Council commissioned Frances Belle Parker and Urban Art Projects to create public art for our Aboriginal Art & Storytelling Project, the first major project for the Coast Walk Public Art Program. The project acknowledges and shares the stories of Northern Beaches Aboriginal people through a series of contemporary public artworks along the 36km Coast Walk, from Manly to Palm Beach.
This project sees new works in three locations along the Coast Walk; Narrabeen Lagoon, Avalon (south) and Long Reef Headland.
Frances Belle Parker
Oyster Shells - Middens, 2022
Middens along the coast are places where Aboriginal people gathered to eat and would leave the remains of shellfish. They are synonymous with Aboriginal people, considered culturally significant proof of the people’s use of the land as a meeting place.
There are a number of identified middens in the Northern Beaches area, protected and revered. My oyster shell concept pays tribute to these midden sites as I, like my ancestors, hold family and community gatherings in such high regard. Many are still centred around feasts – a time where we can gather to yarn, to share, heal, reminisce, or celebrate. These gatherings focus on connection, being one, being together.
My aim is to create a space amongst the vastness of the Coast Walk that brings people together, unites them, encourages communication and enhance a sense of community. A place where people can stop and catch their breath.
My concept involves a number of cast aluminium oyster shells. The shells are arranged in a cluster to capture that moment in time of a feast, a gathering. The location at Narrabeen Lagoon was identified during engagement with local Aboriginal communities.
Some oysters will have graphics containing symbolic imagery representing bloodlines, coastal formations, the landscape, and other sea creatures. Some of these images incorporate the work of Jessica Birk, a passionate local Aboriginal artist and conservationist who has now passed on. Around the outside and inside edges of the oysters, patterns made to create the anatomy of the shellfish become symbols of the layers within a midden.
Visitors to this site will be able to touch and enjoy the designs in the interior – a reminder there is always more to explore beneath the surface of people, country, and cultural sites.
The story of the middens is about digging further than what you see on the Earth’s surface and understanding that underlying history – not just of the artwork, but of the land you are on”.
Frances Belle Parker has been a practising artist for the last 20 years, coming to prominence after winning the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre Blake Prize in 2000; she is the youngest ever winner and the first Aboriginal recipient in the prize’s history. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, undertaken art residencies in China and Andorra and worked on several public art projects, including her recent digital work Angwirri on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, on 26 January 2021.
She worked with public art and architectural design group UAP Australia, and independent curator Tess Allas, to realise this project.
Frances engaged with the local Aboriginal community to identify significant and relevant sites for storytelling through the artwork. The artist has significant family connections on the Northern Beaches. The works enrich Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people’s experience of the region without compromising environmentally fragile and culturally sensitive sites. These artworks help connect people to the landscape, each other, and to past, present, and future.