Transforming educational spaces - Indigenous artworks reconcile past and future

An image of a photographic artwork extending the full length of a wall, showing a rocky creek bed and tree in front of a rocky cliff
The life-sized photographs by Indigenous photographer James Henry adorn several walls in the Graduate School of Education buildings. Image: James Henry

An innovative Indigenous art project has transformed the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education to recognise the place of Indigenous Knowledges in education and create a culturally safe, welcoming, and respectful environment for Indigenous people.

Life-sized photographs, captured by Indigenous photographer James Henry, are permanent installations on several large walls in the Graduate School buildings.

The photographs feature local Narrm (Melbourne) river landscapes to reflect Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Knowledge of a freshwater stream that once ran down what is now known as Leicester Street.

A symbolic large canvas by Indigenous artist Dixon Patten was also commissioned to express the importance of country and the University’s commitment to recognise and prioritise the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The art project, which was a collaboration between Indigenous staff, Wurundjeri elders, and Indigenous artists, was inspired by the University of Melbourne's strategy Advancing Melbourne, with its focus on Place and Community, and the Graduate School's Indigenous Development Plan.

Graduate School of Education Dean Professor Jim Watterston said the project was part of a suite of measures the school had instigated to ensure its relationships with Indigenous communities resulted in tangible outcomes.

"Transforming our spaces and creatively articulating the reciprocal nature of education between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people will promote cultural awareness and recognition, which are key to progressing the important work of reconciliation," Professor Watterston said.

"My hope is that Indigenous students and staff walking into our buildings and seeing these huge works and their accompanying words will feel acknowledged, respected and welcomed into our spaces. It also stands as a consistent reminder for all that beneath the concrete foundations of the Graduate School are the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri People."

Assistant Dean (Indigenous) Associate Professor Melitta Hogarth said the works served as a visual acknowledgement of Country and supported the important work the school was doing to foreground Indigenous Knowledges.

"These works complement the Reconciliation Statement we recently released and the new First Nations in Education subject that all Master of Teaching students undertake as part of their studies," Professor Hogarth said.