. After contact with both Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Protestant paramilitaries, commences a series of works based on confrontations between the two groups.

Contributes to the group exhibition, Sarajevo, developed by Ivan Dougherty Gallery, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney and touring nationally.
2002: Commissioned by the Visible Art Foundation
to create a painting for the Republic Apartment Tower in Melbourne to mark the anniversary
of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The commission is cancelled once the work is completed and the painting, War on Terra, is subsequently exhibited at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne on 11 September.
Explore his work, but more than that take it to heart and engage with it and watch what happens!!!!