Remarks at the Opening of the 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial: Defying Empire Exhibition

25 May 2017
The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Prime Minister
Indigenous Affairs


Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra. Wanggarralijinyin mariny bulan bugarabang.

We are here tonight on Ngunnawal land and we honour and respect the elders past and present.

We thank you Paul for your very, very characteristically warm and beautiful welcome.

And thank you Gerard for inviting me here tonight.

And thank you above all to all of the artists.

What remarkable set of works you’ve presented, proving, demonstrating if anyone doubted it that the oldest continuous human culture in the world, that of our First Australians, is alive and dynamic, it is old and new.

It is as old as the deepest most ancient root of a great tree and as new as the flower of the morning on the very height.

The works are profound. They bring every tradition together and, of course, they are done by artists of all ages.

We have works that reach more into the traditional modes of expression.

The beautiful weavings of Yvonne Koolmatrie from the Riverland.

Lola Greeno’s beautiful chains of shoals and bones.

And then of course those like Reko Rennie, of course, who is appropriating the latest technology, a Rolls Royce no less – driving that around his country.

And of course Daniel Boyd appropriating, not just defying empire, appropriating empire and re-expressing colonial works in a similar way, it is different but similar, that Danie Mellor does with some of his works. Although Danie is not in the exhibition here tonight.

But, thank you all so much. I am so honoured to be here to open this exhibition.

It is a wonderful example, as I said, of the continuous dynamic culture of First Australians - how it enriches all of us. 

This is the great genius of our nation. We are old and new. We are as old as the oldest continuous human culture on earth. And as new as the latest expression of that culture. As new as the baby in the arms of her migrant mother.

It is a remarkable achievement that we have and as we walk closer and closer to fulfilling the promise of Reconciliation we build on the foundations of the great achievements, the truth telling that led to the ’67 Referendum – the truth, the love, the commitment, the commitment above all to each other and to recognising how our art expresses our humanity, speaks to us from 50,000 years ago to the flower of the morning.

Thank you all very much.

Congratulations to the curatorial team. Above all thank you and congratulations to the artists. And of course the sponsors, Wesfarmers, all of you that have enabled this wonderful exhibition to happen.

Thank you very much.