NANNUP RECONCILIATION PATHWAY 2005-2021
Compiled by Sharon Barker
Friends of the Blackwood/Goorbalbilyup volunteer
Tucked down alongside the Railway Bridge, is the Nannup Reconciliation Pathway and bush-food garden. The bench-seat, donated by the Men’s Shed, allows a quiet place to rest and perhaps contemplate the underlying symbolism of this place.
By 2019, the pathway needed an uplift and in December 2020 this work was complete, the Reconciliation Pathway revitalised and the garden area mulched. Seen as a whole, the pathway's 46 paintings onto slabs, form a line of colour, curving through the garden. The individual paintings make it vibrant with meaning if we take time to look at each painting. There is to be an ‘Opening Event’, date to be confirmed. These words piece together some history of the Reconciliation Pathway.
In 2005-6, Nannup Shire allocated the site and supported Jack Buntain, of Blackwood Waterwatch, in creating the Reconciliation Pathway, in community partnership with Nannup DHS; Lake Jasper Special Project School; and local Wadandi people. It was officially opened by Wadandi spokesperson, Mitchella Hutchins-Waljin on 9 June 2006. The entrance sign rests on a turtle’s back and reads “Nidja Noongar Boodjar Noonook Nyininy…. This land does not belong to us. We belong to the Land. This pathway represents Nannup, a place to stop and rest. Promoting reconciliation and raising awareness of local indigenous culture”. (1)The original pathway can be searched online under ‘Nannup Reconciliation Pathway - Public Art Around the World’.
“For over 50,000 years, the Wadandi and Bibbulman people of the Busselton, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas of Australia’s south-west have walked this ancient land” (Koomal Dreaming Cultural Experience website). The area around Nannup’s Foreshore Park was a main camping and meeting ground. Today, ancient Aboriginal walking routes underlie contemporary roads and trails. (2). For example, ‘Great Journeys’, by F. Robertson, N. Nannup, J. Barrow, is a study of routes taken by Aboriginal people in WA over millennia, based on research by Kurongkurl Katitjin Centre ECU and the Western Australian Aboriginal Journey Ways Project, Main Roads Dept.
The Shire’s 2019 Cultural Plan includes these words - “Nannup was an important meeting place for the four different local family groups; Wardandi, Pibbelmen, Minang and Kaneang to gather. It is understood that the Wardandi people’s country took in Busselton to Margaret River and Nannup with the Blackwood River being the boundary between the two clans. The Pibbelmen’s people’s country ran to the south of the Blackwood River to Donnelly River and Broke Inlet to Augusta. The Minang would travel from the Southern forests and Kaneang from Eastern Black Hills to meet, celebrate and trade. Territories were bordered by natural landscape such as rivers, valleys and hills. Travel routes would usually follow waterways, known as inherited songlines.”
Our 2020 project was enabled through the combined effort of volunteers; the Nannup Shire Council, its administration staff and gardening team. A Shire grant enabled the purchase of Endura paint products, and the Shire donated sand and mulch.
Importantly, the project was made possible through the participation of Bunbury Regional Prison per Kerri Bishop, Prison Superintendent; Greg Little, Support Officer and Elder of Noongar Boodjar; the Noongar men who created and painted new artworks; Shane Dowell, Assistant Superintendent; Colin Smith, Support Officer and the men in the Section 95 work team. Without the creative and practical support of all from Bunbury, this project could not have been achieved, and for our small group of volunteers, being able to partner with Bunbury Regional Prison was invaluable.
Greg Little was first approached early 2020 and asked if he thought Noongar men might be willing to design and paint 24 artworks with cultural meaning, onto slabs. The Reconciliation Pathway aims to reflect traditional and contemporary Noongar culture, and enable story-telling, contemplation, cultural exchange and learning. Greg was immediately positive and invited interested men to participate. The paintings took several months to complete, and were successfully exhibited at the prison during NAIDOC week November 2020; before being picked up (with high anticipation) in December. Colin Smith and the men in the Section 95 team then began their contribution, compacting bedding sand; laying slabs; mulching the garden area and constructing new steps down from the bridge.
