• "Eora fisherwomen caring for these waters was written out of history as they took those fish. Fishing was a woman's activity - and they took that." (NITV News)
Barangaroo was a woman before she was a location.
By
Laura Morelli

15 Jan 2018 - 2:54 PM  UPDATED 15 Jan 2018 - 3:07 PM

From Sydney city to the Western Suburbs, Blak Out is capturing Indigenous stories, art and traditions in unique forms.

For more than 40 years Sydney Festival has been showcasing culture through colourful displays be it song, dance, circus or visual arts, but as Wesley Enoch marks his second year as Festival Director, he says this time there's a bigger focus on how to connect with the wider Indigenous community.  

"Last year we called it the Indigenous program and I thought that was too dry so I thought what do we call ourselves when we’re all together? We call it a Blak Out."

In the heart of Sydney’s harbour at a place called Nawi Cove, lies an artwork that honours Aboriginal fisherwomen and celebrates the history of Barangaroo.

"The importance of Eora fisherwomen caring for these waters was written out of history as they took those fish. Fishing was a woman's activity - and they took that."

Four Thousand Fish is just one of the Indigenous art installations that Blak Out has to offer and Wiradjuri curator, Emily McDaniel says it's important to actively remind people about Australia's history, so the story's not forgotten.

"What we're doing here is every day we are returning four thousand fish back to the water because they never should have been taken in the first place."

In 1790 British colonists hauled in an excessive four thousand fish in just one day. At that time the population was just 1715 people. This disrupted the delicate ecosystem that the Eora fisherwomen of Sydney harbour had preserved for many years. They fished in their nawi canoes, they caught fish one by one using shell hooks and they'd cook them in their nawi's on a flame in a sustainable, respectful and connected manner.

What most people are unaware of is that it also undermined the women's main role as food providers for their families and communities. 

"This isn’t an Aboriginal story, it’s an Australian story and it’s having acceptance and responsibility to move on to create sustainable futures for this harbour." 

"The importance of Eora fisherwomen caring for these waters was written out of history as they took those fish. Fishing was a woman's activity - and they [British Colonists] took that." McDaniel explained. 

"Barangaroo was a woman before she was a location and what was recorded as anger – unexplained anger that she had towards the British colonists it wasn’t unjustified."

This art piece enables people from all different walks of life to celebrate Barangaroo and her efforts of rightfully returning the fish back to Sydney harbour through this practical art piece.

As you walk towards Sydney Harbour, you step onto a floating pontoon which leads you to a giant nawi (canoe). There's a coolerman which holds the banksia, better known as a 'bush torch', used to carry fire from one place to another. Throughout the art installation there's a visual translation of the history but McDaniel says you'll have to listen closely for one of the main highlights.  

"When you walk into the cutaway you are overwhlemed by the beautiful vocal of Lille Madden, a young Gadigal woman who has written a song in Sydney language - the language of her ancestors, recalling grandmothers, mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters who are in their boats singing to keep in time with their rowing."

McDaniel says the collaborative project tells people 'we are still having these conversations today, we haven't lost the memory of it'.

Enoch says through listening, learning and participating people will be able to grasp a better understanding of the stories from our past. 

"We ask people to come to the harbour, take water from the harbour and we freeze them into the shape of a fish and then that frozen water fish gets taken down and put into the nawi and through the nawi it melts back into the harbour as a way of returning four thousand fish back into the harbour."

If visitors take away just one thing from this art installation, McDaniel hopes people walk away feeling connected and responsible.

"This isn’t an Aboriginal story, it’s an Australian story and it’s having acceptance and responsibility to move on to create sustainable futures for this harbour." 

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