Karla Dickens and Leanne Tobin, Waratah Medicine at the Black’s Town, 2014-15

Waratah Medicine at Blacks’ Town was an intervention on the historical site of the Blacktown Native Institution devised by artists Karla Dickens and Leanne Tobin for the first Artist Camp in November 2014. Two rusted children’s bed frames were installed under the shade of a silky oak and, through a workshop with Darug, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, planted with native trees and grasses.

Along with weaving grasses, grevilleas and other plants, waratah saplings were placed in and around the bed frames by community participants. This communal act fostered a discursive exchange about native vegetation, histories of the site, and traditional land management. The site, which would have once been covered with the native trees and grasses of the Cumberland Plain that are integral to Darug knowledge and culture, has long since been cleared to make way for pastoral land and, subsequently, the quarter-acre blocks central to the ‘Australian Dream’. This small gesture lays the groundwork for the Darug people’s desire to see the site remediated with native vegetation.

The waratah is an especially important symbol for both of the artists. For Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, the waratah is a flower used in mourning rituals, as a way of coming to understand loss and grief. Tobin describes how ‘waratahs were traditionally given by Darug people to settlers who treated them with kindness and respect’.[1] She previously employed the waratah as a symbol of welcoming and coming together in her painting Defending Country, which was awarded the NSW Parliament Art Prize in 2011.

The use of small, found bed frames, refers to the beds of the children kept at the Blacktown Native Institution. Through the oral histories shared throughout the Blacktown Native Institution Project, we know that night was an especially upsetting time for the students of the Institution, and painful for the parents who made camp nearby but were kept separated from their children. It was a time when parents made bird calls to let their children know they were nearby, and when children attempted escape. In this way, Waratah Medicine at Blacks’ Town both recalls past Aboriginal experiences and constitutes an act of healing for the effects of dispossession and separation that continue to impact Aboriginal people to this day.

Peter Johnson
C3West Assistant Curator
February 2016

[1] Leanne Tobin as quoted in Deadly Vibe, ‘Leanne Tobin’, 4 September 2012. Available: http://www.deadlyvibe.com.au/2012/09/leanne-tobin/

Contact Us

Thank you for your interest. We will respond to your enquiry as soon as we can. Very best, The Blacktown Native Institution Web Team.

Not readable? Change text.