Djaara Lights: Illuminating Dja Dja Wurrung Culture in Bendigo

Published: 23 Nov 2021

Djaara Lights - Photo Credit: Bendigo Tourism

For many of us, growing up in an environment where we are surrounded by the signs and symbols of our culture is something we take for granted.

But what if you looked to your environment and did not see your culture reflected back at you?

This was the situation Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung artist Troy Firebrace found himself in when he moved to the Bendigo area in 2014.

“One thing that I noticed when I first moved here was that there wasn’t much visualisation of Culture here, a recognition of signs, symbols and images that spoke to me as Aboriginal Culture,” he says.

Noting the rich cultural histories of First Peoples in Victoria, Firebrace stresses the importance of having “that recognition, that visualisation of our Culture in these spaces.”

Firebrace’s sentiments were clearly shared by the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, trading as DJAARA, and the City of Greater Bendigo.

The two organisations, who share an ongoing partnership, collaborated this year to commission Firebrace along with Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta artist Drew Berick to lead a team of local Aboriginal artists in creating the augmented reality component of Djaara Lights and its nighttime display along Oscars Walk and the Bath Lane Precinct in Bendigo.

The project, which received $100,000 through the Victorian Government’s Creative Activation Fund, uses neon artworks, street art and digital experiences to tell stories of the six seasons of the Dja Dja Wurrung People, who are the Traditional Owners of the Bendigo region.

Djaara Lights - traditional art on an urban canvasBerick, who is also the Elder’s Voice Coordinator for the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, explains that the six seasons informed the hunting, gathering and movements of the Dja Dja Wurrung People throughout the year.

For example, the Wai-kalk (golden wattle) time from May to June is when wattle blooms and wooden tools such as datim-datim (boomerang) can be made, while Gatjin (water) time from June to August is usually a period of water abundance and overflowing creeks and rivers.

Fundamentally, the six seasons are a lesson in living with the land, rather than on it.

“Traditionally and even today, it’s about how us, as Aboriginal people viewed the land. If you look after it, it will look after you,” Berick says.

The project was a true community effort. The partnership between DJAARA and the City of Greater Bendigo brought the artists into collaboration with Indigital, Bendigo Tech School and ACMI to create the stunning visual effects which will illuminate Bendigo for the next three years.

Djaara Lights appIt is Berick and Firebrace’s hope that the installation will drive conversations among visitors over the next three years and motivate people to educate themselves about Dja Dja Wurrung Culture and history. This process will be made easier by the Djaara Lights Augmented Reality app that patrons can download for iOS and Android devices, and which provides information on the displays and what inspired them.

Perhaps most importantly, the project is sending a clear message to Bendigo, and Victoria, about the Dja Dja Wurrung community.

The message?

“We are Dja Dja Wurrung, we are here, and we are thriving” Berick says.

“We have stepped beyond 1788, beyond Terra Nullius, and we are now recognising and understanding the importance of Aboriginal Culture within our Country,” Firebrace adds.

Djaara Lights, delivered in partnership with the City of Greater Bendigo, is now open to the public every day from 7pm to 11pm.

Page last updated 21 Jun 2022
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