MEDIA RELEASE - New public artwork sees Council celebrate Dharawal culture

A powerful new artwork celebrating the culture and customs of the traditional owners of the land on which the Sutherland Shire sits has been officially launched by Sutherland Shire Council, standing as a striking link to one of the most pivotal moments in our nation’s history.

The artwork, titled “girawaa ba gamai” (stingray and spear) features four spears and three stingrays, symbolising the traditional hunting practices of the Dharawal people, the First Nations custodians of the Sutherland Shire.

The spears also stand as a symbolic link to the unique place the Sutherland Shire occupies in the history of our nation, as the first site in which contact was made between First Nations peoples and Lieutenant James Cook and the crew of the HMB Endeavour. The spears depicted in the sculpture represent four spears taken by Cook and his crew and since housed at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College, which will in time be returned to Country.

The artwork, proudly standing outside the Pavilion Performing Arts Centre Sutherland, was officially launched during a civic event held as part of Reconciliation Week, with a cultural ceremony featuring performances by Indigenous performers including the local Gamay Dancers as staged part of event proceedings.

Sutherland Shire Council Mayor, Councillor Carmelo Pesce, said the artwork stands as a proud example of Council’s ongoing commitment to honouring the cultural heritage of the region’s traditional owners.

“Council is immensely proud of the support we have provided to celebrating the First Nations history of the Sutherland Shire over many years and ensuring that Dharawal culture is acknowledged, shared and celebrated in our public spaces,” Mayor Pesce said.

“I’d like to thank Council staff, La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Gujaga Foundation for their work in guiding this project and to Urban Art Projects for their work in bringing this amazing artwork to life.”

The artwork was commissioned by Sutherland Shire Council in consultation with La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, with the work was developed by the Gujaga Foundation and subsequently produced by Urban Art Projects.

The artwork carries deep symbolism for local First Nations people, with stingray and the spear both significant figures in Dharawal culture, with the artwork representing ongoing Dharawal Cultural practice.

In a statement about the work, the Gujaga Foundation said, “In Dharawal Culture, the gamai (spear) was created after a powerful spirit ancestor created the coastline and waterways in Dharawal Country during the Dreaming. From the creation of Gamay (Botany Bay), the girawaa (stingray) was created, and it was the girawaa who provided the gamayngal (people belonging to Gamay) the gamai.”

“Today, our people practice the ancient tradition of spear making thanks to the girawaa. These figures, which sit on the lands of the Gweagal Clan, represent two significant elements of Dharawal culture.”

The artwork now sits alongside other Indigenous artworks which greet visitors to the newly relaunched Pavilion Performing Arts Centre.