A collaboration between the first Artistic Associates and the local Aboriginal community has resulted in Barangaroo Ngangamay, an extraordinary multimedia cultural experience that tells of the life and culture of Old Lady Barangaroo.
The name Barangaroo has become common parlance among Sydneysiders and visitors who regularly enjoy the spectacular Barangaroo Reserve and the new retail and dining precinct. But what of the proud Cammeraygal woman Barangaroo, after whom this culturally-significant area is named?
This strong and influential warrior woman provided the inspiration for Barangaroo’s first Artistic Associates, renowned Aboriginal multi-media artists and curators Amanda Jane Reynolds and Genevieve Grieves.
Reynolds and Grieves were appointed by the Barangaroo Delivery Authority on 28 April 2016 and collaborated on a multi-disciplinary program that celebrates the life of Barangaroo, and the history and culture of the local area and its peoples.
“The project is about remembering and honouring Barangaroo, remembering the legacy she’s given us as women, about how we remember and maintain and honour our traditions,” says Grieves.
“It’s not a biography,” Reynolds says. “We’re continuing our culture against all the odds of colonisation, drawing strength from our old people and from each other, and holding our place in the present.”
The two artists have unearthed stories in consultation with the local people. Old Lady Barangaroo features strongly in both oral and written history, with stories of her tumultuous marriage to Bennelong; the tragic loss of her child and husband during the smallpox epidemic and her dealings with Lieutenant Dawes, who records in his diaries incidents of her bravery such as standing up to soldiers who were seen flogging an Aboriginal man.
Reynolds says: “That moment is a great moment of pride, and inspiration. She lay down the law and sometimes she negotiated it. She had an incredible resilience. So there are records that talk about her that we can learn a little bit more from as well.”
From the outset, the pair were keen to work collaboratively with local communities: sharing stories, songs and traditions that would ultimately feed into an inspiring work to be enjoyed by the broader public.
They were joined by award-winning cinematographer Bonnie Elliot (These Final Hours, Spear and The Turning) and the result is both visually stunning and moving.
In October 2016, Reynolds and Grieves put a call-out on social media and email asking Aboriginal women of Sydney to join them for a weekend workshop.
“It wasn’t just a job for us. It wasn’t just an art project,” explains Reynolds. “It was to try to call people together, to step up and do a job that could help others. And of course, it was to remember and honour Old Lady Barangaroo and what it means to be her namesake.”
They were gratified by the enthusiastic response. “We had so much interest we were worried we wouldn’t have enough room,” says Grieves.
In the end, they had women and children representing clans from greater Sydney, including Dharug, Dharawal, and Guringai. They camped for a weekend in a Girl Guides’ hall in the Ku-ring-gai bushland where they took part in weaving, dance and possum-skin drum workshops, telling stories and suggesting ideas that would go on to help shape the five films that make up Barangaroo Ngangamay.
In February 2017, the Australian Museum hosted a second workshop, during which more than 40 women gathered, contributing more stories and creating the possum drums used in the ceremonies accompanying Barangaroo Ngangamay’slaunch at Barangaroo Reserve on 11 March 2017.
“Just about everyone in the films was at the workshops. They became the foundation for how we went forward with the project,” says Grieves.
The artists consulted members of the local Gadigal and Cammeraygal communities and other members of the Eora Nation; in addition to researching various historical documents to inform the project.
Reynolds says: “Barangaroo was a strong culture and lore woman, a strong humanitarian of social justice. She was a powerful woman, a leader – who means a lot to everybody today: men, women and children. We want every single person who lives in Sydney to know these stories: the strength, the resilience and that extraordinary time and what people encountered.”
For the artists, the collaborative nature of the project will have a lasting impact.
“One of the most important things for us was that the community came together,” says Grieves. “Every person and every family carries something special: family connections, responsibility, knowledge, different life experiences. And some of our core values are around making sure we keep those spaces open so we can come together and recognise that in each other, take the time to listen.”
“We called our gathering a workshop but it was a gathering, a camp, a continuing of culture. It’s what our old people have always done,” says Reynolds.
Grieves says: “Barangaroo Reserve is a very strong cultural space already, obviously because of the layers and layers of history that exist here, but also the work that’s been done to create a landscape in terms of the plant life and trees. This site has great potential for gathering and coming together of cultural strengthening, for ceremony.”
Their work, Barangaroo Ngangamay, launched in Barangaroo Reserve on 11 March 2017.
Genevieve Grieves belongs to the Worimi nation of the NSW mid-north coast. She wears various hats including film-maker, educator, curator and oral historian. In 2010 she wrote and directed the award-winning documentary Lani’s Story for SBS about a young Aboriginal woman’s journey from victim to survivor; while her engaging five-channel video Picturing the Old People was exhibited in Australia and abroad and is held in collections with the Art Gallery of NSW and the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. Her video installation Remember, commemorating the lives lost in the horrific 1816 Appin massacre, forms part of With Secrecy and Despatch, an exhibition which opened at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in April 2016.
She says film is a particularly powerful medium because of its broad appeal and immediate impact.
“I love working in film because of the opportunity to see people. When you experience something on screen it’s a different emotional connection to hearing or reading it. And it’s a shared experience of knowledge and stories. But it’s also got a poetry, particularly for what Amanda [Reynolds] and I do which is to go into the past, be in the present, and move through time and place. It has a magic and poetry that allows us to represent these deep stories of place and culture.”
Amanda Jane Reynolds carries family heritage from Australia and other parts of the world, including Aboriginal (Karingai), African (US), Silesian and many British and Irish convicts.
Reynolds is a respected curator, cultural consultant and editor who runs the organisation Stella Stories, specialising in collaborations with communities, museums, galleries and heritage sites to produce stories, exhibitions, multimedia exhibitions and cultural programs. She has worked with the Australian Museum, National Museum of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive, among many others.
Reynolds also worked with the Australian War Memorial on a ground-breaking exhibition For Country: for Nation celebrating the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions to the Australian Defence Force. She runs workshops with the custodians of the possum skin cloak-making traditions.