Local artists Jason Campbell, originally from Wallaga Lake and Rob Fitzclarence, who is originally from Victoria who now resides locally, created a series of fourteen hand carved timber panels, each with an interpretive plaque that depicts the indigenous timeline for the Wallaga Lake community.
This collection is significant as it celebrates the different cultural background of the artists as it depicts Yuin /Merriman’s view of the world; encompassing cultural elements including traditional food sources, traditional customs, dreamtime stories and creation of landforms. The integration of European settlement and reflections on change are also portrayed throughout the series, with the final panel featuring a bridge over running water, highlighting two hands representing both cultures and the proposition of a way forward, together.
In 2019, the panels were given as a permanent loan to Bega Valley Shire Council and displayed in the ground level foyer of the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre.
These panels are artistically important, have enormous cross-cultural significance, and have an interesting history that dates back over twenty years.
In the 1990s a proposal was developed by the Bermagui Parks and Foreshores Committee for the construction of a walking trail connecting two existing carparks - one off Wallaga Street, Wallaga Lake Heights, and the other at Camel Rock - and to build a viewing platform on a high point midway along the track. This viewing platform would be sited on, and the walking track would traverse, Crown Land.
This land, however, had/has considerable Aboriginal significance. Aboriginal occupation of the area had, through archaeological assessments of middens, been dated back at least 8,000 years. It had, in recent times, become seriously degraded and, particularly in Aboriginal eyes, was being disrespected through unrestricted vehicle access and parking.
So, construction of the trail and viewing platform was considered a more culturally-sensitive use of the land.
A decision was made to include a series of hand-carved panels on cyprus slabs at the viewing platform. The wood was to be locally milled from a fallen tree at Murunna Point, and the panels were to be designed and carved by local Indigenous and non-Indigenous craftsman working in partnership. They would depict the history of the immediate Murunna Point and surrounding areas.
Work on these began in 2001.
Plans to construct the walking trail and viewing platform were ultimately abandoned when a full assessment of the Murunna Point site was made. The significance of the land, particularly to the local Aboriginal community, would be severely compromised: important Aboriginal middens would be disturbed, land that had once been used for bean farming (employing substantial numbers of Aboriginal workers and therefore historically significant to them) would unnecessarily be altered.
Work on the panels, however, continued. The set of 13 panels was ultimately completed in 2005.
The project was coordinated by Rob Fitzclarence, an artist who had conducted wood carving workshops mentoring local community members. Jason Campbell, a young local Indigenous carpenter, and Rob designed and produced the 13 panels.
The Murunna Point panels were designed and developed to tell the Indigenous and non-Indigenous story of Murunna Point - a story that encompasses a shared natural and cultural heritage.
Storyboard Panel - The first panel is a ‘storyboard’ that outlines the vision of the project and provides a preview of the scenes depicted on the remaining panels.
The black and white hands (lower left) represent unified people – from Rob and Jason harmoniously working together on this project, to a country united. They are supporting a bridge (which provides a framework extending from the start of time to reconciliation), under which flows ‘water under the bridge’ and tears from the past.
The four pillars of the bridge represent acknowledgment (acknowledgment that the Aboriginal people are the traditional occupants of the area, acknowledgment that Aboriginals connect with and view the local flora and fauna as significant to their cultural heritage, acknowledgment that Aboriginals and later settlers have a shared history which includes suffering and injustice), trust, respect, and sharing.
The feet on the bridge introduce another element. These represent the feet of local Koori kids for whom, and for generations, Murunna Point and the nearby Wallaga Lake Bridge were their playgrounds – places that were an integral part of their lives, places where they could simply have fun such as diving off the bridge into Wallaga Lake.
The artists’ basic hope, with this pivotal panel, was to raise community awareness of a need to treat peoples, cultures and the environment with respect and ‘by acknowledging our common ground and collaborating, we can cross the bridge to the future together.’
Panel 1 depicts the Yuin/Merriman view of the world – walking from campsite to campsite, landmark to landmark, and traditional food sources that might be gathered along the way.
Panel 2 illustrates creation, and the subsequent development of flora and fauna in the landscape that is portrayed in Panel 1. The central feature is a tree that grew in the area 300 million years ago that has been preserved locally in fossil form. Flora that has adapted over time from this original source and the animals and birds of the area (believed to have developed from original ocean creatures) are also shown.
