Reconciliation Silk Painting

The Reconciliation Silk Painting was created on 7 May 2015 by students and staff from throughout the University of Adelaide.

Representatives from each of the five faculties participated, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people worked side-by-side to create the silk artwork, which was unveiled in Ingkarni Wardli as part of the University’s annual Reconciliation ceremony in 2015.

The work was led by Aunty Pilawuk White, an Aboriginal teacher and artist, whose language is Ngangiwumerri (NT). Her country is Malfyin and her spiritual connection is with Black Bream. Aunty Pilawuk has had a long and varied career working with schools and community organisations developing understandings of Aboriginal cultures.

  • The purpose of the silk painting

    The purpose of the silk painting is to represent the ongoing commitment by each faculty to Reconciliation and to recognise and celebrate Aboriginal place and culture as a way of further affirming the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the land on which each of the campuses of the University are located. The painting is intended to represent a whole-of University approach, with each of the five faculties having a distinct role. At the top is the Wirltu Yarlu, or Sea Eagle and along the base runs the river.

    The Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Technology contributed the sequence of 101010111011011, written in binary language, which is the underlying language of computers worldwide. The windmill represents renewable energy and the Southern Star represents the connection between all individuals and entities in the world. A wombat is seen digging its burrow which purportedly led to discovery of copper on the property of Walter Watson Hughes, who became very wealthy as a result. In 1874, he donated £20,000 (equivalent to about $2.5 million today), which was used to establish the University of Adelaide. The lightwave symbol represents light propagation along an optical fibre with traces lying along the river’s direction.

    The Faculty of Health Sciences contributed the symbol of the tree, representing growth, health and the life cycle, under which is the serpent or snake, signifying the health and healing professions. The Faculty of Arts, Business Law and Economics (ABLE) contributed the olive wreath. A symbol closely associated with classical imagery, the olive wreath represents the value ABLE places on traditional knowledge, and the wealth it continues to gain from the study of remembered and shared stories. It was incorporated to reflect how we can continue to grow through learning about narratives and stories, especially those that come from the traditional owners of this land. The symbol of the falling fence pickets reflects the desire that is strong within the Arts to use knowledge as a means to break down fences, and barriers, between cultures. It also represents the field of anthropology and other disciplines that encourage us to consider other culture perspectives; the ‘fence’, for example, is by no means a universal method for marking boundaries or denoting possession.

    A number of faculty groups came up with images around trees, tree roots and campfires. In regards to the Faculty of Arts, Business Law and Economics one prospective student drew an image of a campfire which he saw to reflect the importance of ‘sharing’ stories and wisdom; his idea for a tree with deep roots came from his understanding of root systems of trees reflecting connection to country, and being considered a way in which people can continue to connect with their ancestors.

    On the left are symbols created by the Arts, Business Law and Economics of Aboriginal leadership, both female and male, as the University as a whole is aiming to help build the next generation of Aboriginal leaders. On the left is also a legal scroll with hills/mountains indicating the law of the land – Aboriginal law and white law engaging with and learning from each other. On the right are two people trading but it also shows reciprocity and co-operation – in APY this interaction might also be referred to as ngapartji ngapartji. In the middle by the river (karrawirra) is a circle of firestones – this shows different understandings of community and built space. The fire running the length of the painting symbolises, in part, entrepreneurship – learning from old traditions of managing the land – but also the sparks of new ideas which come from education and learning from each other.

    The painting is hung at various sites around the University as an ongoing symbol of Reconciliation. It is incorporated into talks when school students visit the campus as a way of promoting the University as an inclusive and welcoming place for students of all backgrounds.