Water artwork to recall Green Square’s history

Bangala-photo-by-Silversalt-PhotographyA bronze sculpture modelled on handheld water carriers once used by Aboriginal communities along Australia’s east coast will be a central feature at the new aquatic and recreation centre in Green Square.

The new City of Sydney commissioned site-specific artwork, Bangala (water carriers), is by Aboriginal Elder Aunty Julie Freeman and artist Jonathan Jones.

The Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre is the largest pool complex built in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics and will service the area’s fast growing population. The centre will open on 1 February 2021.

For the thousands of people moving into Green Square, Bangala will be a permanent reminder of the enduring importance of Eora culture and the area’s history. Bangala is positioned close to a raingarden near the centre’s Zetland Avenue entrance and highlights the continued importance of water at the site.

The artwork has two structures depicting oversized vessels made of bark or palm fronds and fastened to a stick and string. Like springs, water from the pair of bronze carriers will spill over the landscape.

“Customarily made from bark or the frond of a Bangalow palm, bangala are handheld containers used for carrying and maintaining fresh water in coastal environments and are shared up and down the east coast of Australia,” said Aunty Julie Freeman.

“Aboriginal people across the country are very ecologically minded. They know about everything that grows in their country, their qualities, and how we make our traditional implements with the things that nature already provides. Sometimes people just need to be reminded that the city may change but there’s still the presence of Aboriginal people.”

Green Square is part of the extensive Lachlan and Waterloo wetland system – a series of freshwater creeks and wetlands that once flowed into the Cooks River and Botany Bay. From the early 1850s, the area’s plentiful water supply started to attract local manufacturers searching for power, rinsing and sullage outlets for their industries.

The freshwater creeks also irrigated breweries and market gardens. The Waterloo Swamp – the area’s largest wetland – was drained and reclaimed in 1908 to create Victoria Park Racecourse.

“Today, Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre retains its aquatic memory, with large drainage systems still passing under the site. The new centre recalls the traditional landscape, returning the site to a place of water and recreation,” said artist Jonathan Jones.

“Through a series of workshops, bangala have been created using the base of a palm frond, an oak handle and twine. The forms were scanned, made into 3D models, scaled up, produced in foam and then cast in bronze.”

Aunty Julie Freeman is a Gorawarl/Jerrawongarla traditional owner for South Sydney and the south coast of NSW. She is a recognised artist, cultural leader and storyteller, with strong knowledge relating to the region’s environmental system. Along with other Elders and makers, Aunty Julie maintains the knowledge of how to make bangala.

Artist Jonathan Jones is a member of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nations of southeast Australia and is based in Sydney. He creates site-specific installations and interventions to explore Indigenous practices, relationships and ideas.

Jonathan chooses projects where he can expose connections between a site’s historical and present form, revealing its hidden stories. He has exhibited nationally and internationally since the late 1990s. His work is in major public collections throughout Australia and overseas.

Aunty Julie and Jonathan have exhibited and worked together for many years.

“Aunty Julie Freeman and Jonathan Jones have interpreted the ongoing importance of Aboriginal culture and water narratives to this site, while cleverly linking its history and future,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

“This area was once known for its freshwater creeks and wetlands and later water-reliant industries. And after installing our $140 million stormwater trunk drain, Green Square is home to Metropolitan Sydney’s largest stormwater recycling facility and now the Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre. Commissioning thoughtful and site-specific public art has been a key priority of the City of Sydney in developing the high density urban village of Green Square.”

Bangala at the Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre joins Maria Fernanda Cardoso’s While I Live I Will Grow in the community and cultural precinct, as well as Michael Thomas Hill and Indigo Hanlee’s High Water and Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro’s Cloud Nation at the library and plaza,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

‘Gunyama’ means ‘wind from the south-west’ in the Aboriginal language of Sydney and refers to the strong southerlies that blow through the area.

The state-of-the art complex features a 50m heated outdoor pool set within a larger, irregular shaped pool inspired by ocean pools at some of Sydney’s best-loved beaches. It also includes a 25m indoor pool, children’s waterplay area, hydrotherapy pool, health and fitness centre, crèche and a synthetic sports field for use by community teams. The artwork will be accessible to the public when the facilities open early February 2021.

Image: Aunty Julie Freeman and Jonathan Jones, Bangala – photo by Silversalt Photography