Installation view of Lee Darroch’s work <em>Duta Ganha Woka (Save Mother Earth Now)</em> 2023 (detail) on display as part of the <em>Melbourne Now</em> exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne.    Image: Tom Ross

Lee Darroch

Lee Darroch
(Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti and Boonwurrung, b. 1957, Raymond Island, Victoria. Lives and works in Melbourne)

Lee Darroch is a highly respected Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti and Boonwurrung artist and community arts worker. Her work spans arts, culture, community development, public art and design, with her visual art practice including possum-skin cloak-making, sculpture, feather work, coiled basketry, printmaking and pastel drawing. Darroch was the first artist to produce a possum-skin cloak for the NGV Collection, in 2018, titled Gumuka, baitja biganga (Old woman, old man possum skin cloak).

Welcoming visitors as they enter the Melbourne Now exhibition is Darroch’s Duta Ganha Woka (Save Mother Earth), 2023, a 10 metre–long installation made from driftwood and jute. Across two rows, Duta Ganha Woka represents thirty-eight men and thirty-eight women of the thirty-eight Aboriginal language groups in Victoria. Jute string connects and holds the driftwood together, indicating the important connections between First Nations people in this region. Darroch collected the driftwood that comprises the installation on Country and considers the gathering of materials to be a central part of her practice. Burned and embellished in each piece of driftwood is a united message expressed in the thirty-eight languages: ‘Save Mother Earth Now’. The installation makes reference to message sticks, important cultural objects found throughout many First Nations communities across Australia. Message sticks have been a way for First Nations people to communicate across both time and place and have been used for transferring important cultural knowledge since time immemorial. Duta Ganha Woka continues the artist’s exploration of connectedness to Country through land art and sculpture. Many of her artworks draw on natural materials – stone, bone, shell, animal skins, ochre, sea sponges, feathers and driftwood – to respond, and pay homage, to Country.

Darroch’s practice as both an artist and community cultural worker is inspired by the need to continue cultural, spiritual and artistic practices in Australia’s South East. She has been instrumental in the regeneration of a number of South-Eastern cultural practices that have ‘lain dormant’ since colonisation. Her work is represented in the collections of the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the offices of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum, Flinders University Art Museum in Adelaide, and Melbourne Grammar School. Darroch’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.