The Noongar artists, who are from Wilman country, have expressed pride in painting these artworks for Nannup, saying it was a privilege to be able to contribute. Given the thoughtful creativity and skills in their paintings, the privilege is two-way. While each painting has its own particular story, individual paintings may also invite thought and talk. The paintings and the traditional-use plants in the garden, are there to provoke interest and enable the sharing of knowledge and understandings. The paintings themselves will hopefully encourage story telling, speaking, listening, reminiscence and a shared optimism.
The original path’s layout has two openings connecting at the circular garden. The one at the Bridge poignantly joins the Munda Biddi track through the forest. The symbolism of this design has three-fold meaning: firstly it is a simple physical pathway inviting contemplative walking through a bush-tucker garden; secondly it replicates the Noongar art symbol meaning a place to meet, come together, camp, stop and rest (reflecting the meaning of the word ‘Nannup’ which is a place to stop and rest); and thirdly it represents our pathway, the journey we walk together to create Reconciliation through awareness and understanding.
To acknowledge the chronological history of the pathway, the 46 slabs have been re-laid into eras. Starting at the entrance with “I walk in my ancestors footsteps”, or ‘We’ as Greg Little has suggested, are the twenty-four 2020 paintings by the Noongar artists. These lead into the garden, around the circular garden, on to the bench-seat slab near the words from Reconciliation Australia, concluding with the landscape showing a river camp-site at sunset. The circular garden section also includes an earlier painting by Mitchella Hutchins. After the bench-seat come the twelve 2017 paintings done by Nannup school-children at workshops. Finally, concluding at the Bridge, are the nine 2005 designs by boys at Lake Jasper Special Project School. Those on the steps date from 2005, 2014 and 2017.
Jack Buntain, local educator, continues her support of the Reconciliation Pathway, through her teaching role and the cumulative annual Indigenous Education and Awareness projects at Nannup DHS.
As well as their slabs, students continue to paint colourful river stones for the garden, following cultural learning, e.g., Noongar words for plants, animals and seasons and traditional uses for plants within the school’s vicinity. This year it is hoped the School can hold a mid-year, Reconciliation Week event at the Foreshore Park and Reconciliation Pathway
Past events held at the Pathway include:
· In 2006 the Reconciliation Pathway was officially opened at a school/ community event funded by PALS (Partnership Acceptance Learning Sharing from - Department of Indigenous Affairs). This event was repeated in 2007 and 2008 during Reconciliation week. In 2011 and 2012 the Webb family created impressive sand mandalas and held a ceremony beneath the Pathway on the (Goorbalbilyup) river bank.
· In 2012, to acknowledge the 20thanniversary of the Mabo Decision with Nannup School (Vanda Crothers, teacher) and Nannup Shire - Josh Whiteland of Koomal Dreaming, and Mitchella Hutchins-Waljin represented the Wadandi people and shared their cultural knowledge with the children and adults through dance, art and bush-tucker plants. (3)
· In 2014, Nannup people joined in the national Walk for Recognition. Nannup local, Jim Green and two Wadandi representatives, Elder Vivian Webb and Mitchella Hutchins, guided the community to local sites of interest. (4)
· In 2017, when most of the original designs had worn away, a Shire grant enabled schoolchildren to paint new slabs and for the Lake Jasper boys’ designs to be re-painted. A Shire volunteer, re-laid the pathway. In July, schoolchildren and adults joined Wadandi spokesperson, Mitchella Hutchins, Waljin for her Welcome to Country and sharing of cultural knowledge. (5)
Rod Carey at Geographe Nursery, Busselton, remains an invaluable source of knowledge and support for the selection of local provenance plants of significant traditional use. Val and Neville Tanner have also contributed extensive plant and revegetation knowledge.
The Reconciliation Pathway continues to be a place for exchange, contemplation and learning. Greg Little commented that this project is significant. As well as being a positive outcome for people from Nannup and Bunbury Prison itself, it has enabled the Noongar artists to show their art and cultural connections to the country; and for the Section 95 team to lay those artworks. The project may already link to existing projects, or promote similar projects, in other south-west towns.