NERAM has received $98,800 from the federal government to take one of its most confronting exhibitions, Myall Creek and Beyond, on tour around New South Wales and Queensland.
The award-winning 2018 exhibition commemorated the 1838 massacre of nearly 30 Aboriginal tribespeople during the Frontier Wars. It used the vision of First Nation artists to explore the complex and sensitive issue, director Rachael Parsons and curator Belinda Hungerford said.
Myall Creek is one of 13 exhibitions sharing $1.9 million from Visions of Australia, a federal government program that finances the development and touring of significant cultural material. The NERAM exhibition was chosen because of strong support from the Indigenous community, and the quality of the work.
The University of the Sunshine Coast Art Gallery, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, and Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery are among seven QLD, NSW, and ACT venues interested in showing the exhibition.
One comment from 2018, Ms Parsons and Ms Hungerford remembered, was that every Australian should see the exhibition, learn about the history, and consider what it meant for them and their community.
"This funding will let us expand the reach of this exhibition as broadly as possible," Ms Parsons said. "We're very excited that other communities are going to be able to see it."
Eleven white stockmen murdered at least 28 unarmed Wirrayaaray women, children, and old men at Myall Creek Station on June 10, 1838. Seven culprits were hanged at Sydney Gaol - the first British subjects executed for killing Indigenous people. A memorial was unveiled at the site in 2000, and a commemorative service held every year.
For the 180th anniversary, NERAM, the Friends of Myall Creek Memorial, Armidale Aboriginal Keeping Place, the University of New England, and Beyond Empathy spent two years developing a four-day programme, including an exhibition by eight leading Indigenous artists at NERAM; a symposium at UNE; community workshops; talks; and a publication.
More than 1000 people attended a memorial service at the site of the massacre. For those present, Ms Parsons said, one of the most moving aspects was a meeting between the victims or survivors' descendants and the descendants of the perpetrators.
"There's an aspect of apology, but also an aspect of forgiveness," Ms Parsons said. "This is the basis that the memorial and the Friends of Myall Creek committee build reconciliation from. You need to acknowledge what happened; you have to be truthful and confront that history - but you also have to try to forgive, understand, and move on - together."
The general public, school children, Indigenous people, and academics saw the exhibition. Some people had never heard of the massacre before the exhibition; others were heavily invested in that history and its telling of that history, Ms Parsons said.
Some of the artworks, Ms Parsons said, are confronting. "The contents are explicit; they talk exactly about what happened, and it's not an easy event to discuss." Others take a broader, slightly more abstract and conceptual approach.
"Art can discuss something that might be difficult," Ms Parsons said. "There are aspects of trauma and uncovering hard truths, but [this exhibition] does it in a sensitive way that you can enter from multiple perspectives. As opposed to reading a history or being lectured to, these [artworks] make people think about or look at these events in a slightly different way. That's the power of this project."
Myall Creek and Beyond won the Museums and Galleries National Award for an Indigenous Project last year, and artist and guest curator Bianca Beetson received the first Aboriginal Culture, Heritage & Arts Association (ACHAA) special award for excellence.