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Written by Dylan Mooney, Guest Author, First Nations Artist, 2022
My work in and about museums and their collections is an ongoing process of exploring my people’s histories. I have been working in these collections for a few years now, with my practice revolving around traditional Yuwi shields from Mackay, North Queensland.
A recent graduate from Queensland College of Art, I spent some time volunteering in museum collections while doing my Bachelor of Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art. It is here I was first introduced to these shields by Queensland Museum Curator Imelda Miller, Curator, Torres Strait Islander & Pacific Indigenous Studies. In the beginning, I was so intrigued by the shapes and colours of the shields and this motivated me to want to know more about them. How were the shields made? What wood was used? The size of the shields and how did people used them?
I was able to explore the museum collections more when I participated in a project called unsettle, a multi-arts project delivered by Digi Youth Arts as part of a long-term artist in residency at Queensland Museum. This project gave me the opportunity to work under the guidance of renowned Queensland-based Indigenous artists to examine the museum, and in particular these shields so I could better understand them. As a result of this work, I created two works on paper called, Away from Home #1 and Away from Home #2. The artworks shows two shields from my country (Mackay region) which have been brought in and stored in the museum for many years. I have chosen to draw these to show the connection these objects have to me and my family, since being in a large institution their connection has been broken from our people. I have redrawn up these shields to reclaim ownership back to my people and just trying to regain that connection. (Dylan Mooney, 2018)
Today, through my visual arts practice I continue to research shields from the Mackay region. This work led me to look at other museum collections around Australia, including the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, South Australian Museum in Adelaide and the Australian Museum in Sydney. I am focussed on finding out how many shields from the Mackay region are held in local, state and national institutions. So far I have be able to identify 14 shields that are from Mackay. These collections hold many stories for and about my people.
For example, I have been able to find out that, within the Mackay region our shields were called Gulmari and were made from the corkwood tree or kurrajong trees. They weren’t as large as rainforest shields and averaged to about 52cm in length and 23cm in width. These shields were decorated with incisions carved into the shields. The ones I have observed tend to only have black, maroon, yellow, brown and orange ochre painted on to them.
This has been an interesting journey for me mentally, physically, and spiritually. It’s a privilege to be able to sit with these objects in the collections and reflect on past events and the stories of my ancestors and how these objects came to be here in a museum. The curators and guardians of these objects have a huge responsibility. More importantly, having Indigenous Peoples look over these objects and care for them is comforting to us mob.
Going forward it is important for me to keep this relationship with museums so that I can still connect and interact with my people’s objects, so they are not alone. In reflection, I feel a responsibility to continue my work so I can continue to bring this information and stories to my family. This will help to connect and protect these stories and keep them alive and thriving for the future generations.
Dylan Mooney is a Yuwi man from Mackay, North Queensland, Torres Strait Islander from Darnley Island and Australian born South Sea Islander. Mooney’s practice includes digital illustrations, drawing and print- making and street art – inspired by history, culture, family history and community stories.
Mooney uses his art practice to share his stories of what it is like to be an Indigenous person in modern Australia. With his various mediums, Mooney captures the struggles and hardships First Nations peoples have gone through as well as highlighting stories of resilience and survival about how far Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander peoples and South Sea Islander peoples have come.