We start with the First Australians


Telling the Story of Australian Art

The second in our series on your Australian Art Collection reimagined, we focus on the major commission from Dale Harding, descendent of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples of central Queensland, who has been inspired by the significant galleries of rock art around his country near Carnarvon Gorge. One of five exciting commissions for the re-presentation of the Australian Art Collection, four of which are by contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists,1 Harding’s work reminds us of the existence of thousands of years of Aboriginal art history. As curator Bruce McLean noted during the planning of the new display:

Aboriginal painting represents at least 99 per cent of the timeline of Australian painting, and Harding’s works have attempted to address that fact through an engagement with contemporary art . . . The work also highlights the existence of [rock art] galleries as epicentres of cultural reverence for millennia throughout the Australian landscape, many of which are today concealed from our view.

The commission also points to post-European contact, in terms of trade, ingenuity and adaptation: working with family members, the artist has used a bright blue pigment reminiscent of the Reckitt’s Blue pigment originally used to brighten white laundry. One of the first introduced products highly valued by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Reckitt’s Blue was traded widely along the colonial frontier. Used as a paint, the pigment was quickly adopted by many who previously only had access to an earthy ochre palette. Today, shields, clubs and boomerangs featuring the vibrant blue colour can be found in museums throughout the country and are a reminder of this moment of early exchange. At the same time, Indigenous peoples were being forced from their lands, and an involuntary shift into domesticity on pastoral stations occurred: Harding’s wall painting highlights the complexities of these early points of contact through his blue-stencilled images of tools.

Dale Harding’s work was commissioned with funds from anonymous donors through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation.

1 Harding is joined by Alick Tipoti (Kala Lagaw Ya people), Daniel Boyd (Kudjla/Gangalu people), Sonja Carmichael, and non-Indigenous artist Helen Johnson.

Dale Harding working on his commission, inspired by rock art

Dale Harding working on his commission, inspired by rock art / Photographs: Chloe Callistemon © QAGOMA

DELVE DEEPER INTO your australian ART collection

Dr Kyla McFarlane, Australian Art, QAGOMA