Truth and Reconciliation II

There’s a perception that Australia was created as a nation the moment Captain Cook landed.  In fact it was claimed originally as a colony and only on the east coast.  The rest that follows is an ad hoc, patched together chain of events based on a need for a place to dump prisoners, luck, disagreements, a private company,  and policy on the run, until federation.

Even after Federation, it took more years for the current flag to fly over a new capital city to house Federal Parliament.  Given the newness of the current look of Australia, it’s no surprise we haven’t come to terms with the true history of this nation.  In my grandfather’s life time, we fought under two flags, South Australia was a colony and the federal government sat in Melbourne.

Growing up in South Australia in the 60’s and 70’s, our colonial history was taught at primary school as a minor subject, with some reference to Aboriginal people holding spears and greeting Captain Cook as he ‘discovered’ the land.  I don’t remember ever being taught South Australian history at school.

The ignorance of the formation of our country in previous and successive generations to this day, has allowed for misinformation to take hold over public discourse.  We are unable to sort fact from fiction.  This was exacerbated with the outcry over history wars during the Howard years, which turned teaching our past in schools and universities into a political football.

Australia has to face the truth of our history and how it has impacted on our First Nations people, to mature as a country.  Continuing to deny the past or minimise the generational discrimination in racist policy and actions, has paralysed debate.

We have seen the healing achievable from memorials and apologies, and other countries have shown how war trials, documenting events and testimonies of witnesses can offer a way forward.

There are several important objectives in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  The first is recognising what Cook himself understood to be true, that the land was occupied when he arrived, and the people were self sufficient and wanted for nothing.  This negates Bourke’s Proclamation of terra nullius.

The second is officially hearing and recording the impact taking land away from the First Nations people had on their lives, and their descendants since that time.  Historical documentation, oral tradition and personal accounts can provide evidence of this impact.

Thirdly, reparation for the loss of land.  This was dealt with in Zimbabwe by evicting colonisers from their farms.  Fiji refused to renew land leases to Indian Fijians. Through force and stealth, with the backing of the law, colonisers forced Aboriginal people off their land.  How would we feel about the same happening to us?

While we can acknowledge our part in the history of Australia from colonisation by invasion, and provide with collaboration, the framework for a detailed and just Truth and Reconciliation Commission, acceptable reparation and reconciliation can only be led by the First Nations people.  Amendments to the Constitution form part of that reparation, but we are working backwards with the order of things.

Without frank acknowledgement of the injustices of the past, and the facts of prior occupation and the foundation of Australia, we won’t be open to the amendments that need to be made.  That is, we will stop from being said what has to be said for true reconciliation.

Truth and Reconciliation I

When apartheid was abolished in South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to hear from victims of gross human rights injustices, in the hope reconciliation could be established for all South Africans.

In Australia, there has never been any official commission or restorative justice body to recognise the colonisation of an occupied country.

When Captain (then Lieutenant in Command) Cook first surveyed the east coast of Australia, with the command to claim the land for the British Empire, he was given secret instructions*

You are likewise to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives, if there be any and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a Friendship and Alliance with them, making them presents of such Trifles as they may Value inviting them to Traffick, and Shewing them every kind of Civility and Regard; taking Care however not to suffer yourself to be surprized by them, but to be always upon your guard against any Accidents.

You are also with the Consent of the Natives to take Possession of Convenient Situations in
the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain: Or: if you find the Country uninhabited take
Possession for his Majesty by setting up Proper Marks and Inscriptions, as first discoverers and
possessors

According to Cook’s journals**, he was greeted along the entire east coast of Australia from what is now Botany Bay to Possession Island, with having spears and rocks thrown at him and his men; or locals  running away and refusing to have anything to do with him, including any meaningful trade.

Monday 30th – ..in the afternoon 16 or 18 of them came boldly up to within 100 yards of our people at the watering place, and there made a stand.  Mr. Hicks, who was the Officer ashore, did all in his power to intice them to him by offering them presents; but it was to no purpose, all they seem’d to want was for us to be gone.

Cook later observes in August 1770

..in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans, being wholy unacquainted not only with the Superfluous, but with the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe; ..in short, they seem’d to set no Value upon anything we gave them, nor would they ever part with anything of their own for any one Article we could offer them.  This in my opinion, Argues that they think themselves provided with all the necessarys of Life, and that they have no Superfluities.

