• Calm night...down at the beach

    Calm night...down at the beach 2008

    Samantha Hobson Kuuku-y’au

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    Samantha Hobson was born in Lockhart River, the northern-most settlement on the east coast of Australia. She belongs to the Kuuku 'Ya'u (Sand Beach People) who live between the margins of the rainforest and the Coral Sea.

    For Hobson the beach is a place to escape to and to remember her ancestors and in her painting Calm night...down at the beach she beautifully captures the glistening reef at night.

    Hobson says, ‘On a very calm night we all go down the beach and camp down the beach … We sit around the campfire telling stories, listening to the waves on the sand … Reminds me of the old people’s story, when they were living right on the beach ... I like to share that feeling from old days with the old people — my grandmothers. I sit with them on the beach and we yarn a lot.’

  • Wanampi Tjukurpa

    Wanampi Tjukurpa 2007

    Kunmanara Palpatja Pitjantjatjara

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    In this work, Tiger Palpatja celebrates the Wanampi Kujara (Two Water Snakes) creation story of his birthplace, Piltati. This story is concerned with reciprocal relationships of food gathering, nurturing and labour between two powerful water serpents and their wives. Like the iridescent skin of the wanampi ancestor, whose spirit essence is manifest in the topography and changing shades of the artist’s country in sunlight, Palpatja’s diverse canvases are variegated, dappled with opalescent colours and encrusted with texture. 
  • Garimala

    Garimala 1990

    Ginger Riley Munduwalawala Mara

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    Mara artist Ginger Riley Munduwalawala called himself a ‘saltwater man’. Garimala 1990 represents Garimala, a snake ancestor, towering over the Four Archers, hills near the mouth of the Limmen Bight River in the artist’s country, which are represented twice.

    Garimala is responsible for creating the Four Archers, a ravine or gap in the mountain known as Ngarinburis. Garimala is shown again in the lower left in a different guise as two snakes, male and female, guarding a message stick/shield. The message stick is announcing a ceremony that is about to happen and is a form of invitation to this ceremony.

  • Sunbaker

    Sunbaker 1937; (c. 1975) {printed}

    Max DUPAIN

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    Max Dupain’s Sunbaker is Australia’s best-known photograph and was printed by the artist in two versions. Although it was taken many years after the First World War, memories of bronzed Anzacs were still strong enough to give this image a nationalist resonance for contemporary viewers. Following the depletions of wartime, sunlight had a special meaning as an elemental force capable of promoting physical and spiritual well-being.

    Dupain’s subject is a young man who lies ‘sun-slain’ on Culburra Beach in New South Wales, oblivious to anything but the heat on his wet back and the warmth of the sand below. Dupain has positioned his camera almost at ground level in order to emphasise the sunbaker’s domination of his environment and his almost palpable connection with the replenishing forces of nature.

  • The bathers

    The bathers (1989)

    Anne ZAHALKA

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    In her Bondi: Playground of the Pacific series, Anne Zahalka wittily explores and subverts the mythologies and stereotypes that have evolved around Sydney’s Bondi Beach. To signal that she is working in the realm of ideas rather than observable reality, she sets her photographs in a studio setting, importing sand, furniture and beach paraphernalia, and using an obviously artificial, painted backdrop whose edges are clearly visible.

    Zahalka takes as her inspiration the celebrated Charles Meere painting Australian beach pattern (1938–40) (Art Gallery of New South Wales). But unlike Meere’s original, which has a cast of athletic and heroic Anglo-Celtic men and women, Zahalka chooses people who reflect the multicultural and culturally diverse nature of contemporary Australia.

