Suppressed stories of slaughter immortalised in public artwork
An homage to stories unspoken, Aboriginal community-controlled organisation the Indigenous Wellbeing Centre (IWC) in Bundaberg, Queensland has unveiled a series of panels that paint the history of the 19th century massacre of First Nations Peoples.
Passed-down through the generations, these stories of slaughter executed by mounted soldiers at Burra-ya Bung (Many Dead), otherwise referred to as Paddy’s Island, say the Burnett River ran red from the blood of bodies thrown in.
As the generations passed and stories were told to family, the conversation of the massacres were hushed elsewhere.
Now the stories stand in physical form, as 11 pictorial story panels that wrap the IWC.
Measuring 80 metres long and three metres high, the display stretches along the street side of the building. As of Tuesday, the panels feature a shifting panorama of colour in its night display.
“This is a beacon of hope and light, taking us away from a dark past that has been wrapped in trauma and half-truths,” said Taribelang Bunda Elder, Uncle Willy Broome.
“For the first time in my lifetime, the Taribelang Bunda have a voice about our true history and are able to honour our ancestors for everybody to see.
“How can we have Reconciliation without truth? There has never been recognition of the blood that has been shed. When we talk about the massacres, it was women, children and babies who were slaughtered. That is the truth and it is time to recognise this.
“It’s like a fire – when a fire goes through it burns everything in its path. The old trees that remain standing have scars, and that’s what the Aboriginal people are left with. The scars of history are with us today. The truth being told is an important part of the healing.”
The panels were created through the collaboration of Traditional Owners/Elders Uncle Willy Broome, Uncle Wayne Mothe, Uncle David Broome, Uncle Jason Brown and the late, Aunty Cheri Yingaa Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, along with Taribelang Cultural Aboriginal Corporation’s (TCAC) Byron Broome and Nicole Tiger.
Through Reconciliation programs, cultural tours and education, TCAC works within local communities, to promote strong connections to culture, Country and community.
“Our Elders today, they feel as though everyday a brick is coming off their shoulders,” Tiger said.
She recalls standing with her partner when the panels were revealed.
“He said, something like, ‘How beautiful, and powerful, but scary at the same time.’ I think it took him back, he shed that tear, you know.”
“He has been trying to get this information out for his Elders, his grandfather, his great great grandfather – it was a brick coming off for him.”
The colours in the panels, selected by the Elders, reflect the story it tells; aqua for the ocean, ochre for the rich Bundaberg soil, and deep red for blood that stained the ground and filled the river.
Stepping inside the IWC, visitors can read the stories on plaques created by the Elders.
IWC General Manager, Wayne Mulvany, said the process has been very healing for community.
“This entire process and the opportunity has been one in which much emotion and tears have come to the fore, with an outpouring of long-suppressed pain and suffering carried by the Traditional Owners [and] Elders,” Mulvany said.
“During the course of the consultations, it has been very evident that a great weight has been lifted from the First Nations custodians of this region.
“We believe this is a first for a pictorial and written history of the stories of this region as told by the Elders.”
“IWC works to deliver Reconciliation in Action every day, and this is a vital step forward for our communities,” added IWC CEO, Ara Harathunian.
By Rachael Knowles
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