Jacky Green is an activist. Born in 1953 on the property in the Northern Territory where his father worked as a station-hand, he has spent most of his adult life fighting for land rights – and that is the theme of his painting Heart of our Country. The composition depicts the ravages of mining machinery moving onto his land, re-activating the memory of colonial invasion. Consistent with the subject matter, the balance of the composition is precarious: the movement from right to left dramatizes the loss of self-determination and the destruction of a traditional way of life.
The key symbol is the inverted heart at the centre of the composition. Positioned at a crossroads, it outlines a contested territory. A group of Aboriginals are performing a traditional ceremony upon it and within it. The Garawa (brown), Gudanji (yellow), Mara (black and red) and Yanyuwa (red) peoples are all indigenous to the Borroloola region, with a representative from each seated in a line within the heart, singing while the others dance.
It is through song and dance that ancestral lore and cultural knowledge are passed – that is at the heart of indigenous society. Life, like the heart, has been turned upside-down by the incursion of Europeans and their profit-driven ambition. Colour is a key to the composition, defining three juxtaposed zones: a remembered idyll of the nomadic past, the beleaguered present, and a threat of technological annihilation.