It was truly a community effort that led to the unveiling of an artwork in Gundagai earlier this month that acknowledged the town’s deep respect for its aboriginal heritage and culture.
For many people, the town is best known from Jack O’Hagan’s 1922 song, Along the Road to Gundagai, and the equally famous poem-inspired song, Dog on the Tuckerbox.
But Gundagai’s place on the map was well trod by the Wiradjuri people long before European settlement in the 1820s.
Richly embedded in the rough range-like landscape through which the mighty Murrumbidgee River flows, its banks heaving with red river gums that bear the hallmark markings of this Indigenous population, is folklore that makes you look at Gundagai in a different light, should you take the time.
Held sacred by the ancient people who met, traded, manufactured, mined and conducted ceremonies there, even after the region was colonised, it became a major crossroad for the young colony’s movements north and south. To this day, these activities still happen here.
One such ceremony took place last week at Gundagai Police Station. Present were Indigenous community elders, a community leader, a politician, police, and students and teachers from Gundagai High School.
At the centre of the ceremony was an impressive artwork, the culmination of a four-month project designed to promote awareness of domestic violence and break down barriers that may exist between Aboriginal youth and police.
The collaborative artwork, titled Connections with Community – White Ribbon, was created by seven Indigenous students, Wagga Wagga artist Tyronne Hoerler, and local police to encourage discussion about the issue of domestic violence in the local community.
The original concept for the project was proposed earlier this year by Sergeant Joanne Gallant from Gundagai Police Station.
“The idea was to have a group of police working with a small group of Aboriginal students from the local high school to erode barriers and dispel any myths,” said Sergeant Gallant.
“This also gave us an opportunity to educate the students and talk about the issues surrounding domestic violence in the community of Gundagai and the wider community.”
Riverina Police District Commander Superintendent Bob Noble said the artwork will become a permanent fixture at Gundagai Police Station.
“This artwork was designed to be a lasting visual icon at the police station to show connection of community and unity,” he said.
“I think it shows we’ve gone a long way in terms of our relationship with the Indigenous community. I’m particularly excited about it being a community, school and police project that brought us all together.”
But the message conveyed through the artwork is just as important, he said.
“We know that, unfortunately, Aboriginal people, and particularly Aboriginal women and children, are more likely to be the subject of domestic violence,” said Superintendent Noble. “The NSW Police Force is committed to ensuring our ties with Aboriginal people are strong, and acts as a partnership in addressing the prevention of fear and crime in our state.”
NSW Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke unveiled the artwork and said it was a visual representation of the community’s strong relationships.
“This work of art is testament to what can be achieved when different groups come together to understand and trust one another, and make a strong statement against domestic violence,” she said.