Vol 40(2) - Welcome to Country
Christopher Pease is a Minang/Nyoongar artist from Australia’s south-west coast. His oil painting Welcome to Country considers the interaction between early European explorers and Australia’s original inhabitants — a continuing theme in contemporary Indigenous art, reflecting personal attitudes to the often-troubled integration of the two cultures. Welcome to Country concentrates specifically on one such meeting nearly two centuries ago.
In 1826 French botanist and cartographer Jules Dumont d’Urville set sail on a three-year voyage of discovery around the southern Pacific, to chart the coastline, undertake scientific research and assess south-west Australia for possible colonisation. D’Urville and his crew initially anchored for 10 days off Albany, Western Australia, venturing ashore to observe and collect specimens. They also spent time with the Minang people — meetings captured in sketches by the expedition’s draughtsman Louis Auguste de Sainson which were eventually compiled into a folio of hand-coloured lithographs in 1833. This folio is now held in the National Gallery of Australia.
A tiny lithograph within Saison’s folio, depicting d’Urville and his cartographer colleague Monsieur Guilbert at the Kalgan River inspired Pease’s monumental painting, Welcome to Country, in which several native birds perch among the tea tree and sing a song of welcome to the explorers of Minang country. Pease, who combines Indigenous and western influences in his art, says he based the geometric background patterning on wallpaper designs developed from 19th century sketches of fruit and flowers. His selection of flora may also suggest a cultural Garden of Eden, soon to be lost with the imposition of western religion and urban living on Aboriginal people.