Indigenous artists work to keep Uluru Statement alive

Aboriginal artist Rene Kulitja (top right) and other women paint the frame of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Kunturu Kulini — Heart Listening
ARTSITE, Sydney
Until November 25

A week of action was launched on November 4 in support of the historic Uluru Statement from the Heart, released last year by delegates to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Referendum Convention held near Uluru in Central Australia.

An organiser was Maritime Union of Australia NT Branch Secretary Thomas Mayor. The MUA said it was “all about individuals and organisations taking self-initiative to contribute to a groundswell of support for the ‘Voice to Parliament’ proposal”.

If ever there was a collective statement by the First Nations to be embraced by the government, the Uluru Statement is it. Last year, representatives of all First Nations came together in conference at Uluru, to work out a plan of action and policy in the interest of their peoples, and the country as a whole.

Constitutional recognition, the bipartisan proposal from Canberra, was rejected as symbolic and ineffective. Instead they re-invoked the Yolngu concept of a Makarrata: People coming together after a disagreement.

The Makarrata Commission would supervise the agreement-making between Aboriginal nations and the Australian government. The statement called for treaty making, a constitutionally enshrined Voice to the Parliament and a Truth Commission.

As Aunty Pat Anderson, one of the drivers behind the Uluru Statement, put it: “We cannot continue to be voiceless and powerless in our own lands. This very poor relationship, full of rampant racism, has got to stop. The country has to be mature and sophisticated enough, to have an intelligent conversation and solve this unfinished business.”

Predictably, the strong and wise call to be heard was dismissed by the Malcolm Turnbull government in a most condescending way.

There is a painfully long history of petitions and proposals made by Indigenous peoples which were ignored by Canberra. To name a few: the 1963 Yirrkala bark petitions to protect Yolgnu lands against mining; the 1972 Larrakia Petition pleading for land rights and political representation; and the 1988 Barunga Statement calling for self determination.

Mining, agricultural, pastoral and other business interests always win, as the true 60,000-year history of this continent’s First Nations continues to be wiped out, and the real making of Australia (through genocide and dispossession) remains untold.

Unless we do something about it.

The flame of the Uluru Statement has been kept alive through the Uluru Position Working Group, which was elected to move the reforms proposed in the Statement forward.

The week of action is reinforcing a ripple effect from the Heart. One example is Rene Kulitja, the artist who created the painting that frames the Uluru Statement from the Heart, gathered a group of 12 female artists from the Anangu Peoples of Central Australia to produce a body of work in response to the Statement.

The Art Projects team of their gallery, Ruth Stone and Saha Jones of MARUKU ARTS, connected with the ARTSITE gallery in Sydney, to exhibit the women’s paintings as Kunturu Kulini — Heart Listening.

Rachel Perkins launched the stunning collection with some lively yarns. The spirit of heart-listening continued with an evening at St Luke’s Church, curated by Saha Jones and hosted by Kinetic Energy Theatre Company.

The women from the desert, many of whom are law-keepers, were joined by a wide range of Sydney-based performers, including Blak Douglas, Indigo Sparke, Georgia Frew, Declan Kelly, Nancy Denis and Ginger and the Ghost, to reflect, connect and heal with the audience through song and story.

Kulitja said: “We listen to our grandfathers and grandmothers and we follow their teachings: of all our lands and the stories and the law they hold. We can feel our families, our country, our culture in everything we do. We hear everything in our hearts. We hear it all with our heart, mind, body and soul as one”

The Uluru Statement is far from dead.

[Jepke Goudsmit is a co-director Kinetic Energy Theatre Co.]