Friday, 04 March 2022

Launch of 'Illustrating the Antipodes', SA Museum

It is a pleasure for Rod and me to be here with you all as distinguished guests to mark the launch of the Illustrating the Antipodes exhibition and book and the accompanying Kaurna Still Here exhibition.

By any benchmarks George French Angas was an extraordinary artist; recording in exquisite detail the Aboriginal people, and the landscapes of this country.

He captured a time before European colonisation forever changed our country and its inhabitants.

And yet we know his vistas: the majesty of the bluff at Victor Harbour; the sweep of the bay and the islands of Port Lincoln; the glorious views from Mount Lofty; and the tranquil fall of water at Morialta Falls.

To realise how different our country was when he captured these images adds poignancy to his works.

His sketches, watercolours, lithographs and journals document what once was; and in admiring them, we are starkly reminded of how much has changed, and in some instances, at least, what has been lost.

His drawings and paintings record proud Aboriginal people on country, their country as it was, with later works documenting the introduction of trappings of colonisation such as glass bottles and western clothes.

As the eldest son of George Fife Angas, the chair of the South Australian Company who owned vast tracts of land here, George French had links to the very foundations of our State.

We’d have been much the poorer if he had simply bowed to pressure and pursued a career in one of his father’s English companies.

Thankfully George French Angas came to Australia with part of his brief from his father being to capture the beauty of the land – although it has to be said, with the aim of attracting more settlers and investment.

Angas forged a close, almost fraternal, friendship with our third Governor, George Grey, attending several balls at Government House – and I am pleased to continue this Vice‑Regal connection by joining you today.

I should add I have the pleasure each day of enjoying reproductions of Angas’ works on the walls of the stairs between the Residence and the working rooms of Government House.

All credit to the design team!

Angas and Grey were young men with a passion for natural history and a curiosity about this new, fascinating territory, so different from Victorian England.

Incredibly Grey was only 29 when he was appointed Governor and Angas was his early 20s when he produced his magnificent works.

Grey, having steered the province through tough financial times, set out to explore the colony - the pair undertaking small expeditions to the South East, Port Lincoln and the Fleurieu Peninsula, on which journeys Angas captured some of these depictions.

Running in parallel with Illustrating the Antipodes, the Kaurna Still Here project’s beautiful carvings, paintings and woven works celebrate an ancient and continuing culture.

There is much still to be learned about this culture, and much to be shared on the journey of reconciliation.

Government House is making its own contribution by embarking on a process of cultural mapping, to learn more about the indigenous history of the land on which the House has stood since 1840 - only four years before George French Angas arrived in Adelaide and which he would have known well.

Finally, I am also pleased to launch Dr Philip Jones’s beautiful and deeply impressive and now critically acclaimed, book, its formal launch having been delayed by COVID.

In the Illustrating the Antipodes book Philip not only shares Angas’ watercolours of South Australia, but his journeys to New Zealand and then his return to London via Rio de Janeiro.

Through meticulous research he illuminates George French Angas and his precocious and prodigious talent.

I must admit to having more than a passing interest in Philip’s work, being a first cousin! But that connection only adds to my admiration for his undoubted scholarship, immense talent and eminently readable books.

Illustrating the Antipodes had its genesis in the 1980s with Philip’s work at the museum and continues Philip’s passion for bringing to us the artefacts and stories of Australia’s colonial frontiers.

It adds to the body of work that resulted in his book Ochre and Rust being awarded the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Non-fiction in 2008.

Through such works, and these two exhibitions we benefit from knowing our past and learning its stories.

I thank the National Library of Australia; the South Australian Museum with full credit to the design team; Guildhouse First Nations Collection Project and artists for bringing the exhibitions to the public.

They enable a greater appreciation of the world-class collections and research we have here in South Australia.

From these visual experiences, we – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together - are better placed to determine how, we can be stewards of our land, its cultures and our future.

Coming events