Interview with Kurun Warun at the launch of his solo exhibition at Japingka Aboriginal Art Gallery – February 2017. Kurun’s family ancestry includes Truganini and he comes from the same tribe as Lionel Rose. Given his first set of boxing gloves at the age of two, he grew up learning to fight, but his true calling turned out to be art.
Is there a painting in this exhibition that’s got a special significance?
It’s called Pundin Pooreyt, the translation is Living with Water. There’s a sandbar in the bottom right-hand corner, the mud crabs, there’s fish traps and the island, like the land and rocks. The orange that comes through is the water life. This it’s about looking after it because if you look after it, it’ll look after you.
My children learnt to swim in this place. So all of the kids have always gone to this place. We’ve been going there for over 20 years now and love it. Every opportunity we get, we go to this place. It’s up near Noosa. That’s what it’s about. Like the rest of my art, it’s all living. It’s still happening.
I also love the painting of Kangaroo Hunter because it’s a nice dance. That painting canvas is getting stretched today. I’m going to tell that story tonight on the didgeridoo. I’ll tell the story before I play it. People will see it as I play it. The didg, the painting, and the dance is all tied up with the painting.
What part of Australia did your ancestors on your mother’s side come from?
Our tribe’s Gunditjmara. That’s the Grampians, Great Ocean Road. My great-grandmother is the granddaughter of Truganini. She came across with Robinson in 1836 to Port Fairy. So that’s where they hooked up with my relatives. I’m fifth generation from Truganini, a direct descent from Truganini. That’s where we come from, the Grampians.
Can you describe what that sort of country is like?
It’s beautiful to look at. The mountains around the Grampians. Waterfalls. Great Ocean Road. The coast, it’s cold, windy. I don’t live there now because I live in Queensland.
What’s known about your ancestors?
The possum skin and cloak. Beautiful cloaks, I’ve seen them. Shelters were dug into the ground and the roof was raised a bit higher with the skins over the top. Then when it rained, it didn’t let the water in. They also had mittens. They used fish traps in the water.
When you go back to some of those areas and you go into the country, how does it make you feel?
Oh, I love going back, to visit. (Laughs) I have a lot of memories as a kid from out on the mission. That’s the same mission Archie Roach sings the song about, Took the Children Away. The stolen generation, part of those events took place there. Archie was one of the children taken. There is a line he sings that always gets to me.
“One dark day on Framlingham
Come and didn’t give a damn”
Mum used to mind Archie before he got taken. He was about two. Mum was 16 so she never got taken. It’s terrible. At the last concert of Archie’s that we attended he started singing the words “one dark day on Framlingham.” He calls out “Tio”, because that’s my nickname. I just broke down then.