Significant Biripi sculpture connects community to country

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The unveiling of a new sculpture at the University of Newcastle’s (UON) Manning Education Centre in Taree is set to honour the significance of the Biripi people and their cultural heritage in the region.

Artist and Biripi Elder, Russell Saunders

The sculpture, a work of Manning-based artist and Biripi elder Russell Saunders OAM, aims to reinforce the Biripi connection to country by representing the story of the traditional owners of the land.

Standing around 2.5 metres in height, the sculpture is carved from the solid trunk of a locally sourced Tallowwood. It intricately depicts symbols, artefacts and animals with significance for the local Biripi people, reinforcing their connection to the environment.

“I wanted to create something to represent the Biripi story and our connection to country. I incorporated the shark, as it’s a Biripi totem and the kookaburra because when you hear them laugh, you know it’s going to be a good day.

“I also wanted to incorporate the diamond pattern, which is a traditional Indigenous symbol to represent a sacred place. When we see this symbol, we know it’s a place of great importance.

“The Indigenous culture is based upon knowledge sharing, which is why I am proud to mark this place of teaching and learning. We want our people to be doctors and have the opportunity to reach their goals, so I hope this makes all feel welcome,” Mr Saunders said.

Director of UON’s Department of Rural Health, Professor Jenny May AM, said the Manning Education Centre was thrilled to unveil Mr Saunders’ work.

“We are extremely proud to host such a significant piece of art, which further connects the centre to the land on which it stands.

“The piece also acts as a stunning visual cue for visitors to reflect on the important cultural impact the traditional owners of this land had on our region,” Professor May said.

The official unveiling was accompanied by a performance from local children of Girrawong Aboriginal Preschool and Taree High School Aboriginal Dance Group, who highlighted the importance of future Indigenous generations.

As part of UON’s commitment to equity, the Department of Rural Health is funded by the Australian Government under the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program. The program encourages students of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health professions to pursue a career in rural practice by providing opportunities for students in rural locations.

A proud supporter of Indigenous education, UON hosts the largest number of Indigenous students of any Australian university and has graduated almost half the country’s Indigenous doctors.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.