5 December 2023

War Memorial joins with Legacy to showcase strength of Indigenous women through art

| Sally Hopman
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Woman standing in art installation

Artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey stands amid her art installation – 100 coolamon or bush bowls – which has been acquired by the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

A contemporary artwork, which showcases the strength and resilience of Indigenous women as soldiers, mothers, wives, daughters, aunties and cousins, has been acquired by the Australian War Memorial (AWM), to mark 100 years of Legacy.

The striking work by Waradgerie woman Lorraine Connelly-Northey is made up of 100 coolamons, which are also known as bush bowls and fashioned from salvaged metal. Coolamons are used in Indigenous communities across Australia to prepare and share food, and symbolise the importance of nurturing and kinship.

Ms Connolly-Northey is a leading Australian sculptor who has exhibited nationally and undertaken many public commissions. Most recently, she was commissioned by the Art Gallery of NSW to create a work for the 20-metre-long window of the Yiribana Gallery at the entrance to the Sydney Modern. In 2021, her work was celebrated in the major exhibition Found and Gathered at the National Gallery of Victoria alongside the work of late Australian sculptor Rosalie Gascoigne.

The artist said she took her inspiration from the Mallee and Riverina bush environments of north-western Victoria where she grew up, with her installations often relating to the history and culture of the Waradgerie and her personal connections to the land.

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“Coolamons are traditional Aboriginal implements used to winnow native grass seeds into flour for seedcakes to feed the protectors of our Country and abroad including Aboriginal soldiers who fought for freedom, one for every year of Legacy’s history,” Ms Connolly-Northey said.

She used salvaged materials, often associated with European settlement and industrialisation of the land, to make the sculptural work, also using weaving techniques associated with Indigenous culture and the forms of cultural objects, such as coolamons.

Director of the AWM Matt Anderson said the work linked Indigenous communities, Legacy and the War Memorial, describing it as a powerful reminder of the Legacy promise to care for families of veterans.

Head of Art at the AWM Laura Webster said as Ms Connelly-Northey was one of Australia’s most important contemporary artists, the Memorial was delighted to have her newest work in the national collection.

“This work increases the representation of the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children in the Memorial’s collection,” she said.

Curators install large artwork

Curators install the work by Lorraine Connolly-Northey at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

“When displayed in the gallery, the scale and beauty of Lorraine’s work will engage visitors encouraging a broader understanding and acknowledgment of the role of women in caring and supporting families affected by war.”

The 100 coolamons represent a range of hues and textures, which reflect the different soils of Waradgerie Country, speaking to the significance of Country to Indigenous families.

Legacy Chairman, Eric Easterbrook OAM, said: “This sculpture is a way to recognise the centenary of Legacy in Australia and ensure that it encapsulated everything that Legacy stands for and its connection with the Australian War Memorial. This is no better demonstrated than with this striking Indigenous artwork.”

Legacy started in the aftermath of World War I through a promise to help veterans’ families carry on with their lives after the loss or injury of loved ones. Today, 100 years on, Legacy supports 40,000 partners and children through essential medical, financial, developmental and social support for their families.

The artwork was commissioned with the support of Legacy and benefactors, the John and Anna Belfer Trust, Wesley Browne OAM and Sari Browne OAM, to acknowledge the connection with Legacy and returned service personnel.

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