While the Frontier Wars are still not universally acknowledged by Australian historians, some of these are indelible memories for indigenous people. Nancy McDinny’s painting depicts an event that took place in the Borroloola region of the North Territory, which is the subject of tales handed down in her community through multiple generations. War at Blackfella Spring depicts a regiment of colonial policemen sent to clear the land of ‘blackfellas’.
At first sight, the repeated motifs in McDinny’s painting suggest a light-hearted, decorative intention: the whimsical spacing of the tree-trunks, the variegated green dots representing foliage, a flotilla of ellipsoid clouds… yet the scattering of white, star-like points turns out, on closer inspection, to be policemen’s headgear, attached to pink necks, blue shirts, black trousers … and to guns. Six oblongs in the foreground represent the policemen’s camp.
It is only from very close-up that one becomes aware of a scattering of tiny points in the painting – which are the signs of Aboriginal people hiding in the creek. They have camouflaged themselves with river mud so that only their teeth and the whites of their eyes remain visible.
Image: War at Blackfella Spring 2014 acrylic on linen 1220 x 1830 x 25 mm
Australian National University Collection