The Walkout Step Story
In lutruwita (Tasmania) the wounds of history traverse generations and are imprinted in the land.
Truth Telling is a pathway to healing for all.
I am compelled to correct the ‘orphan’ lie and tell our story.
Many of the children in the Queens Orphan School would have borne physical and mental pain. They were a captive workforce for the colonisers. The regimentation was fortified by the clock from Britain that was put into the face of the church and still rings out today. A loud symbol of hypocrisy overtime in my mind.
Aboriginal children were first stolen from family country and culture in the frontier wars between soldiers’ settlers and Aborigines. Later they were taken from their parents being held in captivity. At least forty Aboriginal children spent time in the Queens Orphan School. They suffered the unique cruelty of enforced assimilation. An unknown number of Aboriginal children in the Orphanage died and are in unmarked graves here and in other places.
Making the Art
Producer Richard Bladel brought renowned sculptor Marcus Tatton and I into collaboration. We began by merging cultural, artistic, and sculptural-engineering mind maps, to develop the first paper cut outs of forms of land and water on the studio floor. The drawings looked sparse and small, yet strong, when set on the pavement.
The artwork is not a geographical map of lutruwita. It is a ‘cultural map’ allowing for journeys in all directions following the tracks and song lines of family. The steel body in all its forms provides physical and visual strength to the work as a surface to texture, paint and adornments and is also a vessel with curved spaces and cavities to welcome materials. We needed layers of culture and time represented as well as travel routes.
The panels are cut shaped molded welded screwed into strong ‘land’ embracing resin rivers, and lakes and tarns and coastlines. Each layer of resin had to completely dry before the next layer of natural or recycled materials were placed. On average deep resin pours took three to seven days dependent on the weather and temperature, and shallow pours took two days. Hundreds of individual materials were placed over a three-year period. Marcus incorporated ways to reduce the challenges arising from my vision impairment. Sometimes we would talk our way through with him being my eyes in the sense of exacting the placement of fine materials. Throughout the sculpture two surface materials feature heavily.
Tremanya quills provide protection for the children,
Steel pellets represent people on the move.
Let's Walk Out!
Snow, pure water, clean air, fire, deep time, the aurora in play. The ‘Octopus Tree’ reaches out beneath you, and the vertically ridged steel gives emphasis to the natural ‘Organ Pipes’ face of kunanyi.
As you step down, to your left, set inside a gilded frame are symbols of colonisation and industrialisation, and impacts on people and lands. To your right, are the cultural tools and supplies for starting a long freedom journey in all seasons – through land and waterways - back to family and country. I wove the collecting baskets (tirina) from river reed, and native flax. There’s a firestick, kangaroo (tara) skins, native raspberries, and She Oak apples as well.
Next, we move outward onto the panels that tell the story through symbols of significant places including Little Musselroe, Wybalena Settlement on Flinders Island and Robbins Island and Preminghana in the NW. Individual steel baskets hold materials in the NW satellite piece. Putalina (Oyster Cove), Nicholls Rivulet and Bruny Island are represented in the south east.
The lakes and tarns of the central highlands, and yingina (Great Lake) are in the central panel. Painted clay and cement form snow covered banks of lakes. Red recycled net fabric represents a fire in the snow. The charcoal and bones represent places where food is abundant, and where people have previously camped.
The strength of river reeds in preventing erosion is shown with swirling bunches in the river, and hand twined ropes ‘tying down the land’. Gum tree (lutha) leaves and kangaroo grass are strongly placed. Three circular weaves in the outer aspects of the work symbolise petroglyph’s in the north west. Two were woven by Colleen minungkana (black cockatoo) Mundy. Rocks and pebbles and stones (some river smooth) form banks and lay beneath ledges and around sheltered camping places with food fire and fibers.
Animals and birds are honored through skins and bones and feathers (kunawa), from mutton bird (yolla) our traditional food, lesser green parrot, and wattle bird (turich). Blue tongue lizard (matharitina) skin is nestled in the work, and a platypus resides in the rivers (painted by pakana artist Lou Triffitt). Tiny fish and glass eels were cut from dried fish skin and parrot fish scales. Bullkelp (rikawa) and recycled ghost nets are incorporated in several places. Abalone (nitipa) shell is used in shards, and partially whole as receptacles.
I chose not to use great numbers of mariner shells. It was a temptation given how magnificent their blue green iridescence would be in changing light and how they are a recognisable part of our culture. Yet, knowing global warming is impacting sustainability of this cultural resource, and out of respect for the traditional shell stringers and those they teach, I did not use that shell.
We trialed materials for suitability with resin, for textures and depth of layers of the land sky and waterways. We matched colours from memory of country, and from photographs we took of light reflecting over stones in a cold river. I used clay for colour, a small amount of ochre (again a precious cultural resource) and pebbles in clay for texture in riverbanks and deep cavities. A clay wash was also applied to the textured cement surface where the estuaries were carved in with a grinder and refined with homemade pointing tools.
Semicircular steel satellite pieces represent the open arms of family,
waiting by the fire for their children to come home
Versatile in his processes and media, Marcus creates unique sculpture interventions to mark contemporary attitudes and experiences.
Sharing our stories and cultural perspectives of time and land, and bringing a sculpture into the world to heal and build on these, is a punctuation point of where our cultural worlds have connected at the start of the 21st Century.
Putting these sculptural forms together is our measure of belief that we are all connected across land and deep time in ways that we can never quantify.
Please be immersed.
Living in the quiet of remote Tasmania, with limited media influences, Tatton affords a fringe perspective on humanity.
His sculpture practice takes form both as a personal politic, of how we individual humans interact with nature, and as a world politic concerning the cumulative effect our species imparts upon ground.
The Walkout Step Launch
This event, held on May 28, 2022, had 2 elements, as the title suggests, the Walkout Step Launch and the Repurposing Ceremony.
This day of celebration and renewal marked the sixteenth year of Kickstart Art’s (now Kickstart Network) focussed effort to raise the funds and repair this once dark and disused colonial building and repurpose it as brand new community cultural space for arts participation, friendship, culture and healing.
Cheryl Mundy and the pakana kanaplila dancers
- photo by Karen Brown
The Walkout Step Launch
The launch of this artwork that reclaims and redefines the entire meaning and history of the building and site was emblematic of this day of transformation, and of the focus of Kickstart’s Healing Grounds program.
The pakana kanaplila Dancers interpreted Uncle Adams story and escape through powerful healing dance. The intention is to allow the natural elements to make changes to the artwork over the seasons, and to maintain the presence of ongoing change.