Narrbong-galang are fibre bags that have traditionally been and continue to be used by Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) people for the collecting, storing, transportation and care of goods. They are hand-made vessels to hold what one assigns value.
Lorraine Connelly-Northey has been creating narrbong-galang for close to two decades, using reclaimed and weathered farming materials – rusted tin, burnt barbed wire, steel pipe, fence posts, perhaps a mattress frame from an abandoned home. In using this debris of recent rural agriculture, Connelly-Northey speaks to a complex relationship across pre- and post-colonial Australia, whilst asserting a story of resilience within an environment that tends to
erosion and loss. It is a practice the artist employs across her work to forge gulaman-galang (coolamons, bark winnowing/scooping tools), monumental wall sculptures and maps, and possum skin cloaks. In each case the objects created carry both their material history and the material’s cultural weight. They also perform an educational function, participating in a system of knowledge transfer, from artist to audience, senior practitioner to younger maker, peer to peer, amongst community.
The vast collection of narrbong-galang presented here are vessels of and for knowledge. They are a representation of an unknowably large resource of collective wisdom, some of which has been shared or handed down to the artist, and some of which is held by others. Each narrbong exists within a network that generates strength in its connectedness – a vessel for an individual node of wisdom that through sharing and exchange becomes enriched. There is wisdom here
pertaining to land management, to histories of rivers, to harvesting, medicine, astronomy and language. But still it is invisible. Connelly-Northey has offered the mechanics of the network – a diagram for how we may better learn from each other, participating, sharing and listening to the keepers of this wisdom.
In a recent conversation, Connelly-Northey explained to me how 28 years ago she decided to forget how to make pancakes: “so now if I want to make pancakes for my sons, I’ve got to look it up in a recipe book. But that’s fine, because it’s in a book. I haven’t got enough room for all the blackfella knowledge that I need to be worrying about pancake recipes.” There’s a jovialness in the delivery here, but deadly seriousness in sentiment and intent - cultural knowledge takes precedence and is central to Connelly-Northey’s life and work. The responsibility of holding and sharing this knowledge is one undertaken with vitality and resolute commitment by the artist, the benefits of which extend from those in earshot of Connelly-Northey to fortunate audiences encountering her work, to family and community. As much as Narrbong-galang functions as a diagram for a collective knowledge resource, it also acts as a map of Connelly-Northey’s very personal project of accumulation and sharing.
Lorraine Connelly-Northey was born in 1962 in Swan Hill, Victoria. She Lives and works on Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) Country, New South Wales. Connelly-Northey uses Aboriginal coil-weaving techniques to transform found industrial and organic materials like corrugated iron, fencing wire, feathers and shells into traditional forms such as koolimans (bush bowls) and narbongs (string bags).
Connelly-Northey’s work has been shown in numerous exhibitions. Notable solo exhibitions include Waradgerie Weaver: Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Ararat Regional Art Gallery, Ararat, Victoria (2013); Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, Swan Hill (2012–2013); 100 Narbongs, Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne (2004); and 16 Lap Laps (traditional aprons), Albury Art Gallery, Albury (2001).
Selected group exhibitions include Compass, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2018); Who’s Afraid of Colour, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2016–2017); Wiradjuri Ngurambambanggu, Murray Art Museum Albury, Albury (2015); unDisclosed, National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2013); 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2012); People of the First Sunrise: Indigenous Art from Eastern Australia, Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Port Macquarie (2011); The Beauty of Distance – Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, 18th Biennale of Sydney (2010).
Connelly-Northey’s work is held in a number of public and private collections, including
the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria; Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, Swan Hill, Victoria; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide, South Australia; and Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.