While the National Gallery of Australia and the National Museum of Australia, in particular, have extensive displays of Aboriginal artwork and other artifacts there are not many places in Canberra which hold a decent collection of Aboriginal art that is for sale – at reasonable prices.
The Burrunju Art Gallery, tucked away (almost hidden) on the north-western shore of Lake Burley Griffin between the City centre and the National Arboretum is one such place. It houses a varied selection of outstanding hand-made Aboriginal artwork which, apart from a few display pieces, is all for sale. In fact, the primary stated purpose of the Gallery is to sell artwork and thus ‘provide local Aboriginal people with an opportunity to realise their dream of self- determination’.
The Gallery is a not-for-profit organisation meaning that most of the sales proceeds goes back to the artist who produced anything your might buy. There are currently around 40 artists linked to and selling work through the Gallery. The majority of the artists are local Canberra residents some of whom also work in the Gallery in administrative roles and/or create some of their artwork on the mezzanine level within the Gallery. Not being sure if I was allowed to or not, I gingerly ventured up to this level for a look but, alas, there were no artists in residence at the time of my visit.
In addition to the work of these local artists the Gallery also displays and sells work by artists from the Northern Territory, among other places.
The Gallery has strong links with the Northern Territory. The Huddleston family which opened the gallery in 2008 and continue to be actively engaged in its management and operation has strong connections to the Ngardi language group in the Roper River region of East Arnhem Land in the Territory. I spent some time reminiscing about my own time living in the Territory with the very affable Linda Huddleston who, in addition to producing art in her own right, works in the Gallery. While we discussed the family’s connection with the Northern Territory and the operations of the gallery we also, sadly, pondered as to how a shooting spree, resulting in the deaths of four innocent people, could have happened in Darwin, the capital city of the Territory, just a few days earlier.
In addition to a great selection of traditional and contemporary pictures on canvas the gallery also has for sale various other artwork including painted surfboards, didgeridoos, boomerangs, wooden carvings, glasswork, shirts and tops and painted hats, together with a selection of greeting cards, bookmarks and suchlike for those on a budget or seeking something smaller.
While there is surely something here to suit everyone’s taste there is no pressure or obligation to buy anything and viewing the artwork and having a chat with the wonderful staff is free of charge.
Outside, in the car-park area there are a number of carved and decorated totem poles which are worthy a look. Totem poles are frequently created and used in Aboriginal society to celebrate cultural beliefs through the recounting of familiar stories and legends, clan lineages, or notable events depicted on the poles. Others are carved purely for artistic effect.
From the Gallery there is a short walk (a couple of hundred metres) through an area of original temperate grassland down towards the Lake Burley Griffin foreshore . This protected grassland area is representative of what the whole of the Canberra region would have looked like in times past. While there are still lots of kangaroos and various types of lizards in the city area gone are the formerly abundant emus and bush turkeys. These were replaced by cattle and sheep when European graziers settled in the area in the mid to late 1800s which were, in turn, subsequently replaced by the buildings and parklands of the city we have today. The original grasslands, of Wet Tussock and Wet and Dry Kangaroo Grass, provided a bountiful hunting ground for Aboriginals, the local Ngunnawal people, who foraged in this area – typically using fire to flush animals out and at the same time stimulate new growth for future years and future generations.
Besides taxis there are (since May 2019 when the local bus service covering here, the National Zoo and Aquarium and the National Arboretum was very oddly scrapped) no public transport options for getting to the Art Gallery. Outside using a car there is a beautiful cycle path around Lake Burley Griffin which makes riding or walking from the city feasible and enjoyable options. While cycling will take less than 30 minutes walking will consume the best part of a couple of hours each way and would only be considered by those seeking to enjoy the lakeside walk in addition to visiting the Art Gallery.
Location:- 245 Lady Denman Drive, Canberra
Gallery Opening Hours:- Mon – Thurs 10am – 4pm – closed on public holidays.
This is my last CANBERRA – INNER NORTH review.
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