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The Federation Tapestry

Tapestry -  Celebrations 2001, Victorian Tapestry Workshop, 2001

Image: Tapestry - Celebrations 2001, Victorian Tapestry Workshop, 2001

Source: Museum Victoria

Twenty two artist-weavers from the internationally acclaimed Victorian Tapestry Workshop, South Melbourne, spent an estimated 20,000 hours at their looms creating the Federation Tapestry.

Almost 41 metres in length, the tapestry was commissioned to mark the centenary of Australia's Federation. It gives Australians pointers to who they are today...and why. The images in its 10 panels range from Aboriginal dreamtime legends to a solitary shepherd in the bush with his sheep and dog, from the clamour and rejoicing that marked Federation in 1901 to the enigmatic 'Sorry' etched across the sky above the sails of the Sydney Opera House in the year 2000.

Murray Walker, the artist responsible for planning, designing and coordinating the Federation Tapestry over a two year period, likens it to an epic poem. He says, 'The folk history of this nation is strong and rich, and it is animated by the Federation Tapestry. This is not textbook history, but a series of visual markers that trigger memories and inspire reflection. It can be interpreted on many levels. It is a people's tapestry.'

Most significant for this public art work is the involvement of many artists to present their views of Australia. The 10 panel are varied in scale and concept. They are based on works by cartoonist Bruce Petty, indigenous artist Ginger Riley, popular Sydney artists Reg Mombassa and Martin Sharp, botanical artist Celia Rosser, Melbourne artist Mirka Mora, Norman Lindsay, noted Aboriginal artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, 18th and 19th century British artists, lively Aboriginal school children from Echuca, Bathurst Island and the Cape Barren Islands, students from Malvern Central school, and the tapestry's artist/ designer Murray Walker. Their modes of expression range from cartooning to botanical art, from pop culture to photograph and historic images. Text woven into the panels comes from writers such as Patrick White, Joseph Furphy, poet Les Murray, Mirka Mora, aboriginal school children and students from Melbourne.

The concept for the tapestry was sparked when Sue Walker, Director of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop saw the Bayeux Tapestry in France, which depicts one of the defining moments in western civilization, the Battle of Hastings in 1066: 'At Bayeux I was struck by the way the tapestry enthralled a party of British school children. Seeing it, they were seeing the heritage of their country - perhaps for the first time. I thought Australia too was about to celebrate a defining moment, the centenary of Federation. And it seemed to me an ideal project that a monumental Australian tapestry, like the Bayeux, would be a legacy that would endure down the centuries.'

The Federation Tapestry was supported by a $1.6 million grant from the Commonwealth Federation Cultural and Heritage Projects Program.

The titles are:
We All Live in Australia
Ngak Ngak in Limmen Bight Country
Alone in the Bush
And Now Exploration and Settlement are Underway
Making Do
Home Sweet Home
The Heidelberg School
Cavalcade
Federation Celebrations Melbourne 1901
Celebrations 2001

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