Indigenous artist Sally Gabori’s lush painted memories of her childhood give international visitors to Brisbane a warm and stunning welcome.
It’s a moving occasion for any family when one of their members is honoured publicly, their life or work commemorated in an ongoing tribute for all to admire.
Imagine, then, the overwhelming effect on a family of Mornington Islanders of standing before their late mother’s paintings, transposed to a 750m long, ceiling-to-floor mural, learning it will greet more than five million visitors a year on their arrival in Brisbane.
Three of artist Sally Gabori’s 11 children, Dorothy, Amanda and Maxwell, of the Mornington Kaiadilt clan, were a quietly proud and dignified presence among the fanfare at the official opening of this beautiful welcoming artpiece at the International Terminal recently. They had a mission of three plane trips to get to the site, flying from Mornington to Normanton to Cairns to Brisbane.
With them, Brisbane Airport Corporation executives, including CEO Julieanne Alroe, the Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Curtis Pitt, architects, art historians, academics, project installers and media all gathered to pay homage to the stunningly beautiful mural, infused with the lush colour of the artist’s Bentinck Island home in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Sally Gabori painted from memory of her childhood, finding a language on the canvas to speak of the landscape she cherished in her youth, with a skill and vibrancy that took the art world by surprise just over a decade ago – all the more so because she was painting for the first time in her late 70s.
Translated to a mural that travels as far as the eye can see along the walls of the airport arrivals concourse, her stories are revealed in what looks deceptively abstract, but is shifting light and colours of her ancestral places; tropical seascape, salt pans, mangrove swamps and reefs, sand bars, rivers, turtle, fish and dugong. Plaques identifying the changing scenes dot the walls, in English, Kaiadilt and Chinese script.
The Gabori children expressed delight at their language, of which their mother was one of the last speakers, being on public view. It speaks for them in a bolder voice than they could comfortably find before such a crowd – except for Maxwell, who bravely and briefly went to the lectern to express pride that “their mother’s spirit lived on in this place’’.
Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori (her name means “dolphin born at Mirdidinki”) died in February, before she saw this project to completion, but for four years she collaborated on it with the owner of Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne, Beverly Knight, her mentor and curator, who has respectfully overseen the mural creation.
It involved digitally rendering a selection of Mrs Gabori’s paintings and reproducing them on a grand scale, applying them to wallpaper-like panels, then placed along the terminal walls.
BAC hosts one of the largest private art collections in Australia, in its car parks, terminals and Skygate complex, several of which are Aboriginal artists’ works.
“To have Mrs Gabori’s artwork as a prominent welcome to international travellers from around the globe is an immense honour for Brisbane Airport,’’ Julianne Alroe says.
“Her immeasurable cultural legacy will continue to live on.’’
Mrs Gabori was an early success story of the Mornington Island Art Centre, one of 14 established in 2004 to encourage and develop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art. She is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, Musee du Quai Branly Paris and The Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht Holland. Her works have been shown throughout Australia and in London and South Korea. One of her large works is in the Banco Court in Brisbane’s Supreme Court building.
Now as the jets roar in and out and the relentless airport activity clamours outside the concourse glass window, sunlight and later, aircraft lights dance across the mural’s vibrant surface, bringing it alive with a breathtaking richness.
And its message, sung best by the ceremony’s Songwoman, Maroochy Barambah, respected Elder of the Turrbal people: “You are all welcome here”.