Aboriginal artist reflects on art and culture for the Westmead Redevelopment

Aboriginal artist Matt Poll is the coordinator for three artworks in the Cultural Gathering Place, which will be part of the new Westmead Hospital foyer.

Indigenous artist Matt Poll looks distantly and pauses when asked the question. What follows is crafted, meaningful and practical – much like the inspiring works he creates and curates.

“I always go back to this… Aboriginal culture is one of the most Australian things I can think of – NAIDOC Week is a really amazing part of Australian history.

“You really can’t get more Australian than the story of Aboriginal people’s history.

“It’s a great opportunity each year to put new voices up front, a real empowerment tool to showcase how diverse everybody is in the community.”

As we enjoy NAIDOC Week – celebrated from July 7-14 with the theme ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s Work Together for a Shared Future’ – Matt says people are finally moving towards a more empowered story.

“That shift has happened in theatre, Aboriginal arts, other productions… NAIDOC Week is an opportunity to reset the tactics and change the tone of conversation into more intelligent conversations, and that’s a great thing.”

Co-ordinator for three artworks in The Cultural Gathering Place – planned for Westmead’s new hospital forecourt – Matt’s mindful of the synergies between Aboriginal culture and the arts.

He’s also thankful for the vision shown by Westmead Redevelopment’s Arts & Culture Strategy – to listen, build partnerships and help support the untapped depth of artistic talent.

“There are amazing artists all through the community and amazing opportunities out there,” Matt says. “Just connecting the two sometimes takes a lot of commitment from organisations.

“It could have been easy to buy off-the-shelf artworks and landscape design it, but Westmead’s gone down the road of making this commitment – and I think that’s a huge message.

“It allows artists to keep their eye on the ultimate goal, seeing the presence of this great local Aboriginal story in such a prominent location in such an important community facility.

“It shows how much Australia has really transformed, that is embraces a lot of these things. There’s all sorts of signals it sends out that ultimately make a huge difference over time.”

Westmead Redevelopment project director Carla Edwards said this year’s powerful NAIDOC Week theme connected strongly to the Arts and Culture Strategy and the art to be installed in and around the new Central Acute Services Building.

She said the works destined for The Cultural Gathering Place – The Tools of Knowledge, Sounds of Water and ceremonial smoking space – plus The River and Night Sky projects helped celebrate Aboriginal history, language, science and knowledge.

A Welcome to Country video wall would also provide a fitting greeting in Darug language for patients, carers and guests.

“The arts program supports the Aboriginal Legacy Strategy in delivering culturally welcoming, safe and connected spaces to assist Aboriginal people and their community while accessing healthcare and employment at Westmead,” Carla said.

“Elders and the community have been consulted throughout the development of both strategies.

“They’ve generously provided their stories and ‘truth’ to inform us what matters most in delivering the redevelopment at Westmead. 

“They’ve spoken of hope in working and walking together in new ways.”

She said these conversations again reflected the sentiments of voice, truth and striving for a shared future represented in this year’s NAIDOC Week theme.

Keep up with all the Westmead Redevelopment news at the project website or on Facebook.