Artist Ben Quilty was compelled to create his latest work while making a pilgrimage to a sacred site for the Gundangara people. He and his 13-year-old son Joe had been visiting a waterhole in the Southern Highlands regularly when one day Joe pointed out a plaque that read, People have been enjoying this place for the past 150 years.
Gundangara women had in fact been visiting for between 60,000 and 80,000 years, making the long trek across the Blue Mountains to the south coast of New South Wales, arriving in time to give birth.
The centrepiece of Quilty’s new show, opening tomorrow at Tolarno Galleries, is a response to that sign. Called 150 Year, Rorschach, it’s almost 9 metres wide and while it depicts the beauty of the landscape, it is covered in feral animals – a cat, a toad, a fox and a goat. “In a sense I see myself as one of them,” he says.
He is driven to point out this erasure, “that callous deletion of the history of who we actually could be if we were willing to acknowledge the truth”.