200 George Street

Ngarunga Nangama
Judy Watson

NGARUNGA NANGAMA : calm water dream
is the title given to the work by Uncle Allen Madden.

My main focus as an artist is to engage with the history of the site, particularly its Aboriginal history. Throughout this project I consulted with Uncle Allen Madden, Gadigal Elder, from Sydney.

The site connects with the history of the Tank Stream which runs parallel with George and Pitt Streets. My mother’s family are from the Waanyi Aboriginal language group of North West Queensland, known as ‘running water’ people. I have always been interested in bodies of water and their connection to Country. When I heard about the Sydney tank stream in connection with this site, I was immediately swimming through the space in my imagination. I researched and used the earliest images of this stream and Warrane (Warrang/Sydney Cove/Port Jackson), in the local Aboriginal (Gadigal) language. Some of the early maps of this place have been incised into the sandstone walls, infilled with red ochre and overlaid with imagery of washes, suggesting water. There are Gadigal and English words, and objects that are part of the history of Sydney, some of which have been excavated from the two wells that were beneath the ground at this site. There are lines of shells. These speak of the extensive Aboriginal shell middens which were collected by early colonists, and burnt for their lime which went into the mortar of the first stone buildings in Sydney. Some of this shell mortar is still evident around the Rocks, so Aboriginal culture is literally within the walls of the early architecture. I imagine all the shellfish that have been collected and swallowed and sense that when I go into one of these spaces, I too am swallowing culture. The theme of water continues throughout the space and into the night as the gobo lighting comes into play. When the light outside begins to fade there is a living water element floating through the space as light moves across the surface of the sandstone walls. It is a reflection of the water that lies beneath the ground, that connects all of us to this place. Some of the objects engraved within the sandstone are Bara, Aboriginal shell hooks, made from turbine shells, used for fishing. There is a large, round, granite form protruding from the wall that references a sizeable granite stone that was found in the tank stream. It is not conclusively known whether it is an Aboriginal stone pounder or a non – Aboriginal object that might have been used as a stopper. As there is no granite close by, so this large granite stone was transported here from elsewhere. Other objects referenced include Aboriginal Queen Cora Gooseberry’s breast plate. There are also images of Aboriginal dilly bags, necklaces and spear heads from Port Jackson that are now in the collection of the British Museum. I see the incorporation of these elements as a form of cultural retrieval. From the Chinese well I have included images of the I-ching and pottery shards. The ceramic shapes run in a line down the left side of the inner wall leading to the corridor containing the lifts on the Western Elevation. They resemble observations of the moon calendar. On the right side of the inner wall are a scattering of objects found in the second well from the site.

I want people to feel a connection to history and memory and awash with the water of the tank stream.

Please click here to read more on the artist rationale, concept detail and artwork application for NGARUNGA NANGAMA : calm water dream by Judy Watson.