My People, Culture and Country


Wally Cooper: The important part of our smoking ceremony here is part of a cleansing of the soul, is part of our spiritual way. When we go through the smoke, our spirit is carried.

Liz Suda: Coming up with the title, 'People, Culture and Country', was a way of containing if you like what the students had to do, to give them a really concrete structure.

Louise Levy: For me I've seen a real interlinking amongst the three, I don't know if we were to separate them out whether we could make one stronger than the other because 'my people' - the children took that on like a life force in itself and they reached back to their ancestors and when they looked at their culture it became a celebration of who they were even in their own eyes, it became a newness for them. And then my country, I mean, everything is about a sense of place for Aboriginal people and we really saw this in this exhibition.

Kimberly Moulton: The two different spaces... I think, it has a different feel in Benalla. It was a very close space in Benalla, very intimate, which was really perfect for, I think, its initial launch in November last year. And then having it in Birrarung in the beautiful space it is, with the beautiful flow of the Birrarung Gallery, it really gives the exhibition a whole new dynamic.

Liz Suda: I was very pleased with the way the Benalla exhibition went. It was fantastic to see all the parents and other people in the community come, and it was really good to see the way that the gallery itself welcomed those families and those students and the pride of place they gave them in the exhibition.

Blade Larkin: We declare My People, Country and Culture open.


Chanoa Cooper: Each of these pictures represents a part of me. So I've got my Nan and my Pop up there, I was very close to my Nan, and my Pop as well. Then I've got my brother and my sister and they are everything to me so I'm very close to them. This is my Mum and she's my rock, I love my Mum very much and she supports me through everything so I've got a few other objects, I've painted this one picture, it just shows the mystery side of the bush and I've also got a piece from my Dad, that he created a belt and a headband, so traditionally made and everything.

It's a big experience for me, an amazing opportunity for me. Just meeting people, to see all my family and that, I got really teary. It was very emotional, but it was very good.

Liz Suda: With any project like this you set out with certain outcomes, and what we wanted was for them to have a broader understanding of the sorts of jobs that are available in the museum. We wanted them to understand what was involved with working as a team. We wanted them to connect with the collections of the museum and to see their cultural heritage and we did want them to look at their own communities and connect with Elders and so on within their own communities. And I think the thing that was very moving was that in actual fact they connected more with their own families -which I think was really beautiful.

George Atkinson: My exhibition is about family and where I come from. I chose these pictures because they're my ancestors and family means heaps to me.

This is a table that I made at school. The design I put on it was, the big one, is my Mum. The other two are me and my sister. The turtle is my totem. Mum will take it home and put it in the lounge room.

The box is also about family. It's been good because I got to express through my artwork about where I'm from, my family. Family means a heap to me because if we didn't have family, I don't know what I would be doing.

Lyn Thorpe: Well, if you see today the kids have definitely grown in confidence. I know myself, because I work at the school where one of the students goes to school there who's involved in the project and he was really disengaged last year. This year he's just come back, you know, after the exhibition opening in Benalla, his pride, self-pride and confidence has just really grown. His mum's made comments about how he's interested in doing things, he's more active and I'm sure that being involved in this project has helped, building his confidence.

Blade Larkin: They're my people, my family. That's my Mum and Dad. The culture is probably to do with this spear and our fishing hole. The spear was made at Melbourne Museum with John Duggan. Had a lot of fun. He knapped a spearhead for me because I was shocking at that.

Over there I've got drums, a spearhead, resin, a picture of a cod, a flint stone, I've got a kangaroo tooth necklace. Just seeing all different things about Aboriginal people and their culture is awesome, I loved it.

Kimberley Moulton: It's been incredibly important to us in supporting them on their journey through exploring their identity and where they, or how they feel about being a young Aboriginal person in their community right through to helping them develop ideas on their project. And I guess the final product that we have is this amazing, very powerful exhibition.

Chanoa Cooper: This exhibition, it looks really good. We were really looking forward to seeing what it would turn out in the end. It looks completely transformed to Benalla's exhibition, so yeah, I love it.

George Atkinson: I just like the way they set the pictures out and how they got the cases for the objects. It just looks a whole lot bigger.

Blade Larkin: Oh well, I got a whole cabinet to myself so that was pretty good.

Caroline Martin: Tonight we have the privilege of honouring seven Koorie youth from the Hume region of northeast Victoria with their exhibition 'My People, Culture and Country'. When you as young people express your pride in your identity and your connection to our culture and Country, you honour our ancestors. It is the legacy of their presence on this Country for more than 60,000 years that you have honoured. And in this way of sharing who you are you keep our culture strong.

Dr J. Patrick Greene: Put your hands together for the young Koorie students who have developed this fantastic exhibition, so we all open the exhibition together.

