Cultural garden’s Aboriginal art cements local knowledge

Stepping stones to history … Matt Poll inspects the sculptural seats titled Tools of Knowledge now in place in The Cultural Gathering Place Garden of the Central Acute Services Building (CASB).

Matt Poll’s latest work represents thousands of years of working stones used by Aboriginal people.

Moving in … The Tools of Knowledge are lifted into place on Level 1 at the front of the new hospital building.

The official unveiling underlined Matt’s mindfulness of the synergies between Aboriginal culture and the arts.

“Stone tools, being the Tools of Knowledge, represent how generations provided for their families,” the Indigenous artist and curator said.

“They represent sustainable land use, and ingenuity associated with craftsmanship that goes into tool making.

“Stone tools today can sometimes become legal documents in that they prove long-term occupation of particular places. They’re multi-functional, they shape so much of the way we see Sydney’s Aboriginal past today.

“For the stones to have an everyday use as functional seats and become a space for inter-generational knowledge sharing was crucial in creating and designing the Tools of Knowledge.”

Matt said the project acknowledged the fact people had thrived in Sydney for countless generations.

“Stone tools are a remarkable and sophisticated technology that our Indigenous Elders used for thousands of years in the Greater Western Sydney region.”

He said local Darug member Jamie Eastwood found 30,000-year-old stone tools through archaeology heritage reporting in Parramatta Park about five years ago.

Moving in … The Tools of Knowledge are lifted into place on Level 1 at the front of the new hospital building.

This marked the starting point for researching the other stone tools found near Westmead that are held in museums today, and from which the three stone axe forms were derived.

The project also represents another important step as Aboriginal culture continues to be incorporated into the Westmead Health Precinct.

“The initial process was about us as Aboriginal artists working with the local communities on ideas to embed their important messages into the new hospital,” Matt said.

“We wanted to build local voice into the space, and ensure the craftsmanship and sculptural elements of the tools were a focal point in the design. But also to metaphorically refer to the strength and resilience of the western Sydney Aboriginal community.”

Designed by Matt and fabricated in collaboration with Bloodhound FX studio, the work was constructed by western Sydney company, PebbleCrete, further cementing the importance of incorporating local communities.

Located on Level 1 at the front of the new hospital building, the seats form part of The Cultural Gathering Place Garden along with Sounds of Water and the ceremonial smoking pit, All That Remains.

Matt said all of the works in the gathering place responded and reverberated with each other.

“They embody cultural safety and acknowledge the elemental knowledge of open spaces as they relate to the living cultural practices of all Aboriginal people today.”

Westmead Redevelopment project director Carla Edwards said the art projects symbolised culture and connection while creating a safe and welcoming environment for all people, countries and kinships.

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

She said the works of The Cultural Gathering Place plus The River and Night Sky helped celebrate Aboriginal history, language, science and knowledge.

Tools of Knowledge is one of 14 art projects that make up the Westmead Redevelopment Arts & Culture Strategy.

The strategy – a partnership between Westmead Hospital, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the University of Sydney – ensures art is embedded into the DNA of the Westmead Health Precinct.

Matt Poll also works as curator at the Indigenous Heritage and Repatriation Project with the Macleay Collections at the New Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney.