A Bison Abroad|Bunjilaka artwork represents stories

Melbourne artist uses art to show culture and history

The Melbourne Museum is dedicated to showcasing the art, culture and history of the Australian city as well as the country itself. There is no section of the museum in which these ideas are explored deeper than in Bunjilaka, the Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

This section was created by a collaboration of the Melbourne Museum with members of Aboriginal communities in Victoria and indigenous communities across Australia.

Bunjilaka strives to share and preserve the stories of these diverse groups. Their stories in Bunjilaka are told through historical archive, artifacts, oral history, artwork and more.

One especially thoughtful addition to Bunjilaka is the mixed photography, writing and audio art exhibit created by Jim Berg, a seasoned photographer and Gunditjmara Elder. The exhibit is called “Silent Witness: A Window to the Past.”

The focus of the exhibit is Scar trees found on Wotjobaluk Country in western Victoria. “Silent Witness” consists of about a dozen photographs of these trees, interspersed with written commentary from Berg in the form of several poems and some prose and scored by atmospheric audio recordings of the forests these Scar trees come from.

Together, these elements of photography, writing and sound combine to create an experience that demonstrates how deeply Aboriginal groups in Wotjobaluk Country are connected to their traditional land; a person can actually see, in markings on Scar trees, visual evidence of how these groups lived and used their land in past generations.

Berg writes in his prose introduction at the beginning of “Silent Witness” that for some Aboriginal groups in Victoria, “Trees were the supermarkets of the Land. They provided food, shelter, transport, medicines, tools and weapons.” After years of harvesting trees for these supplies, the trees become permanently marked and are called “Scar trees.”

Scar trees go beyond just being a necessary part of living for these groups historically.

Australian author and activist Tony Birch shared that Scar trees not only show factual evidence of historical Aboriginal life, independent from settler-colonial life, they also tell the stories of these indigenous people —stories that, perhaps, are not typically told in written records.

The work of Tim Berg in “Silent Witness: A Window to the Past” is a record, both artistic and historical, of the intimate relationship that Aboriginal groups of Wotjobaluk Country have to their country. His art not only shows the histories of these groups, but it also anchors these histories in the present. 

Their stories are not just ephemeral memories; they can still be seen on the Scar trees on their country today. Even in the future, if the Scar trees are lost to time, Berg’s photography, poetry, prose and soundtrack will still remain to preserve them in archives to come.

The artwork of Tim Berg helps frame a person’s mindset as they enter the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, making a visit to Bunjilaka in the Melbourne Museum an introspective and powerful Australian experience.

Leave a Reply