Visits to Australia for some of us, entail visits to museums and a musing or two about the place of Aborigines. I’ve often wondered why Australians don’t use the native languages but I guess it’s because there are so many distinct ones.

On a recent visit to Sydney we found a couple of exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art: one by Craig Walsh, co-curated by sometime museum director, curator and New Zealander Robert Leonard, called Embedded. It features 21 skips of stone symbollising earth taken and Aboriginal talking heads. It’s from a commission by Rio Tinto and focuses on the Pilbara region. The voice that tells me that the area was sacred but that male Aboriginal initiation rights prohibit talk about the area/hill was the one that caught my attention. Catch 22. 

There was also a wonderful exhibition called String Theory – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. We lusted after several items like bags, silk scarves and prints, dolls and images. Pretty damned wonderful.

At the Melbourne Museum there was an exhibition about local first people- Yulendj. It was pretty good but the trek to the museum and the loong walk to find the entrance as well as the large spaces and sore (shonky) foot made me ready to go soon after paying my $10.00 and I was happier the next day buying a small painting from sidewalk artist Lesley Stanley from a Queensland mob, whose grandmother, it transpired, was Maori from around Wellington. We did not have sufficient shared understanding of Maori culture to identify which iwi she may have belonged to but it was lovely to chat. I liked his wry smile about progress when we talked about the wrongs that had been done to Aboriginal people.

And so to the play The Shadow King at the MaltHouse.

The shadow king according to Wikipedia is a Marvel comic character of psychic energy that feeds on human hatred. In this instance it’s an Aboriginal fellow who gives his land to his two daughters who profess to love him the most. Yep – it’s a version of King Lear. My favourite was Kamahai Djordon King who played the fool. He was sly, funny, camp and fey. Did it work? hmmm yes sort of. Was it worth seeing? Absolutely.

And so I set off for other museums- ACCA which no-one seemed to know about and I failed to find. Was this it? My web search tells me it was.


By the time I found it, with no signage and no will left to find the entrance I was over it all. The National Gallery of Victoria around the corner was at least more welcoming but I couldn’t face the $10.00 entry fee to see the Edward Steichen exhibition I had been keen to see. Besides I saw some for free at the State Library of NSW. So I bought a book of post cards and went back to my hotel rather than dancing. I wished I had made a different decision but I did have a lovely walk along St Kilda beach as compensation.

P1020389Grump. The previous day the effort to find the the entrance to the ACMI, which I had been keen to find, and the odd service in the museum shop (surely there’s a better way -like memory- to know the prices of cards) and the confusion over escalators and elevators made me long to be somewhere in the Australian interior. The history of music videos exhibition, when I found it, was fantastic.

This eucalyptus tree evokes the interior I wished to visit. Cities are fun but for me the interior and those bird sounds evoke a story that is so different from my New Zealand story.

Clearly it was time for a long drink and a flight home.


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