Sydney Harbour: Intersections of the arts, sciences, and humanities

Friday 28 April 2017
9.00 - 5.00pm

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University of Sydney


Providing a platform for conversations and presentations from current research at the intersections of arts, humanities, and sciences.

Funded by Sydney College of the Arts & Sydney Environment Institute 

Responding in part to Jane Bennett’s call to ‘picture an ontological field without any unequivocal demarcations between human, animal, vegetable, or mineral’ (Vibrant Matter, 2010), SCA & SEI will host a one-day workshop on human-environmental relations with respect to Sydney Harbour.

The workshop aims to provide a platform for conversations and presentations that consider current research at the intersections of arts, humanities, and sciences on the specificities of Sydney Harbour. In the aim of understanding the new frames of meaning and research surrounding Sydney Harbour, the broader subject areas discussed at the workshop include the sea, the environmental and cultural health of our aquatic regions, and Indigenous perspective on Sydney Harbour as life sustaining water and Aboriginal place.

What new frames of meaning about Sydney Harbour’s health and wellbeing, about the way it is perceived and understood, and the new knowledge it has generated, emerge from studying the scientific, textual, and visual cultures of its waterways? How do these considerations relate more broadly to oceans and the aquatic realm above and below the surface of the sea? The themes covered by the workshop include:

  • Discovery: water, animals, plants
  • Visualisation: embodiment, imagination
  • Change: climate, environment
  • The Underwater: observation, documentation, representation
  • Colonisation & Invasion: history, peoples, animals, plants and Indigenous perspectives
  • Technology: modernity, the millennium

The workshop will be launched with a presentation titled Guru ‘deep water’: Sydney Harbour an Aboriginal place” by Professor Jakelin Troy, Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research, Office of the DVC Indigenous Strategy and Services, University of Sydney.

Sydney Harbour is deep life sustaining water. It was the realm of Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years before it became what it is now – an international harbour port around which live people who have come to Australia from all over the world. In this paper I explore the experience of the harbour as a place enjoyed and lived in by Aboriginal people. I focus on Aboriginal engagement with the harbour since 1788 when the British invaded at Waran the place we now call Sydney Cove, Port Jackson. The past nearly 230 years has seen the harbour and its surrounds changed more dramatically by human occupation than in all its previous history. I consider these changes from an Aboriginal perspective. I look at the harbour as it was and as it is now. I consider the outcomes of projects in which I have been involved to reinstate the Aboriginal naming and language of the area (Troy 1993; Troy and Walsh 2009). I also draw on Aboriginal community comment on the experience of the invasion, documented particularly in First Fleet sources, and on more recent experiences through popular sources, for example the famous mockumentary Barbakiueria. This short film satires the post invasion history of Aboriginal Sydney, an ‘ethnography’ of Sydney from an Aboriginal point of view looking at white Australia as the subject. The ‘documentary’ discusses plans to turn Sydney into a natural environment removing the built forms created by white Australia. This in an attempt to create a better environment that white Australia would come to know and love. It is the reverse of the experience of Aboriginal people of Sydney. One thing that has never changed is that the harbour and its surrounds ‘always was, always will be Aboriginal land’ and water.

Jaky is Ngarigu of the Snowy Mountains, South Eastern Australia. Her research has included an intense focus on Sydney and south eastern Australian Aboriginal languages and the history of contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Her research interests and disciplines include linguistics, anthropology, education, visual arts, history, music and archaeology. Most recently she was lead writer for the Australian Curriculum Languages – Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority). Currently she working on developing the University of Sydney’s Indigenous research strategy with the DVCs Indigenous Strategy and Services, Research and Education.

Barbakiueria 1986, short film, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney. Directed by Don Featherson. Accessed 10 April 2017, <https://aso.gov.au/titles/shorts/babakiueria/clip1/>
Koch, H, & Hercus, L., eds, 2009. Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and Renaming the Australian Landscape. Aboriginal History Monograph 19, October 2009. ANU E Press: Canberra.
Troy, J., 1993. The Sydney language. AIATSIS: Canberra.
Troy, J. & Walsh, M. 2009. Reinstating Aboriginal placenames around Port Jackson and Botany Bay. In Koch, H. & Hercus L., eds, 2009, pp.55-69.

Professor Iain McCalman, Sydney Environment Institute
Ann Elias , Sydney College of the Arts
Associate Professor William Figueira, School of Life and Environmental Sciences