National Gallery of Australia director visits Newcastle's colonial treasures exhibition

lycett inner viewRon Radford, the director of the National Gallery of Australia, has come to Newcastle to see the Colonial Treasures of the Macquarie Era exhibition, including one very special artwork that is heading to London’s Royal Academy.

“I really wanted to see the works borrowed from the Mitchell (NSW State) Library and the wonderful early works that the Newcastle gallery owns itself.”

“They’re very precious and fragile works and it’s not often that they’re lent because libraries, etc, don’t want to put them at risk, but to see that wonderful Macquarie Collector’s Chest in Newcastle with the wonderful paintings and birds and so on, in the location where the birds and shells were collected, where Joseph Lycett painted it, it’s extraordinary. It’s great to see it in context with the other works. That work is not often shown in Sydney let alone being shown here in Newcastle.”

“It was during that time of Commandant Wallis that there were more artworks being produced here in Newcastle than in Sydney.”

As Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Ron Radford often travels to regional galleries to see and open their exhibitions.

“We have a big regional program where we send big exhibitions around the country. I’m to open the big federation exhibition in Darwin next week. So I do like getting around.”

“I was a regional gallery director. I was director of the Ballarat gallery for seven years so I’ve got a great affection for the job that our regional directors do.”

“It’s a difficult job, often in times when they are often cut yet ironically attendances to regional galleries, indeed all galleries, are going up and up and up at a time when governments are making cutbacks.”

“It’s rather ironic that about 12 million Australians visit art galleries each year, including in the regions. So attendances are going up but it’s not always appreciated that this is something that Australians like. More Australians per capita visit art galleries than any other country.”

Ron Radford was here in Newcastle for the opening of Newcastle Art Gallery when it was opened by The Queen in 1977.

“The collection has quadrupled since then and yet the building has remained the same. It must be the last of the major regional galleries in Australia to get an extension so I’m very much looking forward to that happening.”

“It is one of the great regional collections, it’s the most important in NSW and one of the top two or three regionall galleries in Australia, so I’m really looking forward to the new wing so that more of that wonderful collection can be shown and also so they can take more of our touring exhibitions. At the moment they can’t really do that without putting some of their collection away.”

Undoubtedly Ron Radford is aware of the recent debate of the funding commitment to the $21 million redevelopment of Newcastle Art Gallery but he remains convinced the redevelopment will proceed.

“I’m sure that it’s only just temporary. Buildings often go through these sorts of things, I’ve lived through many extensions. But I’m sure that as the people of Newcastle really want it and support it, I’m sure it will go ahead, it’s only a temporary setback.”

“And particularly I believe the collection here is even more important than Bendigo’s collection – which is a very good collection in Victoria and one of the earliest regional galleries in Australia – I think Newcastle’s collection in scope and quality surpasses Bendigo, the population here is so much bigger so I’m sure that it will go ahead and be supported by the community.”

“You should absolutely not sell artworks (to fund the redevelopment). What’s the use? That begins to feed on itself. You don’t sell your treasures, your main attractions and reasons people want to give to the gallery.”

“If you start selling the collections you’ll lose all your donors and people will think, the powers that be, will think that anything you want (to pay for) you just sell off the collection to pay for it. It’s cannabalising. The collection must always remain the main force.”

“Councils come and go, mayors come and go, gallery directors come and go but the collections go on forever.”

“The thing about the Bendigo gallery is that it has brought so much tourism. With it’s extensions and promoting from the city council itself in Bendigo, it’s become a great tourist attraction.”

“They’ve finally got the fact that it’s a great money-spinner for the hotels and everything else with people coming up for the day or a weekend and making a visit of their major temporary exhibitions which they’re doing and are very well promoted.”

“It’s a great asset for the hotels and cafes which are making a fortune out of the success of the Bendigo gallery and the promotion through their city council as a major tourist attraction from Melbourne.”

“I’m sure that when this (Newcastle Art Gallery) is redeveloped it will be a great attraction from the whole district but also a wonderful daytrip or weekend trip from Sydney to see the exhibitions.”

