• Jonathan Jones outside of Hyde Park Barracks. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Hyde Park Barracks Museum has reopened to visitors, and revealed a huge new art installation by Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones.
Keira Jenkins

23 Feb 2020 - 2:41 AM  UPDATED 23 Feb 2020 - 2:41 AM

As Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks Museum reopens its doors to the public, a massive new installation from Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones has been unveiled at the space's forecourt.

Visitors will be encouraged to watch their footsteps as they encounter and engage with the artwork, which spans 2,500 square metres.

Mr Jones said the stones that make up the artwork were shipped in from Wiradjuri country, with permission from the local Gadigal Elders.

"It's been an enormous project, with 60 tonnes of material brought onto site and put in place by hand, creating about 2,500 of the prints right across the whole forecourt," he told NITV News.

"In a way creating a sort of carpet for the living cultural memory for the building itself to sit on."

The stones are arranged in the pattern of emu prints, and the convicts broad arrow.

Mr Jones said this double meaning is something he wants visitors to think about.

"Like a lot of Aboriginal people I've been brought up to recognise the emu as an important symbol of fatherhood," he said.

"They're one of those very few animals that once the mum lays the eggs, the dad looks after the babies. He incubates those eggs and brings them up.

"Emus have always been an important symbol of what it means to be a strong father and what it means to be a good role model in our community. 

"But that sort of sits oddly in contradiction with that convict arrow. That convict arrow is all about the empire. 

"It's actually known as the king's broad arrow, which is a symbol that marks every bit of property that the king owns.

"When you go through the collections everything has this little arrow marked on it that says that it's property of the king.

"Convicts, the whole colonial project was marked with this symbol in Sydney because it was owned by the king and part of that very western idea of masculinity that there's one guy at the top and the rest of us are doing his work.

"It's a real shift in how we understand manhood. It's a real shift in how we see the role of men in this country because for 60,000 years we've had men looking at emus and thinking about being good fathers and then 200 years we have this extraordinarily aggressive and violent population of men dumped here in this country that wreaks havoc in our community.

"We're still coming to terms with that today, we're still trying to repair from that extraordinary violence that we experienced."

Mr Jones said while the colonial buildings of the Hyde Park Barracks often hold a negative meaning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - a memory of the effect of colonisation - he hopes his installation can go some way to welcoming Indigenous people into the space and opening a dialogue about the country's history.

"I think one of the biggest issues is that mainstream Australia doesn't understand that for Aboriginal people these buildings represent extraordinary violence, and extraordinary hardship" he said.

"So how do we get the rest of Australia to understand that and to know that this building isn't just a historical landmark, it's actually a symbol of violence for us and it represents the intrusions on our country, it represents violence against our women, it represents extraordinary hardships.

"This work is really trying to open people's minds up so that this building can mean multiple things, one symbol of the broad arrow and the emu footprint has these multiple meanings.

"These multiple meanings exist and we should be okay with these conflicting ideas and they're a way of us coming together."

While Mr Jones encouraged people to walk on the work, and notice what their steps do to the pattern, he's also pleased to know that the materials will remain in place.

"Part of the Hyde Park Barracks refurbishment was always to refurbish the forecourt with gravel and that really was the catalyst for the project, this idea of how can we integrate a process and a material that was already on site," he said.

"We as Aboriginal people walk really gently on country and we try to work with spaces, not against them. It was about trying to think of this as embedding itself in the site.

"What really appealled to me was this work will never leave. The rocks will actually never leave. At the end of the project it's not like they're going to skim these rocks off and find new ones, these will actually stay embedded in the site so the memory of this artwork will always be here."

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