Friday, September 17, 2010

New England's Aboriginal artists

My thanks to Peter Firminger for this one.

One of my favourite blogs is Will Owen's Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye. This blog is an education on Aboriginal art and beyond into Aboriginal culture and history. However, it does have one weakness from my perspective, its remote area focus.

While I am interested in Aboriginal art in a general sense, I also want to know more about Aboriginal art connected with New England.  Like many other aspects of New England life, this is actually quite hard to do because the information is not readily available.

Now we have Storylines, a three-year (2007-2009) ARC funded survey of ‘non-remote’ Indigenous artists that includes material on New England Aboriginal artists. Before proceeding, two quotes from the research: 

 To give a sense of where within each state these artists came from, the various birthplaces supplied to the researchers were categorised into regions, based on ABS divisions. Of the artists with birthplaces in NSW, more were born in Sydney than anywhere else in the state (27), followed by the North Coast 14, the New England/North West 12, Richmond Tweed (Northern Rivers) 11 and the rest scattered across the state or with only ‘NSW’ given as place of birth. In every other state in the survey, the opposite pattern was found.

Then on language groups: 

There were some startling disparities in the numbers of people identifying with particular language groups. In NSW, 36 of the 126 people who provided this information gave Wiradjuri (Waradgerie, Wirradjeri) as at least one of their language groups, 29 gave Kamilaroi (Gamilaroi, Gamillaroi, Gamilaraay, Kamileroi, Kamillaroi, Gamilarray, Gamiaraay, Goomeroi)[1], 16 Bundjalung and 15 Dunghutti. Smaller numbers, often as few as one or two persons, reported affiliation with another 32 NSW language groups.

If you look at these two quotes, you can see the New England influence. In terms of birth place, the identified New England regions (North Coast, the New England/North West, Richmond Tweed (Northern Rivers) total 37. In terms of identified New England language groups (Kamilaroi, Bundjalung and Dunghutti), sixty out of 126 NSW artists had a New England affiliation.

The raw statistics need to be treated with care. For example, artists born in Sydney may actually come have affiliations elsewhere in the state given earlier in-migration to Sydney. I say earlier, because there is presently Aboriginal migration from Sydney to home country.

The growth in Sydney's Aboriginal population now primarily comes from natural birth among those who have previously made their homes there in combination with self-identification. If an Aboriginal person has a non-Aboriginal partner, their children may choose to be classified as Aboriginal.

Further, the earlier disruptions to Aboriginal society that forced groups together, mean that a number of Aboriginal people can claim connection to more than one language group, so that the number of reported language affiliations may be greater than the number of artists.   

Accepting all this, the relatively large numbers with New England connections is not surprising, given that Aboriginal New England had a very large population relative to other parts of NSW. What is more surprising is the distribution of painters. The number of Kamilaroi linked artists is larger than the relative size of the Kamilaroi population, while the very big Gumbainggir language group is not separately identified. We cannot know whether or not this is represents the on-ground position, or is simply a skew in those responding to the survey.

The report itself contains information and conclusions that provides a framework for analysis. However,  movement beyond this to look in more detail at area linkages, probably requires more detailed sorting at individual artist level. 

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