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Cummeragunja exhibition at Kaiela Arts

By Liz Mellino

An upcoming exhibition at Kaiela Arts in Shepparton will showcase the regional history and stories of the people who walked off Cummeragunja in 1939.

Footprints In The Sand, a collaboration exhibition, was compiled to show the actions of the Elders who paved the way for a positive future.

Compiled by Aunties Cynthia Hardie, Amy Briggs and Laurel Robinson, and artist Tammy-Lee Atkinson, the exhibition focuses on the walk-off from Cummeragunja, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in February this year.

On February 4, 1939, more than 150 residents of the Cummeragunja Reserve left in a mass walk-off in protest against the conditions and treatment they received, settling in northern Victoria across Shepparton, Echuca and Barmah.

‘‘The Aunties were born just after the walk-off at Mooroopna and my grandmother was on The Flats as well, so we’re looking at generations of the aftermath of the walk-off,’’ Ms Atkinson said.

‘‘We each did expressions of how we interpreted it.’’

With 21 pieces of artwork on display, Ms Atkinson said acrylic, sand and feathers were used to complete the works, which portrayed the artists’ own stories and interpretations from what they learned about the walk-off.

Opening next Thursday and running until the end of July, Ms Atkinson said the exhibition aimed to address a difficult time in history but one which also created positivity throughout the community.

‘‘We’re sharing our knowledge and our memories and our past to other people besides our indigenous community,’’ she said.

‘‘Hopefully it opens up that conversation, we left Cummeragunja for a reason because of a few people to find a better place, a free place.

‘‘We’re not doing it as a negative expression, we’re doing it as a happy and joyful thing.’’

Footprints in the Sand opens on Thursday, May 23, at 6pm at Kaiela Arts Shepparton. The exhibition will run until July 31.

Cynthia Hardie

Aunty Cynthia Hardie has seven pieces of artwork in the exhibition, with each depicting something she was told about the walk-off or something she remembers from her family members.

Aunty Cynthia said she was still in school when the Queen visited Shepparton in 1954, 15 years after the walk-off at Cummeragunja.

After the walk-off, many Aboriginal people settled at The Flats between Shepparton and Mooroopna.

There they built tin houses to live in, gathering material from an old tip at the site to provide a structure for their new homes.

Aunty Cynthia said her painting depicted these living arrangements on the day the Queen came to visit.

‘‘When the Queen came through Shepparton and was going to Mooroopna they put hessian on both sides of the road so they wouldn’t see the huts and they couldn’t see the Aboriginal people,’’ she said.

‘‘They did it because it was a shame to our council and the community.’’

‘‘I remember I was about 10 years old when this happened.’’

Amy Briggs

Aunty Amy will display five pieces of art in Footprints in the Sand, each looking back on the history of her ancestors.

‘‘I think it’s just a reflection of our people and what they went through to make a better life for us,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s looking back on that and the memories.’’

She is pictured (right) with one of her paintings which depicts families settling at The Flats in 1939 after leaving Cummeragunja.

The painting shows a distressed mother who left her home to come and live down by the river with her baby.

In the background is a number of people on the move, all looking for a new place to live and somewhere safe to stay.

While it was a difficult time for those involved, Aunty Amy said she remembered The Flats as a positive place, somewhere where she had many good memories as a child growing up.

‘‘I had family on The Flats when I was a child. I remember it as a happy time being a kid. We didn’t really worry, we just played, we were all together, it was good,’’ she said. ‘‘I remember the Sunday school, the teacher used to come down and ... she used to bring down baskets of fruit and I just remember it as a happy time.’’