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Badtjala people

Maryborough, Queensland, Australia born 1964

Land deal [Land deal] 1995 Place made: Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, installation, flour, mixed media, found objects, text

Dimensions: diameter 442.0 h cm height dimens. variable 202.0 h cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1995
Accession No: NGA 95.1012.1-9
Image rights: © Fiona Foley

Land deal is an installation consisting of flour to create a spiral shape on the floor, together with a blanket, knives, mirrors, axes, a box with beads (white and blue), scissors and a text. The text reads:

Land deal: After a full explanation of what my object was, I purchased two large tracts of land from them – About 600,000 acres, more or less – and delivered over to them the blankets, knives, looking-glasses, tomahawks, beads, scissors, flour, etc., as payment for the land and also agreed to give them a tribute, or rent, yearly.  John Batman

The objects chosen for the installation are closely associated with the words by John Batman about his purchase of the land on which the city of Melbourne now stands; they are a symbolic representation of the many Indigenous groups across Australia and the way in which their land was taken from them. The spiral shape echoes similar grooved designs drawn in the sand for Aboriginal ceremonies. Objects that Batman sought to trade have been here exploited in a different sense, making this work rich in its layers of implication and irony.

Whilst the piece pertains to the purchase of Melbourne and Batman’s land deal, as with much of Foley’s work, it equally reflects of issues of custodianship, land possession and occupation of her country, Thoorgine and other areas of Aboriginal Australia. Thoorgine was renamed Fraser Island after Eliza Fraser (wife of a British captain whose ship was wrecked on the island in 1836). In this case it was not so much the ‘purchase’ of the island but the forcible removal of the Indigenous owners who were dispossessed of their traditional land.

Gloria Morales 2002.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002