7 June 2023

Whale sculpture tells story of Dharawal people's cultural connection to Windang Island

| Kellie O'Brien
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A new public artwork, titled Burri Burri, was unveiled at Windang

A new public artwork, titled Burri Burri, was unveiled at Windang on Monday with Shellharbour City Council Mayor Chris Homer, artist Nicole Talbott, Dr Jodi Edwards, sculptor Julie Squires and Chelsea Flood from Hanson Construction in attendance. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

A two-metre bronze artwork of a whale on the Lake Illawarra Art Trail was unveiled during National Reconciliation Week, making it the biggest investment in a single piece of public art by Shellharbour City Council.

Council invested $135,000 to commission the artwork at Reddall Reserve, Lake Illawarra, titled Burri Burri, meaning ‘whale’ in local Dharawal language.

It was unveiled following a Reconciliation Flag Walk from Warilla with students from 32 local schools, along with a smoking ceremony, dance and official exchange of flags with elders, civic leaders, community and school flag bearers.

Four women collaborated on the art project – local Yuin educator and former Shellharbour Woman of the Year Dr Jodi Edwards, Gweagal Dharawal artist and educator Theresa Ardler, Dharawal artist Nicole Talbott and sculptor Julie Squires.

Jodi said the Burri Burri artwork was based on ‘Gun-man-gang’, a local dreaming story that tells of the creation of Windang Island and how the cultural custodians came to be in the Illawarra.

The bronze sculpture also features two large bronze ‘coolamons’, designed to be used as seats.

Coolamons were traditionally used by Aboriginal women to carry water and food, and to cradle babies.

“This is a women’s project on matriarchal Country, so we wanted to make sure we represented women,” she said.

“I wanted to privilege Aboriginal women artists where possible, so Nicole, Theresa and myself are all Dharawal cultural custodians through kinship.

“The whale is a significant totem for us.”

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She said the idea came to her after the installation of five aluminium crustaceans into Reddall Reserve.

“I’ve been watching the art trail grow and there was really no cultural aspect to it,” Jodi said.

“So when I found out this was the next area for an art installation, I thought this was the perfect location because of its proximity to Windang Island.

“It’s about its location to the entrance to the lake and the significance of the story, because this is where the Dharawal people actually came in. That’s the connection to the Gun-man-gang story.

“I hope now people see the beauty and understand the story. It’s bringing our cultural connection, and connection to Country, into a tangible form.”

Whale sculpture on the Shellharbour Art Trail

The Burri Burri (whale) artwork is based on a local dreaming story that tells of the creation of Windang Island and how the cultural custodians came to be in the Illawarra. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme was “be a voice for generations” and looks to tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation for the generations to come.

Shellharbour City Council Mayor Chris Homer said everyone had a part to play in reconciliation.

“Working towards a reconciled community and country involves being brave, speaking up, and making changes in our daily lives – where we work, live and socialise,” Cr Homer said.

“Recognising, honouring and protecting the history and Aboriginal culture of Shellharbour City is an integral part of strengthening connection to the place we call home, and to one another.”

He said the council was committed to reconciliation and healing with First Nations people, with Burri Burri being a continuation of the work with the Yirran Muru play space opened at the Shellharbour Civic Centre earlier this year.

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Visitors to the whale at the play space will be able to scan a QR code to find the bronze whale on the Windang foreshore.

“The community is very happy we’ve given our words, but our deeds are what’s really counting right now through our public outdoor art spaces and that’s what I’m really proud of,” he said.

The project was sponsored by Hanson Construction, which included supplying stone from Dharawal Country to create the boulder the artwork rests on.

The Lake Illawarra Art Trail, along with heritage trails around the area, can be found on the Tread Shellharbour App.

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