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Colony: Frontier Wars, at NGV Melbourne

Colony: Frontier Wars is an important exhibition at the NGV Melbourne. It explores the period of colonisation in Australia from 1788 onwards and it’s often devastating effects on First People’s. The period to many was the discovery of a wondrous southern continent, but to others an invasion of homelands occupied for many millennia.

This extraordinary powerful exhibition reveals aspects of what Aboriginal people have experienced as a continuing consequence of colonisation. It brings together different understandings of Australia’s shared history which is explored through the works of many indigenous and non indigenous artists.

Here are some of the works that caught my eye and their stories:

Yulpurra (2007) by Cliff Reid

In this work Cliff recalls the nuclear tests conducted by the British government at Maralinga in South Australia from 1956-63, Many Aboriginal people lost access to their traditional home lands, and, like the artist, sought shelter on the Christian Missions of Warburton, Ernabella or Cundalee.

Yulpurra (2007) by Cliff Reid

'Black Ground' by Judy Watson

Black Ground depicts the First People's country as a site of massacre and dispossession. The shape of the white line is indicative of a burial chamber of her people in North Western Queensland. Waanyi People were hunted and killed in their country and many of these burial sites were plundered, with ancestral remains and objects removed. Her great great Grandmother Rosie was one of two survivors of the Lawn Hill Massacre. The white line is used to delineate a human death at the scene of an accident or tragedy.

'Black Ground' by Judy Watson

Arthur Boyd

During the 1950s Boyd made two visits to Central Australia and encountered Aboriginal people living in extreme poverty and being treated as marginalised outsiders. Boyd made seven pen and ink drawings and several years later transformed those graphic notations into modernist allegories on mixed race lovers who transgress convention and are made into outcasts caught between two faces of Australia.

Captain Harrison Wergaia 1844-1908

Captain Harrison’s joyous depiction of a Corroboree at Coranderrk evokes a holistic picture of cultural life prior to colonisation. The spirited open air ceremony involving men, women, children is set in a landscape abounding with Eucalypts, dogs, wallabies

The presence of two sacred hearths perhaps acknowledges ancestral beings of the Kulin Nation. The yellow background speckled with blue dots challenges the misconception that. Victorian Aboriginal Artists did not use dots.

'Erub has a Bitumen Road Now' by Clinton Nain

'Cloaked Combat' by Steaphan Paton

Cloaked Combat is a visual exploration of the material and technological conflicts between cultures and the roles they play in one culture asserting dominance over another.Aboriginal bark shields traditionally used in combat to deflect spears are here bearing the force of a foreign weapon.

'Possum Skin Cloak, Black Fella Road' by Lorraine Connelly-Northey

Lorraine write 'Blackfella road is my interpretation of Aboriginal skeletal remains, occasioned by the construction of an unsealed road near Swan Hill. The circular forms indicate different modes of transport using this road. The fringe of the cloak represents hunters and gatherers whose remains were desecrated signified by their multiple artefacts and dismembered hands that clamour for social justice.'

Colony: Frontier Wars is on at NGV Melbourne until 30th September. Further details are available at

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