On Wednesday August 22nd 1770

..on the Western side I can make no new discovery, the honour of which belongs to the Dutch Navigators, but the Eastern Coast from the lat. of 38 degrees S. down to this place, I am confident, was never seen or Visited by any European before us; and not withstanding I had in the Name of his Majesty taken possession of several places upon this Coast I now once More hoisted English Colours and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern coast from the above Lat. down to this place by the the name of New Wales ..

Cook did not gain the Consent of the Natives and he recorded habitation at each landing.

It wasn’t until 1835 that terra nullius, or ‘nobody’s land’, was used to stop the purchase of land from Aboriginal people, in what is now known as Batman’s Treaty.

The Proclamation of Governor Bourke implemented the doctrine of terra nullius upon which British settlement was based, reinforcing the notion that the land belonged to no one prior to the British Crown taking possession of it. Aboriginal people therefore could not sell or assign the land, nor could an individual person acquire it, other than through distribution by the Crown

Federation of the states in 1901 was accompanied with a Constitution for the nation of Australia.  The Overview states:

The Australian Constitution has properly been described as ‘the birth certificate of a Nation’…..the Constitution is a document which was conceived by Australians, drafted by Australians and approved by Australians.

The voice of First Nations people is not heard in the drafting or approval of the document.  Interestingly the Constitution states,

51…The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

(xxxi)  the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws

 

Next: Truth and Reconciliation II

*http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/scan-sid-252.html

**30th May, 1770, Captain Cook’s Journal 1768-71 Australiana Facsimile Editions No 188, Libraries board of South Australia, 1968.

See also TERRA NULLIUS, THE HIGH COURT AND SURVEYORS by C. L. Ogleby:  A discussion of the High Court decision regarding customary land tenure in Australia. (Mabo)

Where to next [fashion, Part four]

Following on from the previous three posts on the subject, here are some thoughts on the future of fashion, or fashion for the 21st Century.  Closed loop or sustainable materials, and ethical sourcing and manufacturing has to be at the core of future fashion, but what about design?

The food and wine movement, where local boutique growers and artisan makers are taking over from mass grown, factory processed product of often unidentifiable origin, is a starting point.

Future fashion will shift from centralised influence at Paris, Milan, London and New York, to regional fashion.  Designers will draw on local influences including art to make clothing relevant to the people.  Artists and others from non traditional design backgrounds will assist.

Trend forecasters will cease to be influential in the colours and fabrics used, as fabrics are sourced locally (from used or recycled and up-cycled fabrics or locally grown yarns).  Colours will be influenced by local artists, architecture, the environment and weather.

Silhouettes will be open ended.  One of the most important shifts in fashion (from Westwood and the Japanese designers) is the freestyle approach to silhouettes that makes any shape possible.  I think the future of fashion will be undefined silhouettes to match non-gender specific clothing.

Fashion will be driven by the individual, who mixes items from a range of sources, and the part of the body that is revealed or concealed will depend on the wearer, not the designer.  Clothing will continue to be layered according to individual preferences.

With spaces and opportunities for displaying clothing becoming more affordable, local designers will have more of a voice.  In the past when a shop, advertising and exposure was financially out of reach, social media, markets, collectives, and pop up spaces encouraged by local government, enable designers to bring their work to their target market.

Collectives and group run spaces allow interaction between different disciplines, encouraging new conversations in design.  Lines between art, craft and design will become blurred, with artistic merit driven by the culture of the community.

Expensive, full scale parades and centralised fashion weeks will lose momentum as buyers are replaced with patrons following their favourite  designers.  The slow, local, artisan and organic movement in food will apply to fashion, with smaller boutique production and fresh ideas drawing on a strong underlying aesthetic.

I think this movement of fashion to a more creative, locally influenced space both physically and artistically, will benefit the makers and the wearers.  People will learn the true value of clothing, and appreciate what they are wearing, so clothing becomes less disposable and allows more personal expression.  The ability to swap, trade or sell items that are used will lose any stigma of second hand, and become valued for their integrity rather than newness.

