A High Place By The Sea By Kevin Butler
The name of this artwork is ‘A High Place By The Sea’. In Dharawal language Illawarra means ‘a high place by the sea’.
A message from the artist For three weeks in December 2010 I had the honor of being the resident artist at Thirroul Public School. During this time I worked with students from Kindergarten to Year 6 designing an Aboriginal artwork based on the local Dharawal people’s stories. I used a blend of traditional indigenous dot art and contemporary style. Many of the children came up with their own ideas for the mural as this is the area where they live and could therefore relate to the surroundings.
Aboriginal people say that we don’t own the land but that the land owns us. We are so fortunate that we live in such a beautiful place where we are surrounded by the mountains and the sea. This artwork tells a story with each panel depicting a different environment of the area.
This artwork starts in the mountains showing the trees, rocks and sky. As we stand in our playground at Thirroul Public School these are a visual reminder of the beauty of nature and how important it is in our lives. The earth is our mother and she is extending her nurturing arms around us. Nothing demonstrates this better than the mountains to our west and the ocean to the east.
This mural depicts where the escarpment starts with an image of rainforest, waterfall and an Illawarra Flame Tree. The lush, green trees are an essential part of the mural as they provide food and are the homes for many of the native wildlife. The mural gives a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.
After times of heavy rain many waterfalls can be seen along the escarpment. The waterfall signifies the importance of and the need for water. The survival of mankind and all animals depend on it.
The brilliant red leaves of the flame tree are a prominent part of the mural as this tree is indigenous to this area.
Many rocks feature in this mural as they are not only rocks but they also represent the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. In Aboriginal culture the Rainbow Serpent is the creator of all life.
Along the escarpment there are also ancient Aboriginal rock carvings. This gives the whole area a spiritual feeling that has been part of this land since the Dreaming.
The didgeridoo at the end of the Rainbow Serpent’s tail is a traditional Aboriginal ceremonial instrument whose haunting sounds could have been heard echoing along the escarpment in times past.
In the sky the grayish pathways represent the journey from earth to the ancestral beings of the afterlife. In the Aboriginal cultural these ancestral beings look down upon us, giving guidance in our everyday life.
The theme of the mural then flows down to Sandon Point. This was the resting place of the ancient Kuradji Man also known as The Clever Man. The Kuradji Man who once walked this land many thousands of years ago was discovered after the floods in August 1998. Until this date this had proved to be a perfectly undisturbed ceremonial grave of a man recognised by elders to be of great cultural significance.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is part of Illawarra contemporary history and it depicts the struggle of both Aboriginal and white Australians to acknowledge the cultural significance of this most sacred site. Next to the Tent Embassy the Aboriginal flag can be seen the flames of the sacred fire which is also a constant reminder of the cultural significance of the area. The smoke can be seen rising up into and becoming part of the brickwork behind the mural.
The panel depicting the ocean with its abundance of coral and marine life completes our modern day Dreamtime story.
We see dolphins and whales in the water along the coastline. The marine life was not only an important part of the Aboriginal food source with a number of middens situated in the surrounding land but it also has significant spiritual importance.
We all have a special connection with the ocean as many of us spend time there especially during the warmer months of the year. Whether it be making sand castles on the beach, fishing or swimming in the blue waters, we all have a special bond with the ocean.
As Kevin was putting the finishing touches, adding more smoke to the sacred fire to blend in with the markings on the brick wall he had some special visitors. Three white cockatoos walked past and each one of them, without stopping, turned their head to look at him. He felt as if this feathered trio had come to give their approval of the wonderful artwork produced by the students of Thirroul Public School.