Panel 3 shows the appearance of Aboriginal men and women, the traditional occupants of the land. Through cycles of teaching and learning, hunting and gathering, the Aboriginal inhabitants have interacted with their environment and been provided sustenance by the land and the sea.
An example if this is shown in Panel 4 which portrays an Aboriginal legend of dolphins being called up to round up fish and drive them on to the shore (in a similar way that the Aboriginals around Twofold Bay used killer whales to herd other whales close to the beaches where they could be speared).
Panels 5 and 6 provide two different cultural views of the local landscape:
Panel 5 tells the Aboriginal story of creation of Gulaga (Mt Dromedary), Nadganuka (Little Dromedary) and Baranguba (Montague Island) and of the Great Spirit’s creation of Ngardi (woman) and then Tunku (man) and, as in local mythology, the relationships between men, women and landforms, and between families and creation.
Panel 6 is essentially the same view from Horseshoe Bay, Bermagui, but from the time of European arrival: so the Endeavour in the centre of the panel, with Captain Cook renaming Gulaga as Mt Dromedary…then the steamer wharf at Dickinson Point, which was originally an Aboriginal camping ground where (to the right) an Aboriginal elder and a young man are preparing traditional food…which is (at left) still a camping ground, now surrounded by Norfolk Pines.
Panel 7 is a continuation of Panel 6. The road from the steamer wharf to Wallaga Lake passes Murunna Point. The land is cleared and fenced and contains domestic animals and dwellings.
Before 1894 there was no Wallaga Lake Bridge. Mrs Wintle (centre), a single mother of many children, lived on Murunna Point and made a living by ferrying timber sleepers with a horse and dray from Tilba to the steamer wharf. Crossing her path is a Koori woman who is carrying cheese from Tilba to the Bermagui wharf.
Panel 8 represents changes in livelihood at that time: the Wintle farm grew beans, employing Kooris and others, gold was panned and processed in a donkey crush at the Montreal Goldfield.
Panel 9 is a view, looking back, through a windscreen – from the earliest steam engine to the present time, and depicts goods and serves that both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal cultures share. Two sets of footprints that border the windscreen represent shared benefits as well as historic inequalities and injustices.
Panels 10, 11 and 12 depict several Aboriginal relationships with the land and sea:
Panel 10 displays marine life, such as whales and dolphins, passing Murunna Point.
Panel 11 shows the food sources available below the surface of Wallaga Lake.
Panel 12 depicts, through hunting and fishing, the Aboriginal people’s relationship with the land and sea.
Resolution Panel - The final panel is a ‘Resolution Panel’ in which the bridge theme returns. The black and white hands join to support a bridge over a shared history which now can be best viewed as our water under our bridge. The pains of the past have been acknowledged, there is a collaborative future ahead – therefore a peaceful resolution has been achieved.
The panel also symbolises the collaboration, participation, consultation and sharing of skills, views and stories that Rob and Jason applied to this project - attributes that lead to mutual respect for people, beliefs and cultures.
Article from the Cobargo Triangle, October 2019
"Carved panels find a home at last"
The project was a five year ‘labour of love’ for Cobargo carpenter Jason Campbell and artist/wood carver Rob Fitzclarence … but it then took almost another 15 years for their masterpieces to find a permanent home. These 14 large ‘Murunna Point Panels’, which now hang in the long, ground floor passageway of the Bega Valley Commemorative Centre, have two major themes: a history of the local Murunna Point/Wallaga Lake area, and reconciliation of the Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal divide. To really understand the details in each panel, it’s necessary to have them explained—and the October-November issue of the South Coast’s free history magazine, Recollections, attempts to do that in its lead article. So, pick up a copy of Recollections (or download it from bit.ly/Recollections16) and take it with you when you visit the Commemorative Centre to have a look at these fabulous installations. The carved panels have so many interesting dimensions to them: their history is interesting (they were originally intended to be part of a viewing platform on Murunna Point, but that viewing platform was never built); the history of Murunna Point/Wallaga Lake that they portray is interesting; they are artistically interesting; the relationship between the two men who designed and created them and their intentions for these panels are interesting stories in themselves; and what this project (even though it remained largely unseen, in storage, for almost 15 years) has inspired is interesting. And, incidentally, Murunna Point itself is worth visiting: there are some spectacular coastal views along the short walk south from the carpark at the end of Wallaga Street, Wallaga Lake Heights (Peter Lacey).
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