Aboriginal Heroes! Let's celebrate local Aboriginal icons and history through public art!

Aboriginal Heroes! Let's celebrate local Aboriginal icons and history through public art!

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Following on from his work on the Aboriginal Memorial Poles, Djon Mundine conceptualised The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy as a major public artwork for Sydney. He has continually lobbied Government for nearly thirty years for this artwork and more broadly for Aboriginal culture to be on display as part of the historical narrative, pre and post colonisation, across Sydney.

Djon is seeking your support to include the Aboriginal narrative through public artwork starting with the development and permanent installation of two public art works in Sydney, The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy and Patyegarang (1776-?) the Grey Kangaroo - The Dance of a Young Koori Woman.

The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy

This is an artwork to honour the Aboriginal people living in what is now called Sydney, when the British when the English arrived in 1788 while also acknowledging their descendants who remain here now. The song is acted through two named personalities, Bennelong and Pemulwuy, whose images are adapted from the Aboriginal rock art-forms of this sunken valley. The proposal is for Bennelong and Pemulwuy’s outlines to be cut into the vertical sandstone face of Tarpian Wall, with their figures at least 5 (five) metres tall.

An Aboriginal life is a song – sung where people gather – to that end, the opening ritual is important and vital, is an annual ritual to sing to, and reanimate a conversation with the fixed inanimate artwork and its society of creation.

The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy is a short rolling, repetitive chant of human beings, kangaroos, of fish, eels and ancestors. Due to colonial repressions, it is now possibly a song without words, a dance without music. For Aboriginal people of any character, these are but minor irritations and not restrictions on a ‘lived’ active social life of ideas, people, creativeness, and enjoyment.

The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy sings, that in life, you must come to –

1.     Know, live with, and honour where you come from, your parents, your forebears, your country.

2.     Use the fruits of modern society and be part without being seduced by its materialism, confusions, noise and hedonism.

3.     Maintain a harmony with this world and the natural environment, as you do with your family and physical self.

This Aboriginal society consisted of remarkable individuals, families and clans. An Aboriginal life is one of binaries – spiritual and temporal, male and female, good and bad, fish and fowl, wet and dry, salt and sweet, salt water and fresh water, and the social moieties of Eagle Hawke and Crow. The sacred and the secular, that represents the division and the unity of the cosmos. The artwork marks two responses to the British colonial intervention – engagement and resistance – Pemulwuy fighting the British, and Bennelong’s form of acquiescence.

Patyegarang (1776-?) the Grey Kangaroo - The Dance of a Young Koori Woman

What is now the Sydney Harbour-Hawkesbury Basin contains many sites of significance for Aboriginal people and especially those where recorded participants of the two cultures met and interacted. Aboriginal memories are kept enfolded in dance choreography and song cycles augmented with visual art pieces. The proposed site for Patyegarang (1776-?) the Grey Kangaroo - The Dance of a Young Koori Woman is near The Sydney Theatre Co., Sydney Dance Co. and Bangara Dance Theatre at Walsh Bay.

The art form is to record and maintain the confident forward looking life affirming attitude of young people in the traditional art of this region – animal, fish and human and spirit figures whose silhouettes or shadows (souls) remain outlined-etched into the Hawkesbury Sandstone. We borrow from the past but we write anew.

Patyegarang was a young woman aged about 15 of the Tubugowle river region who befriended the colonist Second Lieutenant Dawes and taught him to speak her language. She was to dance along a thin line in this close relationship. For someone so important and intelligent she has no other record except this relationship (and word list) – curiously her fate and further adventures are unknown. We want to remember her and tell of her life.

I am young,

I am gifted,

I am refined,

I know who I am,

I know what I want to be,

I am Koori-Aboriginal.

Watch me dance,

Listen to my Words -


I Shall Never Become a Whiteman!

If you believe in Aboriginal inclusion and the importance of Aboriginal historical narratives, please show your support for this Public Art Proposal and sign our petition!