Essay
Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner
Brook Andrew Trent Walter

Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner is a memorial made by artists Brook Andrew and Trent Walter that opened publicly in September of 2016. Commissioned by the City of Melbourne and situated on the corner of Victoria and Franklin Streets, the memorial commemorates Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, two Tasmanian Aboriginal men who were publicly hanged in Melbourne in 1842. The following is a transcribed conversation between Andrew and Walter, who 18 months on from the work’s unveiling, reflect on the impact of Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner in relation to broader ideas of commemoration, historical recognition and indigeneity.

Brook Andrew and Trent Walter, Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, Launched September 2016. Photograph by Dianna Snape.

TW Do you remember the first idea we had for the work?

BA Yes, there were sort of billboard structures.

TW Yes, and it was a really reflective garden space wasn’t it? From my own experience I found it very difficult to think about the true history [of the site], and how to represent that in a sculpture or a memorial or a monument. Did you find that difficult?

BA No. I’ve been looking at this topic and making work about it for a long time, and I think that it’s very unbalanced within the Australian memorial and built landscape; These histories are lacking in the Australian public space. And in fact if anybody has an alternative view apart from the regular World War I or World War II memorial structures, you’re blamed for being anti-Australian, which is not the case as ATSI peoples fought in the same wars. And so these Alternate Narratives are required to assist in representing other important histories in our country. I think any markers of memorials is a mix of remembering, pain and shame, it’s not easy, and I think people should not be embarrassed to feel that shame either, or to feel a little bit of guilt or confusion. There’s this kind of guilt, or people kind of bow their heads when certain indigenous issues are raised, and I think that regardless if you're Indigenous or not, or of mixed heritage, it doesn't matter what you are, if your Australian I think that we should all know about this and own it together. So being visible like the Myall Creek Massacre walk that you can go on up there in that community, and also other sites that are being more active now, I think is a positive step towards a complete version of being a real Australian.

TW Did you read Richard Flanagan’s article for the Press Club? He talked about how ANZAC, or the cult of ANZAC, will see 1.1 billion Australian dollars spent by the Australian Government on war memorials between 2014 and 2028. There’s just such an incredible gap between that, and how we acknowledge the foundation of Australia, and that bloody history of the Frontier Wars. And it’s very much a national shame, but it feels like there’s this real resistance to acknowledging that shame, as though that kind of weakens us as a nation somehow, when actually it would be a bridge to greater understanding and empathy.

BA Yeah, I mean I think that it's right across the board, with anything to do with Indigenous issues, it's a very paternalistic approach to Aboriginal culture, it’s either looking after the ‘Aborigines’, and not actually promoting very strong cultures. So if you look at the Opera House and the Orchestras etcetera, who receive funding - and yet there is no seriously financed Indigenous cultural centre, which Australia and the world needs. This could be a place of world class dance, music and art. So I really think that it's about a national consciousness, about how people think about indigeneity and our worth. This is actually quite embarrassing, especially when esteemed visitors like President Macron came to Australia recently and specifically requested to meet with Indigenous creatives and leaders. This engagement was an authentic and very public event which is not reciprocated with the Australian Prime Minister nor his party. This is an obvious example of how some Australians think about Indigenous Australians and I think they should be embarrassed but they probably don’t even see it. It’s more of a paternalistic, or more of a prejudiced view based on ethnographic representation and the entire hang over of racist ideology driven by primitivist histories of labelling and the Terra Nullius myth and Australian policy that is deep within the psyche of Australia and how it was colonised. Like you say right back to the Frontier. In some ways, this evidence we speak about in the memorial and basic history of Australia is historical and scientific fact.

TW Exactly

BA It’s like any other nation's history, anywhere around the world. And the other thing that’s quite annoying as well, is when people visit the Killing Fields in Cambodia, or Auschwitz in Birkenau or other sites of trauma, and also of course to Turkey as well -and they flood to these places, that are about not only the national identity here, but other peoples traumas, and yet most people do not visit sites of trauma in Australia.

TW Well I guess that leads us on to thinking about, whether one year on, or it's more than one year on now since it was launched, do you feel that the memorial we made has had a ripple effect within its community, and within a broader community?

BA Well I mean definitely for Tasmanian people, and local Melbourne people who have been vigilant in making this story visible for decades. I think that it was very heartfelt and a relief when the memorial was launched. Relatives of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were in a state of almost disbelief and shock, that they actually had a site so significant, on the original site, and I think that is the number one thing. I mean really it's about grassroots, public memory and inserting this important story as an example of thousands across Australia. Being in a public space is just the fact that these two men were the first people hanged in the colony of Melbourne. I think the memorial has created a complex remembrance space because of its unusual sculptural elements, it’s not your regular everyday memorial.

TW No it’s not like a stone plaque or a pile of stone or...

BA Or even a big building with a big cross on it or a soldier laying across a sword.

TW Indeed. It’s hard for us to talk about how other people might perceive it.

BA In the last four years or so, more Indigenous memorials are public. Tony Albert’s memorial in Hyde Park in Sydney, to the first and second World War veterans - which is also controversial as it represents large bullets. And the new commission to Daniel Boyd for the Australian War Memorial pavilion.

