We are interviewing people whose work and lives are dedicated to remembering traumatic histories and activating discussion and visibility in the public sphere. Experts include Aboriginal elders, community leaders, artists, architects and scholars both in Australia and overseas. Audio recordings and transcripts of these interviews will become an important archive of the project. The material will inform a series of written articles for publication and also feature in artworks for public exhibition.
Following are some short excerpts from interviews conducted to date:
We spoke with Neil Carter and Lyndon Ormond-Parker who are both members of the Australian Government’s Advisory Committee for Indigenous Repatriation and Neil was one of the authors of the National Resting Place Consultation Report (2014). Neil is a repatriation Officer for the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre and Lyndon is an Indigenous heritage expert based at the University of Melbourne. Asked about their thoughts on memorials to the Frontier Wars, Lyndon spoke of the repatriation of Yagan's Kart (head), which was stolen and removed to England following the murder of the Nyoongar leader and warrior in 1833. A memorial park was created close to the reburial site in 2010. Neil spoke further about the purposes of such memorials.
"With our ancestors’ remains, when we bring them back, and put them back into country, we’re putting their spirits to rest. Those spirits are still with us. So, a memorial to us is, not putting somebody to rest and closure. We don’t want a monument that represents somebody that‘s gone and that’s passed away and that’s not with us anymore. A memorial to our people is remembering that those spirits, are still with us today. We like to refer to our memorials as living memorials. Where our Elders go out and visit their country they go to special water holes out in the desert. They visit these places and they have ceremonies and these waterholes are what they call living water that provides life. Not only for the humans but for the animals and the birds. So, in a way, those waterholes are monuments and they’re places that they visit and they remember the past and the people who have passed away. That’s what monuments represent to our people."
Neil Carter, 13 July 2017.
We spoke with Rueben Berg, a Gunditjmara man from south-western Victoria and an architect whose advocacy for Indigenous perspectives in design and the built environment led to his founding of Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria in 2010. Brook asked Rueben about his thoughts on memory sites in Melbourne that have the potential to educate people about the Frontier Wars.
"The Melbourne Gaol and the new work that’s there (Standing By Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner). The first time I saw the new work, there was no one around and I was incredibly moved. I push my son on a swing all the time, so even though there was no movement, I could hear the creaking of hanging, and it was quite a disturbing and distressful situation. It was powerful. That space of the Old Melbourne Gaol and what’s around it now, is becoming a site like that. There is sadness. You go into some of those gaol cells where there is still the rope. Especially from an Aboriginal perspective hearing about the ongoing deaths in custody, it’s quite a traumatic place to be in. That’s now a tourist destination for people to go to, mostly to learn about Ned Kelly. The other places then, that connects to that, is the Queen Victoria Markets, with the connections to the burials of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. Right now, there’s still that disgusting statue of John Batman, saying that, here in 1835 Batman ‘discovered’ this site, then ‘unoccupied’. It has an asterisk of another plaque that says we apologise for this, that the land was occupied, but they should just knock the damn thing over."
Rueben Berg, 18 November 2016.
NB: Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner is a permanent commemorative marker by artists Brook Andrew and Trent Walter. Commissioned by the City of Melbourne in 2016, following a decade-long community campaign to honour the two Aboriginal freedom fighters from Tasmania who were publicly hung in 1842.
Brook Andrew (chief investigator) had the opportunity to speak with the American architect, Peter Eisenman in New York. Eisenman was the lead architect for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which was inaugurated in 2005. Located in the centre of Berlin, the memorial consists of the Field of Stelae, 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern ranging in height from 0.2 to 4.7m. Beneath this disorienting structure is an Information Centre that documents the persecution and extermination of European Jewry.
"My feeling is that a memorial should combine iconic, symbolic and educational functions, and it should be a place, that is, it should deal with everyday life as well as symbolic life, because everyday life is how you become educated. People in Germany complain that there are food trucks around my memorial. Well, that’s great, there were no food trucks when the memorial wasn’t there. Now that there's a memorial, the food trucks are having a fabulous business. People eat lunch there, people meet there, kids from school come and run around in the memorial. It's an everyday experience. To me, the purpose of a memorial is for little Hans to go home to his grandfather, who was in the SS, let's say, and say hey, we had a great field trip today at the Holocaust memorial."
Peter Eisenman, 10 August 2017