Sydney Harbour Walk to highlight stories of First Nations resilience and resistance

A new City of Sydney harbour walk will share and celebrate stories of the First Nations Peoples of Australia with public art, exhibitions and events at cultural institutions and significant harbour locations.

Independent Aboriginal curator, Emily McDaniel, will curate a series of interconnected stories and artworks along Sydney Harbour foreshore, from the Australian National Maritime Museum in Tumbalong to Woolloomooloo Bay.

The harbour walk will be developed in partnership with the NSW Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with guidance from the City’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel.

The walk will create job opportunities for Aboriginal-owned tour operators and businesses, as well as create new spaces for cultural tours and performances.

Ms McDaniel said the walk is being created in a response to public demand for more Indigenous recognition in public spaces.

“What’s so significant … is having all of Sydney’s landmark sites and most iconic sites to Sydney-siders, to Australians, international viewers, and to really embed those Indigenous stories in those places,” Ms McDaniel said.

“The harbour walk isn’t just City of Sydney saying, ‘This is a great idea’, communities have been telling City of Sydney for a long time that what they most want in public spaces is for First Nations stories to be told and I think more than ever we need to learn how to listen to country.”

Ms McDaniel acknowledged it would be impossible to represent the entire 80,000 years of Aboriginal history in the harbour walk she is curating.

Instead, she hopes to highlight stories of continuity, resilience and resistance within the local Indigenous community throughout their history in Sydney.

“It’s going back to that NAIDOC theme that’s just been announced, ‘Always was, always will be’, those are the stories that we’re telling,” Ms McDaniel said.

“So often people think that there was a cut-off point for Aboriginal culture in Sydney and there wasn’t, it started to change form and change shape through the resilience and resistance of Aboriginal people.”

Ms McDaniel believes the harbour walk will provide the opportunity for Sydney locals to reconnect with the land that they live on and feel the history and responsibility of taking care of it.

“I think as Sydney-siders we’ve become very disconnected from the harbor … we’re actually asking participants to dip their feet into the water so that the harbour recognises you, it knows you.”

“As you walk, you’ll see public artwork that tells the story of important First Nations memories that are embedded in those sites … hopefully by the end of the walk you’ll see Sydney in a completely different light.”

In the wake of current bushfires that have devastated areas of NSW and Sydney, Ms McDaniel believes it’s more important than ever for society to recognise Indigenous history and practices.

“Just over the past few weeks Sydney and NSW have been clouded in smoke, choking us from the lack of action and lack of recognition of First Nations land management techniques and knowledge,” Ms McDaniel said.

“To create value for Indigenous knowledge there has to be an awareness and so this is about making people aware of what we’re inheriting.

“If you’re here you’re inheriting a legacy of 80,000 years and you have a responsibility when you’re here … Acknowledgement of Country isn’t just a sentence to be repeated it’s an action and a responsibility.”

Some of the projects outlined in the Sydney Harbour Storytelling Report could be underway as early as next year.

However, Ms McDaniel said they are prepared to work on this project for as long as it takes to make sure it’s done right.

“The Harbour Walk Report really sets the agenda for the City of Sydney and this will be what we’re doing for the next 10 years or more, however long it takes to have projects done the right way,” she said.

There is no end date for the completion of the harbour walk as yet.

By Sarah Mozley

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