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Kylie Kwong on insects as food

Kylie Kwong
Kylie Kwong

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says insects are the food of the future and that Western consumers need to open their minds. Australian cook and restaurateur Kylie Kwong already serves insects in her Sydney restaurant.

“It’s just so exciting, I’ve been serving insects in my restaurant, Billy Kwong, since February (2013) and the response has been just so positive but just from a simple cook’s point of view insects are delicious!”

As well as the restaurant, Kylie also shares her love of cooking at her regular stall at Sydney’s Eveleigh Markets on Saturday mornings. Very much in the style and tradition of Chinese street food, the stall offers a few selected dishes featuring native Australian ‘bush foods’ and also a gentle introduction to eating insects.

“In my restaurant I serve the whole roasted crickets with, for example, the cricket and prawn wontons or I might serve a stir fried cricket dish with black bean and chilli where you do actually see the whole body (of the cricket), but with market stall I thought I would just gently, gently introduce the products to my clients so I’ve got the steamed sticky rice parcels with warrigal greens, macadamia nuts, goji berries, and I put crushed roasted crickets on top.”

“There are some people who would like to see the whole beast so I’ve got a little container of whole crickets underneath my table which I’m very happy to show people, but it was deliberate (to not serve them whole) as I thought it might be a bit early for the whole beast.”

In other parts of the world eating insects is completely acceptable and this is the point of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their recommendation that Western consumers should ‘open their minds’ to an environmentally friendly food source.

“There is so much to love about insects. They are super-sustainable to breed and produce very little methane gas. They’re incredibly rich in iron and protein and incredibly delicious! The roasted crickets taste like dried shrimps, roasted wood cockroaches are extraordinary in that they smell and taste like chocolate and coffee beans.”

“The wood cockroach’s natural habitat is the forest so they feed on the wood and so on, but the difference with my insects is that I have them bred to order by Skye Blackburn, an entomologist in Parramatta. I actually give Skye organic vegetables which I source from Eveleigh market and she feeds the vegetables to my insects, so it’s fantastic because I know absolutely what I’m getting, how they’ve been bred, what they’ve been eating and it’s this great story that we can tell our customers.”

“Just in my Chinese heritage we’ve been eating insects for thousands and thousands of years, just like indigenous Australians, so it’s a wonderful cultural, historical and sociological story as well. I am completely obsessed with it!”

Kylie Kwong has long been an advocate of sustainable and ethical food production and puts this into practise in her cooking.

“I’ve had the Australian native plants on the menu for two years now and I was really inspired to take them up after I listened to Rene Redzepi give the opening address at the 2010 Crave festival.”

“All of us just walked out of there feeling completely bowled over by what this remarkable chef had to say. I left there thinking I really had to offer more natives on my menu at Billy Kwong.”

“Discovering Australian natives, just the plants to begin with but now I’ve wallaby on the menu, has completely revolutionised our cooking there and it’s allowed me to give our customers a truly authentic Australian Chinese food experience. Nowhere else in the world will you have vegetables like this.”

“For example we do steamed vegetable dumplings like the Chinese have been doing for thousands of years but I fill my dumplings with warrigal greens, or we’ll make a crispy organic saltbush cake – very similar to a Chinese shallot cake that you’ll have in Chinese street food but I simply fill mine with saltbush leaves instead of spring onions.”

“I’m very inspired and driven by ethics and sustainability but the actual produce is also just so delicious, it’s so tasty and there’s so much texture.”

“Truly unique flavours, they’re very simpatico with the Chinese flavour profile. The sourness of the Davidson Plum is like an Umeboshi Plum so I serve that with my crispy skin duck. Sugarbag honey from the Australian native stingless bee is extraordinary. It’s very rare, very expensive, the bees only produce about one kilogram per hive per year so I’ve been hoarding it in my coolroom, but it has a lovely lemony acidic flavour.”

The UN acknowledges that ‘consumer disgust’ is one of the biggest barriers to the consumption of insects in Western countries.

“I guess it takes cooks like myself (to change things). I’ve got five different insects integrated into the main menu at Billy Kwong, they’re on offer every day, they are not just a special every now and then.”

