Lorraine Connelly Northey
Lorraine Connelly Northey talks about her art, and the way her mixed heritage informs her practice: as she takes traditional forms and materials such as the coolamon and ochre, and combines them with materials such as scrap iron, and wire netting.
Lorraine Connelly Northey is a Waradgerie woman, born in Swan Hill. Her work, seen as reinterpreting traditional forms as post-colonial objects, has been widely exhibited.
-This is a exciting material, and all it is is the boring, old fly wire gauze. And it's been rusted, of course. Look at the back part of this piece of work. It even has the beautiful edges of where a window frame once was attached to it.
I think the beauty is that the gauze is where we have all these beautiful square holes, and so that quite attracts me that it's just wo-- you know, I see the beautiful weave in this, the warps and the weft of things. So although I make many other different kinds of shapes to do with traditional Aboriginal society, I quite like the bag, because these were the kind of items that I'd once was looking to make, you know, with plant material to weave.
And then the other exciting thing is the pieces of mesh-- particularly old pieces of mesh, mesh sheeting. And so they have all of these different, wonderful shapes in them. But this one has really nice, again, squares, but they're bigger squares. It's a finer wire than the gauze, but yeah, I think that that makes a beautiful bag, that one.
This is another nice piece of, like, mesh sheeting. And so to find a nice piece like that, again, you know, I can imagine there's been a lovely effect of a finished product if I had of woven that. I've actually tried to keep the edges not so, perhaps, boring, but trying to hold onto the nice rugged, roughness of an edge. There's two different bowl shapes that gatherers would have used, but here I've actually made the oval shaped bowl, or as my mum's people would call it, a coolamon.
This is a nice piece to show, and also show in a different shape as well. That this is obviously not a coolamon. It's more of the bowl shape that you and I know. So this is actually called a gall or a burl, and this actually grows as a clump on a tree.
You see these big, black kind of knobby clumps hanging off river red gums in particular. And so if we thought that they'd hung off me, the Aboriginal people would come along and cut that off me as a tree trunk. And they'd actually place hot coals inside this bowl to burn out all the rubbish inside.
Burls and galls were quite often used as, like, storage bowls. Very heavy, so they're not the kind of thing you'd want to be carting around. Once there was a sheet of mesh, and how beautiful the patterns have a wonderful, like, club kind of pattern that alternates with the circular pattern. It's a great find, and will I ever find another piece like that? I don't know.
While being raised on the weekends out in the elements, out in the Mallee near the river, our dad also allowed us to collect other kinds of things-- for example, feathers. But we also had rules about that, like, we weren't allowed to go and shoot a bird. But we tended to collect feathers that were blowing around.
So I've had this great idea that although I quite like the rawness of the tins and the irons and the wires, I also thought that I could utilize them to add another element to the pieces that I was making. And so here we actually have a feather as a fringe on a bag, and this feather is actually of an emu feather.
The gatherers successfully supply the whole family with 85% of the food. And so she's reliable, because the things that she actually gathers are very much rooted into the ground. Like, plants have roots so they're stable-- it's not like the men who are going hunting for a kangaroos that may not even be there when they get there, then they have to be able to get them.
And so as a gatherer, she's acquired this wonderful knowledge. And by the time she's a young woman, she's quite skillful at what she does. So I'm looking for all sorts of different steel to represent the digging stick. Because with that, and with a woman's knowledge, she can actually dig, dig the ground for food such as like yams or frogs.
Many sticks are actually basically a stem of a plant. There's a plant. This is the root system down here and the top of the plant.
And what will happen is, people actually try to dig a little bit of the root system, or the bulb of a root there, and trim off at the top of the stem and place that stick upside down, and now we have that nice knobby part on the top. But that bit of knob gives actually weight, and gives you that oomph in your stick. So women who are actually with a nice, fine point on them actually dig and they're actually basically loosening the ground.
So the ground is only loosened and it doesn't have the yam out yet. This wonderful shape of a coolamon or a bowl that gatherers used, this is a great shape to actually dig into the loosened ground and scoop it out and scoop it away. And then to carry her foods in, she's actually has a bag. And so a string bag, a bag made of string, of plant fiber, is very collapsible.
That's the idea of a string bag, because there are baskets in her bags. So baskets have more of a solid form. Certainly like this bag here I've made represents more of a basket that is not collapsible, that is quiet in its shapes-- it's restricted.
So with those kind of tools and implements, the gatherer becomes quite a powerful part of a family. And then going back to camp, she has all these kind of storage containers that we talked about-- the burls and the galls. So these become these wonderful containers that are represented here in galvanized corrugated iron.
These two here, these are the same kind of materials. This is from the bottom piece of a cockey's fence. It's quite open wide that people refer to as chook wire. But in fact, it's actually rabbit proofing a fence, so it's rabbit-proof wire. When you can see the open holes quite clearly where I've used his shape to show a burl or an gall which becomes a storage container.
And I've also looked at things like the work, the work that goes into a gatherer. So she becomes a sewer, a manufacturer of making needles, sewing cloaks and the like, and also lots of grinding goes on. Particular like mum's people again, this is the people growing seeds. They're quite equipped with pieces like this, a grindstone. The bottom piece is stone. The slab matches the stone above, and then whatever's in between becomes ground.
So these would, for mum's people, would actually be seeds from grasses. And then they also had quite big, long slabs as big as surfboards, but they're called grind slabs that they would actually also have another piece like a rolling pin that they could actually go up and down, work up and down the board and grind lots of things at a very quick pace. So you have to think about if you have tribes or groups, families or clans, maybe 300 people, some might be 3,000 people, some clans may have 30,000 people. So a lot of hands, a lot of work, a lot of grinding.