'Bennelong had a Point' 2012 by Black Douglas (Adam Hill) and Hugh Ramage.  Photo by Sam Birch.

Bennelong had a Point

‘Time flies’, the proverb proclaims, and indeed it seems a year could not possibly have passed since the Sydney Opera House celebrated its 40th birthday and we commemorated the occasion with a blog post highlighting the landmark and the Museum’s purchase of two very rare protest posters associated with Jørn Utzon’s dismissal from its construction.  Yet today, the iconic cultural centre yet again marks its birthday – this time with significantly less fanfare than last year’s milestone warranted – and we, with unexpectedly impeccable timing, are again able to announce an exciting development to mark the occasion.

The Sydney Opera House pictured around the time of its 38th birthday in October 2011. Photo Dean Golja, National Museum of Australia.

The Sydney Opera House pictured around the time of its 38th birthday in October 2011. Photo Dean Golja, National Museum of Australia.

The development that I boast of is the recent installation of a monumental artwork titled ‘Bennelong had a Point’ in the Bennelong Point exhibit of the Museum’s Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery.  Commissioned by the Museum in 2012, the striking sculpture was created by urban Indigenous Australian artist Black Douglas (a.k.a. Adam Hill) and Hugh Ramage. A Sydney-based painter, cartoonist, illustrator and keen advocate of social justice, Douglas engages directly through his work with the political conditions of Australia’s contemporary Indigenous society, creating dialogues about colonisation and assimilation.

In ‘Bennelong Had a Point’, Douglas references Indigenous understandings of Bennelong Point – originally the home of the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation – as a contested site symbolising Aboriginal dispossession. In the process, the peninsula’s most famous modern resident – indeed the one its identity has become synonymous with – is unmistakably referenced and not spared reinterpretation. According to Douglas, the iconic Sydney Opera House personifies ‘the very ethic of the British Colonial… The structure is ‘white’, it’s large and bold … and it “juts out” as if the bow of a tall fleet ship’.

In the sculpture, the referenced sails of the Opera House loom over painted branches and a blue gum block that recall the bush that once covered the greater Sydney region, while the contour-like designs reference the ceremonial carvings (dendroglyphs) made on trees. The shelled box evokes shell middens and shellwork souvenirs sold by Aboriginal women at La Perouse, Botany Bay, in the 1880s.  And the Aboriginal ‘Neville and Nolene’ figures, typical of those found in suburban gardens around the time the Opera House was completed, represent ‘a form of token material sentimentality’ that Douglas compares to the naming of Bennelong Point after an Aboriginal man who had actually spent a good part of his life elsewhere.

The man he of course refers to is Woollarawarre Bennelong, an Aboriginal man who served as an interlocutor between the colonists and the Eora. Having helped the newcomers learn his people’s customs and language, in 1790 Bennelong asked Governor Arthur Phillip to build him a house on the peninsula, which at the time was known as ‘Limeburner’s Point’.  In view of the assistance he had rendered, Phillip readily obliged Bennelong’s request and the peninsula became known as Bennelong Point.  Within two years, however, Bennelong left Sydney with Phillip for Britain and the house, which had become a gathering place for Aboriginal people, was demolished by settlers.

A physically imposing sculpture, ‘Bennelong had a Point’ makes for a powerful statement in the Bennelong Point exhibit and will undoubtedly capture visitors’ attention – just as it did that of the Museum staff tasked with its installation. Involving the Museum’s Conservation, Registration, Exhibitions and Curatorial sections, the move and positioning of the 2 meter wide, 160kg sculpture was an exercise in preparation and precision, as was the reinstallation of the 180kg mooring chain that had been de-installed in preparation for its arrival. Dating from 1795 and excavated from the banks of Bennelong Point, the chain includes a section of the sandstone landmass that the Opera House now inhabits and is on loan from the Australian National Maritime Museum.

A bright and multifaceted new jewel in the refreshed Bennelong Point exhibit, ‘Bennelong had a Point’ joins other Museum objects already on display, including a plaque presented by the Government of NSW to commemorate the official opening of the Sydney Opera House and a black and white photographic postcard of Circular Quay with artist’s impression of the Sydney Opera House.


Feature Image: ‘Bennelong had a Point’ 2012 by Black Douglas (a.k.a. Adam Hill) and Hugh Ramage, National Museum of Australia. Photo by Sam Birch, National Museum of Australia.

Denny in a hedge maze.  Photo: Chay Khamsone.

A Botanical life – a new chapter

It’s truly serendipitous how the fabrics of our lives sometimes manage to weave themselves into fortuitous little knots of connection, and it seems that just such a knot led to this guest blog post – exploring two women’s contemporary lives in the bush – by Pappinbarra River valley resident Chay Khamsone and her neighbour-come-colleague Bryony Anderson.

You see, not long ago, I wrote an article titled “A botanical life”, which explored the life of a young girl named Annabella Innes. In the 1840s, Annabella lived at Lake Innes Estate, about 11km west of Port Macquarie, and was fascinated with the surrounding natural environment, carefully recording it in her diaries and botanical watercolours. She was an Continue reading

Head of a horse-shaped children's tricycle

A horse tricycle and SO much more…!

The Museum recently acquired a single family’s impressive collection of nearly 350 toys and we are marking the arrival with the display of one of the most beautiful pieces in its number – a 1920s horse tricycle. The trike, like the rest of the toys in the Susan and Andrew Gibson collection, belonged to a single generation of children in whose memory the collection was donated and named – the enviable sibling duo, Susan and Andrew Gibson. Continue reading

Costume of the General of Military Forces

The Chinese in Bendigo – processioning towards acceptance

A spectacular Chinese ceremonial costume was recently installed in the Museum’s Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery and it got me thinking about the lives of all those who for over a century wore this intricate creation – proudly and somewhat defiantly – as part of the annual Bendigo Easter Fair. You see, before this costume and many like it joined the extensive regalia collection at the Golden Dragon Museum, they played a functional and public role in the life of Bendigo’s prominent Chinese community and, by extension, the town’s general population. Yet the costume’s most important role, I suspect, was as a powerful emblem of cultural identity for the Chinese residents, who faced prejudice and discrimination both on and off the goldfields.

Continue reading


Happy 40th Sydney Opera House!

The Opera House will have something the pyramids never had – it will have life. They were built as tombs, but this building is built to give happiness and refreshment to millions.”   – Queen Elizabeth II speaking at the opening of the Sydney Opera House, 20 October 1973

The Sydney Opera House turned 40 this month and observing its jubilant birthday celebrations, it is hard to imagine a time when it was not Australia’s favourite building, an international icon of our nation and the architectural envy of the world.

When it first opened to the public in October 1973, however, this extraordinary structure had been widely regarded as a proverbial thorn in the side of the New South Wales Continue reading


Mr Briney of Pialliway

Are you a ‘Briney’?

Perhaps you know someone with that last name?

Maybe your family traces its roots back to the Tamworth area of the Liverpool Plains?

Or perhaps you are a budding detective and would relish the opportunity to solve an old mystery?

If so, you may be able to assist us in our search for information about an Aboriginal breastplate from our collection that was recently installed in the Museum’s Landmarks gallery.  The information available for individual breastplates varies significantly and unfortunately, in this case, we are certain of little more about its origins than what is inscribed on the plate.

Continue reading