“My whole goal is to make edible insects the usual hence the reason I serve them at my market stall as well, I want these creatures to be an everyday thing in our diet.”

“So I guess the more coverage we get, the more people will buy them, the lower the price will be – they’re very expensive, about $100 a kilo.”

“They’re a little bit like dried scallops in that they’re considered a delicacy in indigenous Australia and certainly the Chinese culture.”

Cricket and prawn wontons
Cricket and prawn wontons

“We must remember that most insects are actually crustaceans. When I started to think about eating insects for the first time – and you need to know that I have been a terrible arachnophobe and insect-phobic person my whole life.”

“I’m the person who used to jump and run out the door when I saw a Daddy Longlegs in the room, but now my cupboard at the restaurant is full of roasted insects. I’ve actually got some live green tree ants on offer at the moment, they’re fascinating creatures.”

“When I brought the first packet of roasted crickets into Billy Kwong, there’s me screaming and squawking, four of my five chefs are Chinese and they all looked at me as if I was crazy and like, “Yeah, we’ve been eating those all our lives in China, what are you going on about?”

“The more I read about the subject, the more obsessed I get but on a very simple note they’re very delicious. To deal with the ‘yuck factor’ if we think of insects as crustaceans and bring to our minds the image of a prawn or crayfish or yabby – we all love those beautiful seafoods.”

“If you look at a grasshopper or cicada or locust or cricket they are in fact tiny little crustaceans and that reduced my fear.”

“The Chinese call insects ‘prawns in the sky’ and insects are here to stay on my menu.”

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Denise Kelly – Wiradjuri Woman

childDenise Kelly is a Wiradjuri woman who has been working with Liz Mullinar’s Heal For Life Foundation since 2005. Denise is now translating her experience in culturally appropriate education to helping support Aboriginal people who are survivors of child trauma and abuse.

“I work with children in schools and I know some of these children have been abused, so a friend asked me to look at the Heal for Life program for an Aboriginal perspective.”

“Even though we’re all Aboriginal, we’re all unique and all from different nations so for me to go all the way to Katherine, that’s a lot of nations that I travelled over to work with these people.”

What might be considered an accepted and standard approach to working with survivors of child abuse and trauma might not, however, be suitable for remote indigenous communities.

A very large part of Denise Kelly’s role is around understanding and developing strategies that take cultural sensititivies into consideration.

“The main issue for me is that I can’t work with Aboriginal men.”

“I can work with Aboriginal males up to a certain age but going to the Northern Territory when they’re initiated is when I need to back away.”

“I can, and will, work with all the ladies, any of the women and children, but not the men.”

“With setting up programs I do them specifically for Aboriginal women and girls.”

“Where the men are involved, it’s up to me to find males that can work with males and then train them to be carers and facilitators to run the programs.”

“So when I next go up to Katherine I can take a men’s group and they go off in their own area and the women in their own area.”

“We’re trying to do it in a way in which we can heal a whole family but we need the men trained.”

“One of the differences in working with people in remote areas and here in Newcastle is that in Katherine, for example, we would ‘heal’ them family by family, but in Newcastle you’re working with people from different families and different nations that will come together as one.”

One of the great difficulties in helping people who have been abused is in finding out in the first place.

Many people have been reluctant to tell others about what they’ve been through and Aboriginal people, in particular, have been subjected to numerous forms of abuse and trauma over many generations.

“The protocols are through the elders. I work in with elders so I need to get to know them first and for them to tell me individually which areas I can work in with the young ones.”

” Some of the kids don’t talk to their elders, they will talk to somebody else but they need to be able to trust me.”

“It makes it easier for me being Aboriginal and something we’re very good at is what you would call ‘gut feeling’ but Aboriginal people instinctively know if they can work with you or not.”

“Every Aboriginal person I know has been through some sort of trauma or abuse and has had to hide it.”

“It’s time it was out there and shown to people. Other people might not even realise they’re hurting Aboriginal people so it’s time we had a voice.”

