The ANU School of Art and Design's Balawan Elective takes a group of visual art students to the far south coast of New South Wales each year. These students learn firsthand about cultural heritage of Indigenous communities along a historic walking route known as the Bundian Way, from community members, Elders and artists. They also hear about the colonial and white settler history of the region from informed individuals.
Students attend two field trips visiting people and places along the route which spans roughly 380 kilometres from Mt Kosciuszko to Twofold Bay at Eden. They contemplate the Bundian Way's significance and connection to Indigenous communities, as well as its function as a shared history route. Based on their experiences, students develop a portfolio of artworks for assessment.
Importantly, the program engages Indigenous artists from the region, who are offered residencies at the School of Art and Design (SoAD) and invited to exhibit work alongside students, in an exhibition at the School's Foyer Gallery later in the year.
Zora (Linyi) Pang is an Art History and Cultural Studies masters student with the SoAD. She attended the March and April field trips to the Snowy Mountains and Eden regions and has written about her experience participating in the Balawan Elective.
Learning about Indigenous cultures on-site from the locals and being able to see a complete image of the story of this Oceanian land, is a life-changing experience for me. As a Chinese international student, I have been living in Australia for three and half years in Melbourne, and one semester in Canberra at ANU. The Balawan Elective, which involves creating resolved artwork inspired from field trips, was a challenging experience for me as an international kid and an art theory student who rarely makes art. The trip through the Bundian Way, the camping at Jigamy farm, the encounter with the most humble and knowledgeable people I met who were all so willing to share ...this course has given me one of the best and deepest immersions I have ever had in Australia. It has inspired me about who I want to become, and what is my responsibility living on this land.
This experience has changed my definition of Australia from a Western country to a land of deep and complicated history. When the definition is blurred, I know that I am starting to know the real identity of this place. It is the starting point of a true understanding of this land and its abundant layers of cultures.
Then, I realised that reconciliation is not a western\white thing. All the new or potential migrants to Australia from the other parts of the world should learn about this country as an Indigenous land first, then build up their understanding from there. It is essential to learn and respect the land we have moved to and live upon and to understand who the people are that we share our own unique perspectives and cultures with.
Ultimately, reconciliation is about coming together from different perspectives and humbly and openly learning from each other. This is an endless process. This is what the human story should be about. The future for all, is not to blend different cultures and identities into one system that is already established. Even if that is an easier strategy. I have realised from this Balawan experience that we have to keep the endless effort, to learn, to be genuine, and to patiently bare with all the frustrations, difference and difficulties. You know, that is the way to sustain all kinds of relationships, given it is between two people, two cultures or between human and nature. In this way, we will be able to approach a shared future - one that is a shared from a lot of different perspectives.