Viewing the Federation Tapestry

The Federation Tapestry was designed and made by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop (now the Australian Tapestry Workshop) to mark the centenary of Australia’s birth as a nation.

The tapestry was designed to capture the history and character of Australia. Principal artist/designer Murray Walker has drawn on what he terms ‘the strong and rich folk history of this nation’. He explains ‘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 history’.

The tapestry was woven by 24 weavers between June 2000 and November 2001 and is displayed at Melbourne Museum. There are ten panels, which vary in scale, concept and message. Each piece stands alone. From right to left, they are:

We All Live in Australia

Designer: Murray Walker, and incorporating drawings by Aboriginal children from primary schools in Echuca, Cape Barren Island and Bathurst Island.

The Federation Tapestry: We All Live in Australia

The Federation Tapestry: We All Live in Australia

Aboriginal children from three widely-separated primary schools contributed designs that reflect their views on the future of Australia. They plead with us to take care of one another, and to look after all parts of the environment.

Ngak Ngak in Limmen Bight River Country

Artist: Ginger Riley Munduwalawala c. 1937–2002.

Ginger Riley’s design is about his country, south-eastern Arnhem Land, before Europeans came. His design includes: Ngak Ngak the white-breasted eagle, watching over all; Garimala, the ‘creator of snakes’; rock formations known as the Four Arches; and the Marra Island lagoon with bark shelters occupied by the artist’s ancestors.

Alone in the Bush

Artist: Reg Mombassa.

This panel is inspired by an early nineteenth century Staffordshire plate, brought to Australia from Britain. The artist writes that the solitary shepherd ‘depicts the loneliness and alienation that results from placing Northern Europeans in a vast, empty … landscape. It has taken time, cultural conditioning, air conditioning and insecticides to help us to appreciate and love the Australian landscape as we now do.’

And Now Exploration and Settlement are Underway

Designer: Murray Walker, and incorporating images from 19th century Aboriginal artists William Barak and Tommy McRae (Yakaduna), and a Groote Eylandt bark painting of the 1930s by an un-named Aboriginal artist.

The three works by Aboriginal artists depict interactions between Aboriginal people and later settlers.

William Barak’s Dancing scene of figures with boomerangs and people in possum skin cloaks was painted at Coranderrk , near Melbourne, and sold to a European visitor about 1880.

Tommy McRae’s Aboriginal scenes and European people, 1862, shows a squatter and his wife observing a ‘mimic war dance’ and seeing only what the dancers want them to see. A 1930s bark painting from Groote Eylandt carries references to the long tradition of contact between Macassan fishermen and Aboriginal people in northern Australia.

Making Do

Designer: Murray Walker, with contributions from students of Malvern Central School and Echuca Primary School, Les Murray and Bruce Petty.

This panel celebrates Australian ingenuity and resourcefulness. It also commemorates folk heroes like Nancy Wake and ‘Weary’ Dunlop, and how Australians have created a unique written and spoken language. The lines of verse are by Les Murray.

Home Sweet Home

Designer: Murray Walker, with contributing artists Mirka Mora, Bruce Petty, and Charlotte Walker.

This panel celebrates Australians’ love affair with the suburban home. It features Bruce Petty’s cartoon of Australian houses after European settlement, from the earliest tents to a street of mansions at the time of Federation.

The Heidelberg School

Designer: Murray Walker, with contributing artists Bruce Petty and Celia Rosser.

There was a creative outpouring of national sentiment in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Bruce Petty’s vignette shows artists of the Heidelberg School at work in the bush. The panel is unified by Celia Rosser’s more recent botanical studies of the Australia’s floral emblems. The quotation is from Joseph Furphy’s novel, Such is Life.

Cavalcade

Designer: Murray Walker, with contributing artists Bruce Petty and Ron Tandberg.

In Cavalcade, Murray Walker created an historical pageant that further explores the cultural interaction between indigenous people and newcomers. Governors, convicts, gold miners, politicians and poets are all introduced to the land. Bruce Petty’s illustrated timeline depicts major national economic and social developments before Federation.

Federation Celebrations Melbourne 1901

Artist: Bruce Petty.

Bruce Petty chose a celebratory image for this tapestry, commemorating the hope and thankfulness of those who celebrated Federation in 1901. The artist explains that the two outside panels show ‘sections of the community who stood outside the nation’s best hopes and remain there still’.

Celebrations 2001

Artist: Martin Sharp.

Martin Sharp suggests that ‘Australia is the most beautiful and balanced of all the continents. I have always loved its shape. Being one nation gives it a unity and uniqueness, with Uluru right in the centre’. The text is from Patrick White’s novel Riders in the Chariot.

The Federation Tapestry: Celebrations 2001

The Federation Tapestry: Celebrations 2001

The Federation Tapestry was supported by the Commonwealth Government through the Federation Fund.

Further Reading

Latreille, Anne and Walker, Murray 2001. The Federation Tapestry: one people united in peace. Catalogue available from the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and the Melbourne Museum Shop.

Comments (2)

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Meredith Legg 24 November, 2013 17:22
I love love love these tapestries but find it really strange that there is no mention of them on your website, no books or pamphlets about them in available in your shop, and no souvenirs or postcards available either! It's as if you are ashamed of them! We think they are magnificent and deserve much much better. Please rethink your strategy. We want to share in them. They belong to all of us!
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Discovery Centre 25 November, 2013 13:14
Hello Meredith - thank you for your comment, and we are glad to hear you love the tapestry; you may wish to click through some of the links in the section marked 'Related Resources' in the grey box at the top right of this page, where we have links to eight seperate Museum Victoria webpages with more detailed information on each of the tapestry panels.
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