Three bronze sculptures have been installed at Kurnell to mark the 250th anniversary of the first encounter between the Gweagal people, James Cook and the crew of the HMB Endeavour at Kamay Botany Bay in 1770.
The sculptures commemorate the meeting of two cultures and help to interpret the cultural heritage and significance of Kamay Botany Bay National Park.
The installation of these sculptures is a major component of the Kamay 2020 Project, a joint initiative by the Australian Government and the New South Wales Government. The Project supports interpretation and community education programs, provides new ways to learn about this place of historical importance, and delivers on the vision to recognise Kamay as a place of significance to all Australians.
Choosing the designs
In 2019, a range of sculpture design concepts were placed on public exhibition. In choosing the final designs the Kamay 2020 Project Board took community feedback into consideration, along with how well the designs included Indigenous Australian representation. The Project Board also sought designs that would provide a legacy for future generations to reflect on the important stories of the area.
The chosen designs are The Whales and The Canoes, two works designed by Gweagal artist Theresa Ardler and public artist Julie Squires, and The Eyes of the Land and the Sea, designed by Wadi Wadi and Walbanga artist Alison Page and Nik Lachacjzak.
Fabrication of the sculptures began off-site in early 2020. The La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council then conducted a smoking ceremony for each of the sculptures as they arrived on site. All three sculptures were installed in time for the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour crew stepping ashore on 29 April 1770.
The Eyes of the Land and the Sea
Alison Page and Nik Lachacjzak’s sculpture was created in collaboration with UAP Australia. The Eyes of the Land and the Sea, is described as an abstraction of the ribs of the HMB Endeavour and the bones of the Gweagal totem, the whale.
Each rib or bone has a different surface treatment, including carvings and text to represent the numerous layers of culture and history in Kamay Botany Bay. The carvings also describe the encounters at Kamay in 1770, inviting viewers to deeply engage with the diverse stories.
The artists worked closely with Gweagal artist Shane Youngberry and researchers at the Gujaga Foundation to develop the designs that have been engraved onto each rib.
Describing the meaning behind the sculpture, Page has explained that:
‘The Eyes of the Land and the Sea is a story about discovery. Not the discovery of land by England, but of all Australians discovering our true history as we move together towards a reconciled Nation.’
Wi-Yanga and Gurung (the Whales) and Nuwi (the Canoes)
Artists Theresa Ardler and Julie Squires, in partnership with ThinkOTS, have created two distinct sculptures: The Whales and The Canoes.
To create The Whales, the artists used foam to sculpt their shape, and carved the intricate details on the surface of the foam by hand. The work was then cast in bronze, creating each statue.
The Whales are based on Ardler’s painting on her Budbili, a possum skin cloak:
‘The story behind my Budbili is connected to the Sydney rock engravings of the mother humpback whale and her baby, out at La Perouse on the shores of Botany Bay. This engraving is a prominent landmark from my ancestors who carved the rock and continues to hold cultural and spiritual connection to our sea and country.’
A fishing net, also known as a ‘rock weave’, was woven by Aboriginal Master Weaver Phyllis Stewart, and cast into bronze by Squires. This additional piece sits alongside The Whales in Kurnell.
To create The Canoes Ardler and Squires had a locally made canoe or ‘nuwi’ cast in bronze. Explaining the story behind the canoes, Ardler stated:
‘the Gweagal Clan traditionally fished from stringy bark canoes. They lit fires in their canoes on a base of white clay. The firelight attracted fish to the canoe, making them easier to catch. During their ‘first contact’ observations, both Cook and Banks recorded this practice.’
Fish, traditional fishing paraphernalia and replica fire mounds can all be seen inside the nuwi sculptures.
More information on the commemorative sculptures and the Kamay 2020 Project can be found on the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website.