Rebecca Ray, Meriam Mir, Assistant Curator, told us a little more about this work, its inspiration, and the significance of its location:
‘The HOTA precinct has long been place of significance on the Gold Coast due to its location directly within the nerung ballun (Nerang River) catchment zones, the largest, most significant river system on the Gold Coast. For the Indigenous people of South East Queensland, the waterway encompasses vital cultural knowledges, oral histories and stories that connect Freshwater people with Saltwater people throughout the Gold Coast hinterland and coastal regions.
‘Inspired by south-east Queensland’s Indigenous communities, and her time on the South Stradbroke Indigenous Artist Camp, Watson collaborated with Urban Art Projects, and Quandamooka artists Elisa Jane Carmichael and Libby Harward to realise the initial concept design.
‘The concrete form represents the nerung ballun or Nerang River. Watson collaborated with Michael Aird, Aboriginal photographer and anthropologist, to source original mappings of the nerung ballun. These maps were used as a blueprint to feature the river form as a topographical map depicting the nerung ballun before European settlement.
‘Watson has embedded the nerung ballun form with oyster, eugarie and mussel shells to represent middens. Middens are the remains of meals of shellfish, such as oysters, that were consumed and discarded, forming mounds of shell deposits sourced from the sea and waterways. The jasper stones found throughout the river form were collected and generously donated and dispersed across the concrete by Aboriginal artefact maker, Rick Roser.
‘A piccabeen basket and dillybag sculptures have also been incorporated in collaboration and consultation with Carmichael and Harward. The basket and bag were originally made on the 2017 South Stradbroke Indigenous Artist Camp (Cross Currents: From Island to Mainland) – a five-day placement where emerging and established local Indigenous artists worked alongside leading artists to create site-specific works. Watson was the lead artist and worked to support Carmichael and Harward to create these ephemeral, sculptural works. The upscaled cast bronze piccabeen and the large hand twisted dilly bag represent eternal standing presences for the people who were and are still here, forever carrying the stories and histories of their original makers.
‘The Nerang River, mibin (wedge-tail eagle) feathers, piccabeen basket, midden and dillybag are strong artistic statements of culture and reflect layered meanings and significance.
‘Through community consultation it was identified that these key sculptural elements call for a place of ceremony, a place of gathering, a place of education and knowledge, a way for cultural activities and a celebration of the dynamism of Indigenous culture.’
We are proud to have commissioned Judy Watson to create this new work at the entrance of the HOTA Gallery. Together, each component of nerung ballun (Nerang River), freshwater, saltwater speaks directly to the enduring nature of Indigenous creativity and celebrates the strength and resilience of Aboriginal culture. Through Watson’s collaborative practice, the entrance statement creates a vital sense of place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people visiting the precinct.
Judy Watson. nerung ballun (Nerang River), freshwater, saltwater 2021 (detail). bronze, bisalloy, steel, concrete, shell and jasper stones