Minjara Atkinson: When I first found that photo I was sort of shocked 'cause I actually look a lot like my Nanny McCrae and seeing that, it had the photo with her son that came back from the army, I thought it was just really great.

That's a photo of my Pop, Neville Atkinson. He loves his gardening and I just love him. My Mum was fascinated that we found photos from her side of the family and seeing the photos from Nanny McCrae, my Pop loved that because that was his family.

Meeting everyone at the workgroup, we'd have to get a lift with each other, we'd get a lift with Aunty Lyn or someone and Aunty Lyn would introduce us and we'd become good friends straight away.

Well, with my heritage, it just makes me feel much closer to my ancestors, to feel like I've known that they're always with me now. And so it puts me together as one.

Mikaela Cottingham: The Aboriginal side of my family is from my dad's side. It's part of the Wurundjeri tribe. I've got photos of my great great grandmother who was a Stolen Generation child. Because we didn't know a lot about the Aboriginal side of our family, we went onto and websites like that and tried to do a bit of our family tree. And then we found our great aunt and we went and visited her and she told us a bit more and it's really been an eye-opener to our heritage and it's really been quite enjoyable meeting a whole heap of new people and hearing their stories as well as my own.

The weaving workshop was pretty much my first experience at weaving and I really enjoyed it and just took off with it.

Probably the thing that surprised me the most about coming to the museum was the amount of work that actually goes into exhibitions. You come here and see them and they're magnificent, but you never really think about the work that goes into them.

I'm sort of prouder of who I am now than what I was. It's given me more an idea of who I am and where I've come from.

Louise Levy: In any given week there's been a new highlight. I think they've learnt how talented they are. I think they've learnt how incredibly special being an Aboriginal person is.

And I think they've learnt that all of that makes for who they are today. I was thinking about it earlier and we know that the two worlds collided and these kids have had to walk between two worlds but I believe through this project that the two worlds have met.

Caroline McKenzie: I chose four photos to display. One of them was when I went to Tasmania because of my heritage: my origin is from Tasmania on my dad's side of the family. My dad sadly didn't know a lot about his Aboriginal inheritance because of the era he grew up in. His father didn't really believe that it was a good thing to know about. Each one of these objects were given to me by very important women in my life who've helped me in so many different ways. The first object is a vase that was given to me from my Indonesian teacher. She was the one who opened up learning about outside of my community, that's why I love the Aboriginal culture so much, it's just so different, it's so down to earth.

I loved being involved in this project. It opened up so many doors and a different perspective as well because it made me really look into my life.

Sylvia Warrener: I'm Aboriginal from my mum's side. I don't know much about my people or anything about myself exactly but that just means I have more room to learn. It was special to me how I could show my work that was based in Tasmania where I'd learnt it from and how it has been show to other people in Melbourne Museum. On my possum skin design, there is a man-like figure which Mum, it's her own unique design, and I use it to show people. She calls it her spirit man.

I had learnt the basics of how to do the weaving and the design but I'd basically played around and learnt the rest myself of how I can manipulate the grass by still using that same technique.

On my snake painting I've included symbols that were on rocks from Tasmania. I'm not sure what they mean but they symbolise where I've come from and that's always important. At the TAC I learnt Palawa kani Tasmanian Aboriginal talk, I learnt up 'mina' is me, 'nina' is you 'wulika' is goodbye, 'kipli' is to eat. I've always been proud of who I am and where I've come from; there's never been any doubts about that. I love how an opportunity like this gives me new experiences and ways I can show how I'm proud to be who I am.

Kimberley Moulton: I think the exhibition it really reflects the experiences and also the skills that the students have learnt and explored along the way and I guess what we have is a very strong exhibition that is telling their story which is really what we wanted out of it. We wanted to hear their story.

The future is looking bright and I think from this exhibition and our experiences through this, it's been a wonderful project that we've been really proud to be a part of.

Liz Suda: I think we've created a model. I think it's a model that works and I'm hoping that certainly that Birrarung will have more opportunities to showcase the work of other school communities.

Chanoa Cooper: Well, my sister is inspired by all this and so if it were to continue on next year or in the future, I'd encourage her one hundred per cent and my brother likes looking at all this stuff 'cause it's all new to him and my family is very proud.

George Atkinson: Yeah definitely I'd do something like this again. It's pretty good and any other people get the opportunity to do it, I'd tell them to take that. My family's proud of me, of what I've done and especially my Mum, she's behind me, helped me out with it and been there with me the whole way of the project and I thank her for that.

About this Video

This video documents the launch of the My People, Culture and Country exhibition at the Benalla Art Gallery in December 2010 and later at Birrarung Gallery.
Length: 17:47