With the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse getting underway, will it be difficult to get Aboriginal people to tell their stories to the commissions?

“We’ll be able to help them but for them to talk to people in authority straight up – I don’t think they’ll be able to because if there’s just one person there that they know isn’t going to believe them they’ll think ‘well, what’s the point in telling any of them’.”

“There’s going to be many stories (untold). They need to have the right people sitting out at the commission so that these people can put their walls down and be able to talk.”

“They need to have sensitive people sitting there at the commission, not the hierarchy that usually do sit out the front.”

“I feel the abuse is still there, there are still kids being abused.”

Given the cultural sensitivities that Denise Kelly has to work with, what’s it like for a Wellington, NSW, woman to head to Katherine?

“It is very hard to go out of country. Very hard. Because I know there’s a difference within the Aboriginal nations and how they do things, the things they eat.”

” People just assume that in Katherine, for example, they eat kangaroo. I don’t eat kangaroo.”

” They might just seem little things but they’re big things to me.”

“I look up to the people in Darwin because they were allowed to keep their language, they were allowed to keep their culture, but I’m still learning my culture and learning my language, I’m teaching my language to the kids out my way.”

“I feel proud of the people in Katherine but at the same time I feel for them because their hurts are bigger.”

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Nigel Westlake – Smugglers of Light

Matthew Priestley – one of the artists supported by the Smugglers of Light Foundation

In 2008, Australian composer Nigel Westlake’s son, Eli, was killed in a tragic road rage incident. With the support of his family, and his son’s friends, Nigel used his love for his son to establish a music and film program to support young indigenous Australians.

In an interview in 2011, Nigel reflected that after the death of his son, “I really thought I was finished musically. There was nothing more to be said. The muse had disappeared.”

As children, our greatest fear is the death of our parents. As parents, that fear is the death of our children. An unimaginable loss. But so often, great loss is inspiration for great work, and for Nigel Westlake and his family, Eli’s death led to the creation of the Smugglers Of Light Foundation – an organisation using music to help indigenous youth reclaim their heritage through music and film.

So how did Nigel gradually deal with the loss of Eli and find the momentum to continue and find purpose.

“At that particular time (of Eli’s death), that’s how it felt. I didn’t mean that I’d said it all musically, by any means. I meant that there was no incentive to write.”

“Looking back on it now, it’s five years ago this week that we lost our son, Eli, I think for the first 12 – 18 months the thing that was most present in my mind was to keep memories of him alive.”

“It was like keeping him in a vault. I didn’t want anything to come in or go out and I was so protective of those memories I couldn’t give way to anything. I couldn’t give way to the creative process and sit down and absorb my mind in a piece of music. My thoughts had to be with Eli.”

“That’s what drove me to form the Smugglers of Light Foundation in his memory, to take those memories and the thoughts about his future, the life that he might have had, his qualities of empathy, compassion and so forth, and bundle them all up in to a package called the Smugglers of Light Foundation.”

“That gave me a good focus to get that on the road but starting something like that is a very big undertaking and I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing, so it was a very steep learning curve. Musically, it didn’t seem important at that time.”

The moment of decision, the catalyst for the foundation started at the family home when the house overflowed with Eli’s friends and family, gathering together to share their grief.

“It was the week after Eli had been killed. Being a young man with so many young friends they all descended on our house and they actually lived with us for a week or so.”

“All these young people – some we knew quite well, others we didn’t know so well. At night they’d stoke up the fire and find a place on the floor or couch and sleep the night. There were never less than 40 or 50 people in the house at any one time, a constant flow of young people and also close friends and family.”

“It was during that time that we got talking to these young people and they were saying, ‘How can we remember him? How can we never forget him?’ One of them said, ‘Yeah, we should form some sort of foundation or charity or something’ and I raised my glass and said, ‘Yes! Well here’s to Eli’s foundation!’. I didn’t have a clue what I’d let myself in for.”

“It was about three weeks later when the house was totally quiet and the chill of winter had set in and it was like a mausoleum, my wife and I were looking at each other thinking, ‘What the hell have we done? How do you start a foundation?’ But there had been about 40 people there who were witness to me raising my glass so I had to keep that promise.”

