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Gilbert Grace: Great White Bird Trail

19 Sep 2020 - 6 Oct 2020

This exhibition explores the traditions, narratives and multiple interconnecting personal relationships that make up knowledge and history.

The Great White Bird Trail centres on Thomas Holt (1811 - 1888) a wealthy migrant from Yorkshire who became a pastoralist, company director and politician, as well as John Connell (1759 – 1849) who at one stage owned land at Salt Pan Creek, a block of which was later sold to the artist’s great, great, grandfather. Connell also owned most of what is now known as the Sutherland Shire, including Kurnell, the site of first contact between Aboriginal people and Europeans on the east coast which was later purchased by Thomas Holt.

As a form of dialogic participatory social art, the events and facts of Holt's life that are explored within the exhibition aim to stimulate discussions regarding colonialism, race, gender, wealth, inequality, development and infrastructure, bio-control, water and food security, and the ongoing development of Botany Bay.

The exhibition takes its takes its name from an oral history of the Dharawal people who described seeing the Endeavour enter Kamay (Botany Bay) on 28 April 1770. The boat, seen from a distance, was described as ‘a great white bird’, or a floating island with possums shimmying up and down the trees. While ‘trail’ references the way in which the artist travels by human-powered bicycle to visit many of the significant sites related to his ancestors and his history. Rides and bike trails, which are a significant component of his art practice, enable him to cover large distances while still being exposed to the sensory stimulus of the natural world. Two rides were developed to complement the exhibition. The first ride at Salt Pan Creek to view sites and remnants related to the artist’s family history along with the recent recognition of the local Aboriginal people’s Salt Pan Creek Camp of the 1930s, while the second ride focussed on linking the sites of first contact with those of first settlement.  

Having arrived in Australia a wealthy and well-connected trader who was fluent in five or more languages, Thomas Holt amassed a fortune trading in wool and goods, buying and selling properties and mortgages. Acquiring six mansions and estates, Holt aimed to modify the Australian landscape to resemble his ideal English environment. With his fortune he was able to undertake various experiments in colonial improvement. This included importing exotic game, rabbits and antelopes for his property, the Warren, which overlooked the Cooks River in Marrickville, and releasing salmon into the Cooks River. A large part of his Sutherland Estate was secured from John Connell who at the time owned land near Salt Pan Creek, off the Gannon’s Forest Road. A block of that land was then sold to the artist’s great, great, grandfather who began a market garden. A suburban block was cleaved from that market garden as a wedding gift to his parents.

After acquiring large holdings of land south of the Georges River and Botany Bay, Holt set out on his most ambitious project of attempting to farm the land that he called the Sutherland Estate. The land was poor and scrubby, sheep developed foot rot and dingoes were blamed for losses of cattle. In 1864 he bought Gwawley Bay and Weeney Bay to try to farm oysters which failed at the time but later successful for future oyster famers. Holt retired to Britain and dedicated the remainder of his life to helping the less fortunate. All that remains of his once grand estate is a workers cottage in Evelyn St North, Sylvania.

For visitors interested in taking part in a guided tour of the exhibition with the artist please contact Gilbert via email gilbert@gilbertgrace.com.

Image: Cadastral Warren (detail), 2020, charcoal on Fabriano paper.

More Information: 8536 5731

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