Celebrating two decades of law studies at Bond University, the Faculty of Law organised a unique event of lasting legal and artistic significance. Prominent aboriginal artist and tribal leader Bill Yidumduma Harney was commissioned to paint a new work of art on the theme ‘the Law of the Wardaman People’.
Yidumduma is an Elder of the Wardaman People of the Victoria, Flora and Katherine River Districts of the Northern Territory. Sadly, however, he is also the last senior lawman (‘knowledge custodian’) of his people. With him, an irreplaceable piece of Australia’s cultural and legal history will die.
The Faculty of Law arranged for Yidumduma to take up a two-week residency on campus to complete the painting. To complement the residency, the Faculty planned a number of activities including artist master classes, Campus art tours and public lectures for the duration of the residency, generating dialogue with Aboriginal art and law among staff, students and alumni.
The Artist in Residence program provided an opportunity for genuine collaboration between Bond University, as a socially aware and responsible institution of higher education and its immediate and broader constituencies, thereby demonstrating the University’s commitment to principles of community engagement and social inclusion.
Yidumduma is uniquely suited to this task, bringing together law and art to convey his people’s cultural knowledge through a medium of traditional cultural expression. Ancient night sky story-songlines will be the theme of the artwork as Bill Yidumduma Harney uses traditional concepts and integrates ancient forms and symbols with paints made of original earth ochres.
The artwork is a wonderful addition to the University’s already extensive art collection and will be proudly hung on the walls of the Faculty of Law’s Legal Skills building for the community to view and appreciate.
Artist Profile - Bill Yidumduma Harney
Born in 1931 of mixed-race parentage, Bill Yidumduma Harney was raised by his Aboriginal mother in the traditions of her tribe, the Wardaman People of the Victoria, Flora and Katherine River Districts of the Northern Territory. Although equally at home in both indigenous and non-indigenous communities, Aboriginal culture has been the defining influence in Bill’s life.
Today Bill is a fully initiated Wardaman man, a respected Elder, and the last senior lawman (‘knowledge custodian’) of his people. He is also a successful businessman, and an acclaimed storyteller, songman, didgeridoo player, writer and painter. All his art forms have their deepest roots in the celebration of his Wardaman heritage and his unique ability to ‘walk in both worlds’ and communicate the joy of his culture to a global audience.
As a musician and storyteller, Bill has appeared at the Sydney Opera House, the Joshua Tree Didgeridoo Festival, the Californian Sacred Music Festival and the UC Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, Colorado.
As a writer, Bill has co-authored two books: Born Under the Paperbark Tree (1996), with Jan Wositzky, an autobiography of his amazing life: and Dark Sparklers (2003), with Hugh Cairns, which shares the incredible beauty and depth of Wardaman understanding of the stars and cosmos. He is currently working on a third book articulating the complexity of Wardaman customary law.
As an artist, Bill has been a finalist 19 consecutive times in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Telstra Art Awards. Ancient night-sky story-songlines are a recurring theme of his work, expressed through traditional concepts and symbols in paints made of original earth ochres. His major paintings are displayed around the world, and hang in the National Gallery of Australia, the Federal Parliament and the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.