Spirited man of the Valley

By PETER ELLEM

ON a national day of healing when hollow gestures can smack of tokenism, yesterday's launch of two art exhibitions at the Grafton Regional Gallery had a refreshing genuineness about them.

After 130 years in private hands; the world's finest collection of German-born Grafton photographer John William Lindt's 'Australian Aborigines' ? 37 proud portraits ? were reunited with public eyes in Prentice House.

And in what could be the first of many all-indigenous exhibitions, 'Spirit of the Valley', featuring the work of Jessica Birk, Irene Daley, Brian Donovan, Bevan Skinner, Frances Belle Parker and Allison Williams, adorned the loft space.

With distinguished dreadlocks down past his knees, Brisbane-based art curator Djon Mundine, OAM, said just as many lies could be told about a person, many lies had been told about the nation.

"The re-written history that Australia was built without a war or a revolution is the biggest load of cobblers," he said.

"Aboriginals didn't sign away our land.

"... Travelling through Bundjalung country I can feel that it is 'my' land but I have no control over it. It was taken by illegal means and real estate deals by some very respectable people."

Mr Mundine, who grew up in South Grafton, said that for Aboriginal people there was no difference between art, life and land.

He said Sydney couple Sam and Janet Cullen, who donated the Lindt images to the gallery, had shown through their generosity and friendships with Clarence locals, black and white, that they understood this emotional connection.

For his part, Mr Cullen, AM, said that it just seemed so wrong that a collection of such spiritual and historical significance to the Clarence Valley and Australia, could be sold as a commodity to a private European collector.

"We've done some unorthodox things, my wife and I, but it (buying the photos at a London auction last year) was an intuitive thing," he said.

"Don't ask us why. It's just been done.

"... They have come home for good. It is their heritage value that is so important and they are back in the right place and in the right keeping place."

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