Taking back the narrative

Maryann Weston 9 November 2017

Cultural sites identified at Ukerbarley which is part of the Warrumbungle National Park. Photo courtesy of CETA.

Artist and Gamilaroi woman Paris Norton is leading a project that is unearthing history in previously inaccessible country using drone technology and, in the process, allowing the Indigenous community to document and tell its own history.

Paris and Wiradjuri/Maori artist Dylan Goolagong were recently in Goulburn at the invitation of Southern Tablelands Arts (STARTS) to speak about the Contemporary Environment Culture Arts (CETA) project and to run a workshop with local students from Mulwaree High School.

CETA also uses sound recording, 3D printing, electronics, and robotics technology to map historical cultural practice and then explore findings with the local community, connecting them to culture, past and present. Following consultation, the results are then represented in various art forms including sound, film, 3D multi-media and photography.

“Using technology we are able to control our own narrative. CETA is community driven and inclusive. Everyone can be a part of technology,” 25-year-old Paris said.

“The issue in the past has been the inaccessibility of Aboriginal sites. Working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Coonabarabran and using drone technology, we have been able to access paintings, engravings, burial sites and evidence of long-term living,” Paris said.

“We also wanted to involve our Elders who may be physically restricted from accessing these sites, and so CETA was born. Using arts has enabled us to link people with their cultural heritage.”

A potent outcome has been the engagement of young Aboriginal people with their culture.

“Young people have been able to find their Aboriginality and identify with the past and the present, and learn about how they fit into the community because they’ve been able to identify a continuity of culture. And we’ve been able to give them the tools to continue that story,” she said.

The CETA pilot was implemented in Coonabarabran at the historic property of Ukerbarley which is now part of the Warrumbungle National Park.

“Ukerbarley is significant to the Gamilaroi people and only 40 percent of the property has been explored. We have documented 19 cultural sites so far,” Paris said.

Aboriginal culture is the oldest living culture in the world today. Buried tools and pigments recently found at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia, tell a history of Aboriginal occupation in Australia which began 65,000 years ago. Yet so much of Australia’s Indigenous cultural heritage is yet to be told.

Artist and Gamilaroi woman Paris Norton was recently in Goulburn at the invitation of Southern Tablelands Arts (STARTS) to speak about the Contemporary Environment Culture Arts (CETA) project. Photo courtesy of Paris Norton.

“I’m originally from Coonabarabran and I was exposed to my cultural heritage growing up however CETA has been able to give the community the physical evidence they belong here – a sense of place,” she said.

CETA is an Orana Arts project and has been funded by Create NSW. The project has recently received a grant from the Indigenous Languages and Art Fund to extend the project to Mudgee, Wellington, and Nyngan.

“We want to be able to take CETA to other areas and other communities and eventually take the project nationally,” Paris said.

“Each community we visit will have different ideas on how their history should be told and presented through art and technology. It won’t be our ideas, but theirs and in this way the project is inclusive.”

Once the history has been recreated using art and technology, exhibitions are then curated at museums and galleries, allowing the wider public to participate and engage in Aboriginal history.

“CETA creates a large platform for communities to tell their stories. We are also exploring the non-Indigenous history of Ukerbarley and paying our respects to the former owners of the property who were dedicated to preserving the cultural history of the property.”

Technology has enabled many positive outcomes, including as a way to boost confidence in young Aboriginal people.

“When we visited Mulwaree High School in Goulburn the students were hooked on the technology and were more interested in talking about culture as a result,” she said.

“They understand technology and robotics. CETA awoke their self-expression and provided a sense of confidence.”

Paris has a background in photography and is a practising multi-media artist. She has exhibited at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Sydney, the Western Plains Cultural Centre and the Underbelly Arts Festival.

She currently works for Orana Arts Inc in Dubbo, facilitating community-led arts projects. You can read more about CETA here.

For information on upcoming arts events and activities, visit STARTS.

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