“I was actually sad to see them go because what had brought us together was our love for Eli and from that time we’ve maintained very close relationships with many of them.”

“Every year on the anniversary of his death a lot of them come up to the country where we laid him to rest and just be with us for a short time. So it’s created a wonderful connection for us with a different generation.”

“There are so many things that I look to as positive outcomes from losing Eli because you can’t wallow in the tragedy of it. You’ve got to find a way to use it as a catalyst to move on, and that’s been a catalyst for re-connecting with those young people, that’s a great thing.”

Having the idea to create a foundation in Eli’s memory is one thing, doing it is surely another.

“The first thing I did was I went to APRA (the Australasian Performing Rights Association) of which I’ve been a member since the mid-80s. It’s an agency for Australian composers and it’s the lifeblood of Australian music because it’s where all the residual payments for music usage on TV, film, radio, etc, is collected and distributed amongst members so it’s pretty much how someone like myself, a freelance composer, can focus on that fulltime with those resources.”

“APRA have a wonderful history of connections with charities, they’re very support of the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Foundation, they also are very involved in Support Act – a support mechanism for retired musicians and composers.”

“Brett Cottle, the CEO of APRA said, ‘Come in and talk about this foundation thing’ and I went in with a long list of questions, an incredible apprehension and lacking in confidence of not knowing what I was doing.”

“Brett said, ‘Well that sounds great, APRA would like to be a partner of organisation and we’d like to supply you with all the accounting and legal facilities free of charge and just to kick off the foundation here’s a grant’.”

“It was unbelievable. So it was through APRA and our connection with them that we’ve been able to get off to a fairly quick start.”

“We’re still a very young organisation and we’ve got a long way to go, but we are doing stuff and I realise that in the bigger scheme of things it’s kind of a drop in the ocean but at least it’s something and it’s something that we feel very passionate about and whenever I’m in indigenous communities I really do feel Eli looking down upon me, his eyes awash with tears of joy. It’s a great feeling to be able to take that tragedy and turn it into something that is tangible evidence of him.”

“One of our main programs at the moment is called Song Nation. We have a team of three people, one of whom is Gail Mabo – daughter of the famous land rights campaigner Eddie Mabo – Gail has become the patron of the Smugglers of Light. She is a wonderful woman, very dear friend.”

“She saw what we were doing in Townsville a couple of years ago and said she wanted to be part of it, offering to do whatever she could to help. They go to remote communities and this year we’re going to the Torres Straight and some far-flung communities in WA. We spend four or five days with the young children. ”

“The first thing we do is bring in elders of the community and we have them tell stories about the history of the culture, their origins and so on, and then we get the kids to encapsulate those stories into a form of music, whether that be hip-hop or a song.”

“We do an on-the-fly production number with the kids recording their song and then we do a choreographed film clip. Gail helps do the choreography because she studied at the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre some years ago.”

“It’s basically getting the kids connected with their culture which in some communities is alarmingly fragmented.”

“The kids sometimes have no reason to speak to elders so they don’t really have a handle on where they’ve come from or the heritage that they’re sitting on top of.”

“It gets them involved in where they’ve come from and they get to express that through music and film.”

“The films inevitably have very powerful positive messages about reconciliation, about future aspirations, about dreamtime stories, and those clips go up on YouTube and attract tens of thousands of hits which in effect disseminates positive mantras throughout those communities.”

“When our team goes to communities, a lot of those kids already know most of the songs that we’ve written in other communities and they’ve got them as ringtones on their phones – it’s amazing how they embrace it.”

“We’ve had school teachers coming up to us and saying that the kids are coming back to school, that they’re interested in learning, some of them going to university next year, so it’s a very small thing but it seems to have a very positive outcome.”

“We also have an annual scholarship for an indigenous film-maker or musician, a small amount of money to help them gain skills in their chosen fields and help them open doors for their future employment.”

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform ‘Missa Solis’ – Nigel Westlake’s requiem for his son, Eli.

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