Australian War Memorial artwork speaks to country and culture
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Australian War Memorial artwork speaks to country and culture

A vast painting depicting the importance of "defence of country" has been hung directly opposite the Australian War Memorial's most treasured item - the bullet-ridden Gallipoli landing boat.

The juxtaposition is a deliberate one by the memorial's director Dr Brendan Nelson, who commissioned the painting through the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Art Centre Collective in late 2016.

Dancers from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in South Australia perform at the unveiling.

Dancers from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in South Australia perform at the unveiling. Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"There are four million objects in the collection of this institution, the most precious is that Gallipoli landing boat," Dr Nelson said.

"And now right opposite hangs this painting … it's not in some remote corner of the memorial … it's here in the orientation gallery so that when Australians come here we instantly reveal our character as a people.

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Senator Pat Dodson and Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson.

Senator Pat Dodson and Australian War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"When they step into this space they will see this iconic repository of emotion and pride, the Gallipoli landing boat, and then right opposite a painting which talks to the importance of defence of land and country to the first Australians, to all Australians."

Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa [Country and Culture will be protected by spears] was created by 19 artists over a four-day period, on site in the APY lands of South Australia.

The painting features symbols referring to the myriad and complex ways in which rock holes, trees, and the landscape are protectors of the Anangu way of life. In the orange-and-red-toned painting, the tjukurpa of the large central tree is a story of protection. The tree is a symbol of a wati (male) soldier, and the spirit of the ancestors stay in the trees, protecting Anangu. The kulata (spears) are for use by soldiers, not hunters. The u-shapes indicate a family gathering of hunting and inma (song and dance or ceremony). The text inscribed across the painting, "Wati Tjilpie Tjutaku Angakakanyilpai Manta Munu Tjukurpa", translates as "the many men and old men hold and protect country and culture".

Chairman of the APY executive board, Frank Young, who was at the memorial on Thursday with several of the artists and dancers from the APY lands, spoke of the inherent connection to country that inspired the work.

Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa [Country and Culture will be protected by spears], detail.

Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa [Country and Culture will be protected by spears], detail. Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"There is a connection that Anangu have with country," Young said.

"It is one of the most important responsibilities: looking after country, protecting country, and keeping country safe. The ancestors handed down this responsibility, and it is as important today as it was hundreds of years ago. It is a particular man that will risk his life for country.

"Since the Boer War Aboriginal soldiers have fought alongside so many non-Indigenous soldiers, together with one goal: to protect this land. An ocean of blood has been lost for Australia."

Dr Nelson believes all Australians should be made aware of the concept of "defence of country" and the role Indigenous people have played in the protection of this nation "which has taken so much from them".

"In this painting and its prominent display, we are reminded that we are all equal – irrespective of politics, race or religion, we are Australians," he said.

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"We are reminded that this place in which we reveal our nation's soul, we honour those who in every sense have fought to defend land – Aboriginal land, our common land, our nation Australia."

The APY lands art commission is on permanent display.

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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