Mulkun Wirrpanda / Fiona MacDonald: More Than Honeyed Words — 8 May to 12 June 2010

8 May to 12 June 2010

Mulkun Wirrpanda
is a renowned Yolngu artist from Blue Mud Bay in NE Arnhem Land and Fiona MacDonald is a balanda (non-Yolngu) artist from Sydney. Their fine and thoughtful works come together to confer on the resonance of symbolic actions on the shoreline and the ensuing miscommunication, misdeeds and corrections. Visual art is talk in many modes, especially metaphors and ironies. These are ‘true stories’ about cultural encounters and how words and images can be ‘honeyed’ in a good or bad way.

Mulkun Wirrpanda paints in order to educate about law, cultural values, consciousness and just title over land. She shows the seasonal cycles on her Dhuwa moiety clan estates on the vast plains of her Dhuruputjpi homeland, from freshwater cleansing of the salt flood plains to the sun’s first rays touching the waters. The balancing series is the diamond pattern of her mother’s country and the honey story cycle. Mulkun is the only remaining member of this clan. Mulkun Wirrpanda’s work is part of the breathtaking Yolngu installation of larrakitj (memorial poles) at the MCA as part of the 2010 Biennale of Sydney.



Fiona MacDonald’s series Drawing the line between Native and Stranger (2009), charts the shoreline where two vastly different civilisations met at Botany Bay, white Australia’s foundational site. In 1770, the Endeavour dropped anchor alongside local people fishing in bark canoes along a stretch of sand they called Kundall. The locality still wears the consequences of this extraordinary encounter and the ensuing contest for justice, ownership and management.

In this context, there is a resonance between the two sets of works in the 2008 High Court of Australia’s Blue Mud Bay judgment, a landmark decision for Indigenous people. It gives Mulkun Wirrpanda and other traditional owners of the region exclusive custodial rights over much of the intertidal coastline.

The title reference to ‘honeyed words’ comes from Justice Michael Kirby’s contribution to the Blue Mud Bay judgment: 'Although the National Apology was afforded on behalf of the Government of the Commonwealth, with support of the Opposition and other political parties, and reflects an unusual and virtually unprecedented parliamentary initiative, it does not, as such, have normative legal operation. … Yet it is not legally irrelevant to the task presently in hand. …. It is an element of the social context in which such laws are to be understood and applied, where that is relevant. Honeyed words, empty of any practical consequences, reflect neither the language, the purpose nor the spirit of the National Apology.' (In Northern Territory of Australia v Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust [2008] HCA 29 (30 July 2008.))

An overwhelming majority of Australians view Prime Minister Rudd’s broad National Apology to all Aborigines and the Stolen Generations for their 'profound grief, suffering and loss' as the high point of his first term in office. The National Apology promised a new start and ways of sharing the country and a way to conclude the unfinished business of reconciliation. Three years on, the exhibition platform considers Rudd's strong statements in the Apology as 'honeyed words'. The evidence is mounting that the ideological and politically opportunist NT Intervention is failing and lacks strong grassroots support and evidence of results.


Presented with thanks in association with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre Yirrkala, Australia.
Thanks also to Howard Morphy for guidance.