TW I always find that interesting, because it’s never actual bullets, it’s never actual blood, its a representation. And it’s amazing that there can be offense by a representation. I mean if we could go in a time machine and be on the Frontier people would be much more confronted than by a monument or a memorial. Sometimes it feels like we are incredibly thin skinned when it comes to examining the past and particularly in the space in which we live.

BA Yeah, but I think that the memorial we created is not your typical war memorial.

TW No.

BA Typical international war memorials represent a different architectural and memorial design and culture. I think the memorial Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner is more in line with contemporary art as sculptural metaphors like the swing representing the hangman's structure where the men were hung...and this reality is no different to representing bullets, but may be seen as more shocking as the ‘weapon’ of death is represented as probably more cruel if it’s a hang-man’s apparatus? But the design of Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner is also a complex representation to educate people about these histories, and to also present a garden of healing. The in depth community consultation reflected on consciously creating a memorial or remembrance that is not only educational but a place to remember from an Indigenous perspective.

TW One of the great things that occurred during the project was when you suggested connecting the Melbourne Gaol site through the masonry, through the bluestone pathway. That was a beautiful gesture that really connected it through history. It wasn’t this kind of island, separated from its context as the area that we had allocated for the memorial was an island of grass and a few trees, and that connection seemed really important.

BA Yes. The garden is loved and tendered by the City of Melbourne, and they are very passionate about looking after that site.

TW Yes it’s very well cared for, very well tended. I do know a number of people that worked on the project, in the City of Melbourne for example, who walk past regularly and will pick up rubbish as they go past. And the work has only been graffitied that one time, the day before the launch, but has remained intact since. I always find it amazing after the commemoration on the 20th of January how the tomb and swing structure really becomes a place where people lay wreaths, and it just adds this other weight to those solid chunks of bluestone.

BA We always envisaged the memorial being a place that has many uses, or that can be translated in many ways. It still has a tomb structure but it also has two cultural rocks that were traditionally buried in the garden in accordance with traditional Tasmanian practice; representing the two men, the garden, and also the trees representing the different people who were involved in the party. The garden is also creating a public space of medicine and beauty through the foods and flowers of the plants which we chose: native to Tasmania and Victoria, this also connects history of Tasmania with Victoria, which is a very strong cultural and historical link.

TW Absolutely, and I think that the initial idea of the signs, I guess they were really didactic signs, as wayfinding, trying to really point to the significance of the site, transformed in to the newspaper texts that mirrored the didactic panels in different areas. Trying to work out a way to have a sign or to give more information, and as you say, to educate and provide links to other texts or to other experiences. One thing that's interesting one year on is, and it was kind of happening concurrently, is your Australian Research Council project, do you mind elaborating a little bit on how that has related or extended upon the work in Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner?

BA Sure. I think that it reflects on international commemorative studies and practices of memorials, and because we’re lacking them in Australia, especially in regards to the Frontier Wars, it has given this memorial some focus to the research, and also somewhere for people to visit, heal and learn as well - a possible balance to the visits of international sites of trauma. There is an international forum Representation, Remembrance and the Memorial occurring in Melbourne 25-30 June, the forum is an outcome of an Australia Research Council grant (ARC). International delegates and locals will have a local example on the topic ...their visit to Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner will offer a starting point and reflect on design principles such as the combination of the garden with the hangman's apparatus and funky and colourful colours of the Aboriginal and Australian flags in the newspaper stands.

TW Yes it's very colourful. It ends up being quite engaging of a public, and people are drawn to it and want to read about it. They may not know what they're walking in to when they walk up the slope but they’re engaging with it in a different way, which I feel very pleased about.

BA Yes, and I really take my hat off to the council as well, the City of Melbourne and the councillors because it’s the first time a significant memorial like this, or marker, has been made in a capital city, that addresses the Frontier Wars. So that in itself supports the ARC that I’m conducting with Jessica Neath and Marcia Langton. I hope Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner inspires many, and assists in support for other memorials. For example, Macquarie Point in Tasmania is a current site that is working towards the design of a truth and reconciliation park - they’re reflecting on other sites around Australia for consolidation and support. This park will be one case-study used at the forum.

TW I think it really is for the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner Commemoration Committee to talk about the campaign, but perhaps what I could say about it is that, it's an incredible use of activism and agency, after so much time, to have made such a lasting impact. And hopefully for that to spur other action, more engagement, but also to show how small groups of individuals can have an effect on what are national stories, and national memorials, and in a way trying to right that inbalance, even if it's one gesture at a time.

BA Yes, especially after countless years where people have rallied. Some people are born and pass-away before they see change, and some people who have been involved in the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner working committee passed away before they we completed Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. For the community to have a sense of achievement is healing. Before the memorial was created, the committee were protesting through complex and often shamed experiences, by both the public and the police. And now that a memorial exists, it’s completely shifted the space. I think we need more of this, we need more healing, we need more spaces where there’s acknowledgement that demonstrates the integrity of all Australian stories.