This will be part of a strong reaction in the 21st Century against large corporate control over what we read, see, eat and wear.

Some places to visit in Adelaide to show this philosophy, with designer clothing a minor presence so far (come on designers!):

Stirling Market

Plant 4 – Third Street Bowden

Gilles Street Market

Bowerbird Design Market

T’Arts Collective

Bamfurlong Fine Crafts

JamFactory Craft and Design

Format

Swop

India Flint

Another important early innovator in the contemporary movement of sustainable and ethical fashion is India Flint.

India is an Adelaide artist, living on a property in the Adelaide hills.  While a friend and I were sharing a studio at the JamFactory in the mid 2000’s, India held an exhibition in the main gallery space.  The fragrance of her scattered lemon-scented gum leaves greeted us each day as we entered the building.

Songs from the Wastelands, an installation from Earth Matters http://www.indiaflint.com/page30.htm

Although dyeing with eucalyptus leaves had been done before, India discovered and innovated a technique to transfer the dye and shape of leaves onto silk and wool fabric.  Her experimentation with every type of eucalypt available during her Masters Degree at the University of South Australia, expanded to include wild flowers and found objects such as rusty nails for mark making.

India is respectful of hand made techniques such as hand stitching with the thread in a colour and thickness of yarn that contrasted with the finished fabric.  She used up-cycled clothing and fabrics as a base to decorate and make new clothing.  She ignored minimalist approaches to fashion popular at the time, instead embracing layering and allowing the fabric to dictate the silhouettes.

Jo Roads, Deon Hastie Petroglyphs http://www.lwd.com.au, clothing by India Flint

Her unorthodox approach to the fabric itself, allowing the material to keep the wrinkles and creases from the dye process, created a three dimensional effect.  This added extra texture to the fabric, which was already  uneven in colour and pattern due to the natural dye process.

India has spent subsequent years to date touring the world teaching workshops and showing her beautiful work in galleries.  Many textile artists and designers have been influenced by her work, including myself, and I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate her influence on the future of fashion and textiles.

India Flint website, including images, workshops, exhibitions, books and contact details.

The Relevance of Art

With the growing popularity of Street Art, I was interested to see at Wonderwalls in Port Adelaide this year, a group of writers working on a wall next to a Street Artist*.  The Street Artist listed her own name on the official program, and the others worked under a crew name, for obvious reasons, to stay incognito.

This defining difference between the establishment and the newcomer, made me reflect on art in general, and the opening up of avenues for displaying and expressing art.

Our Art Gallery of South Australia is under the direction of Nick Mitzevich, who is happy to show colonial art next to Aboriginal/First Nations cultural objects.  He follows that theme around the gallery, mixing together works that would usually be seen as opposing, as having something significant in common.  As we don’t have a formal contemporary art building (yet), Mitzevich treats our gallery as contemporary art meets the art history of the world, including representation from our Asian neighbours.

This is a challenging and exciting way of displaying art, and keeps the gallery relevant culturally and geographically.  It also makes the gallery an inspiring place to visit, as we see the old collection in a new way and the new work in the context of the old.

After spending some years now admiring and participating in street art, I feel the pristine white walls of a gallery space that shut out history, noise, and windows to the outside world, are both restricting and old in the limited atmosphere and lack of authenticity in the space.  The artist is responsible for creating these things, which can come across as contrived and like a static museum display.

When operating exclusively in a gallery setting, an artist can begin to take this for granted, and I think that impacts on the relevance of art in the real world.  Artist Alfredo Jaar says to imagine the world we want to live in, meaning to use art to push us towards that world.  The beauty of street art is that it goes to the people, the people don’t have to seek it out.  Street art also reflects the integrity of the existing surrounding, and so becomes a part of it.

I’ve said previously, I embrace all street art, including tags and sgraffiti, as relevant to the contemporary and historical art scene.  Widening our definition of art as existing in the everyday, allows us to think outside the gallery space and work alongside others who have different perspectives, and so makes what we do relevant.

As a footnote:  The Art Gallery of South Australia could be inclusive and embrace street art by opening the outside side wall(s) as free walls for any artists to participate.  Then we would have a world leading rather than a world class art gallery.

*Street Art as the new wave of painters who only work by permission to paint a wall, street art includes any form in general.