My Country: This land is mine / This land is me


The opening two verses of this epic song about Australian life, by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly, provide an insightful glimpse into a critical dichotomy in Australian history and society — a dichotomy that is at the heart of the 2013 exhibition ‘My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia’.

This land is mine
All the way to the old fence line
Every break of day
I’m working hard just to make it pay
This land is mine
Yeah I signed on the dotted line
Campfires on the creek bed
Bank breathing down my neck
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away from me

This land is me
Rock, water, animal, tree
They are my song
My being’s here where I belong
This land owns me
From generations past to infinity
We’re all but woman and man
You only fear what you don’t understand
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away from me 

Vincent Serico, Wakka Wakka/Kabi Kabi peoples, Australia 1949-2008 / Carnarvon collision (Big map) 2006 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / 203 x 310cm / Purchased 2007. QAG Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Vincent Serico

The first verse, sung by Kelly, describes a white Australian’s experience tirelessly working a piece of mortgaged land to make a living so he can come to call it his own. The second, by Murri musician Carmody, voices his people’s immutable spiritual and physical connection to the very same place over thousands of years. Both make an unflinching claim over this land by jointly declaring, ‘They won’t take it away, They won’t take it away, They won’t take it away from me’, and asks if either claim is more legitimate than the other. In the exhibition, the artists present their own claims, countering existing ideas about history, place and society in contemporary Australia.

‘My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia’ presents stories and experiences from artists of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage2 that form part of a wider Australian narrative. The exhibition’s title recalls perhaps the best-known, ‘unofficial’ Australian anthem — Peter Allen’s ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ (1980). The song has been ‘owned’ by Australians and Australian corporations, yet the lyrics relate to a fairly specific section of Australian society — travellers and expatriates reminiscing about, and trying to re-establish links with home.3 Once part of a QANTAS ad campaign, one version featured an Indigenous children’s choir singing in Kala Lagaw Ya — the language of the people of the western Torres Strait Islands — even though most Indigenous Australians do not identify with homesick expatriates in Rio, New York or London.

The title, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, also references the remix ‘Still Call OZ Home’ and blog post by Aboriginal hip-hop group The Last Kinection.4 This remix stemmed from their divergent experiences with the overriding philosophies of the original — their history and their exposure to elements of racism in sections of Australian media and society compelled them to contribute this poignant verse:

They invaded, degraded and polluted our land,
Stole all the children and raped our women,
But no matter how long or how far I roam,
I still call Australia home.

Their lyrics give new meaning to the phrase ‘I still call Australia home’. They declare that we, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, have survived, we have not gone away, and this is still our land: ‘We still call Australia home’.

Finally, the exhibition title also considers the idea of country. ‘My country’ is a declaration used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and people across the entire continent to refer to the homelands their ancestors lived on before colonial processes and conflict caused their removal or exodus. It refers to the place their spiritual being and the essence of their identity still belong. Aboriginal artists often title their works My country — it is a simple yet unflinching statement about their land, where they are from, where they belong. In this exhibition it is a rallying call uniting all country that makes up Black Australia; but it also refers to the constructed nation — also now our country.

‘My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia’ examined strengths within the Queensland Art Gallery collection of Indigenous art and recognised three main central themes: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander versions of history; responses to contemporary politics and experiences; and connections to place. These themes were expressed in the three main Gallery spaces as the visual chapters: ‘My history’, ‘My life’ and ‘My country’.

Bruce McLean is former Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA
‘This land is mine / This land is me’ is an extract from the 2013 exhibition catalogue ‘My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia’ by Bruce McLea

1 Paul Kelly, Kev Carmody and Maireah Hanna, ‘This Land is Mine’, from One Night the Moon [soundtrack], MusicArtsDance films, Sydney, 2011.
2 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage, rather than Australian or Indigenous Australian artists.
3 See QANTAS Advertising webpages: ‘This hugely popular campaign ran from 1997 to 2009 and used Peter Allen’s Australian classic “I Still Call Australia Home”. The song was performed by the Sydney Children’s Choir, the Australian Girls’ Choir and National Boys Choir, as well as the Gondwana National Indigenous Children’s Choir. Taken from
4 ‘Full story behind why we wrote “Still Call Oz Home”’, blog/417380956. ‘Still Call Oz Home’, The Last Kinection, (2007).

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islander peoples, and Elders past and present. In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians, as the first visual artists and storytellers, make to the art and culture of this country. It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.