  • Surf riders, Dee Why, New South Wales

    Surf riders, Dee Why, New South Wales (1962)

    David BEAL

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    The 1960s heralded the arrival of youth culture, and popular films such as A Hard Day’s Night and Easy Rider presented images of rebellion and alternative subcultures. The first surf movie shown in Australia, in Sydney in 1960, so excited the crowd that its screening resulted in a jubilant riot in which theatre seats were torn out and the police were called in. Surfing became an increasingly popular sport in Australia and in 1962 Midget Farrelly became the first Australian to win a world surfing championship. David Beal’s Surf riders, Dee Why, New South Wales, photographed in the same year, encapsulates the sense of freedom and independence associated not only with the sport but also with the energy of being young.

  • Shell bikinis by Jenny Bannister, Chai parade

    Shell bikinis by Jenny Bannister, Chai parade 1978

    Rennie ELLIS

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Water sustains life on earth but also possesses the potential for destructive power.7 Artists from many cultures and periods have represented water sources in numerous ways – some reverential, some playful, and some spiritual.

  • Living water

    Aboriginal people from across the Western Desert use the term ‘living water’ to describe water sources, including rock holes and soakage waters, that are fed by underground springs. The path of these springs was created by the ancestral beings of the Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) as they themselves journeyed underground.

    In this work, Tiger Palpatja celebrates the Wanampi Kujara (Two Water Snakes) creation story of his birthplace, Piltati. Like the iridescent skin of the wanampi ancestor, Palpatja’s diverse canvases are variegated, dappled with opalescent colours and encrusted with texture.8

  • Fresh water and salt water

    Indigenous people differentiate between fresh water (inland) and salt water (coastal) country.

    Mara artist Ginger Riley Munduwalawala called himself a ‘saltwater man’. His work Garimala 1990 represents Garimala, a snake ancestor, towering over the Four Archers, hills near the mouth of the Limmen Bight River in the artist’s country.

    Samantha Hobson belongs to the Kuuku ‘Ya’u (Sand Beach people) who live between the margins of the rainforest and the Coral Sea. For Hobson the beach is a place to remember her ancestors and in her painting Calm night…down at the beach 2008 she captures the glistening reef at night.

  • Sun, sand and surf

    Since white settlement, the sea and ocean have attracted many Australians as a place of recreation, revelry and exercise, and from this interest a ‘beach culture’ has emerged.

    For many, the vision of a bronzed Aussie lazing on golden sands beneath a blue sky is the familiar image of this culture. It is so common now that it is often a surprise to learn it was born out of the shadows of the First World War. After the horrors of that war, Australians yearned for a healthier, fitter image and associated this ideal with the Australian coastline and beach culture.

    On first impressions, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker 1937 captures this ideal. The bather is healthy, fit and tanned – the epitome of the new Australian body culture. Or is he? The bather depicted is in fact an Englishman. Interestingly too, what we now regard as an iconic image of the period did not become well know until the 1970s.9

    The continuing importance of the beach as a place of leisure is evident in David Beal’s Surf riders, Dee Why 1962, which encapsulates the sense of freedom and independence associated with surfing.

    Fashion designer Jenny Bannister was also attracted to the youthful hedonism that emerged as part of the beach lifestyle, creating wild and radical costumes such as her Scallop bikini 1978 made with black rope and golden scallop shells. Rennie Ellis’s photo Chai Parade 1978 features models sporting Bannister’s creation.

  • Beach culture - old and new

    Anne Zahalka questions the stereotypes that have evolved around Sydney’s Bondi Beach in her photograph The bathers 1989, which references Australian beach pattern (1938–40) by Charles Meere (Art Gallery of NSW). While Meere’s painting features idealised athletic figures, Zahalka presents a diverse cast of characters who reflect contemporary multicultural Australia. 10

Endnotes

  • 7 Susan van Wyk, Deep Water: Photographs 1860-2000, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2011.
  • 8 Judith Ryan, Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2011, p.13

  • 9 Isobel Crombie in Isobel Crombie and Susan van Wyk, 2nd Sight, Australian Photography in the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002, p. 51 and p. 55.

  • 10 Isobel Crombie in Isobel Crombie and Susan van Wyk, 2nd Sight, Australian Photography in the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002, p. 96.