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Indigenous heritage lacquers the walls of Australia’s newest rail stations

As an act of designing with Country, the integration of Indigenous art into rail infrastructure honours deep histories while symbolising a vibrant future for First Nations peoples.

Indigenous heritage lacquers the walls of Australia’s newest rail stations

Artwork featuring local dancer, Roscoe, by Indigenous artist, Nicole Monks, in collaboration with Wayne Quilliam, Jodie Choolburra-Welsh and local community dancers at Sydney Metro Waterloo Station.

Australia’s rail infrastructure is being redesigned by the integration of Indigenous art, fostering a meaningful connection between millions of public transport users and First Nations heritage and culture. This initiative is part of a broader effort to reconcile Australia’s past and present by acknowledging Indigenous cultural heritage in the built environment.

It’s exemplified in the soon-to-open Sydney Metro Waterloo Station, which features an artwork by Indigenous artist Nicole Monks of mili mili which spans nearly 10 metres high. Developed in collaboration with photographer Wayne Quilliam, Jodie Choolburra-Welsh of Brolga Dance Academy and the local Waterloo dance community, this powerful artwork of a local Aboriginal boy named Roscoe welcomes passengers as they arrive. Titled Footprints on Gadigal Nura, the artwork comprises three wall-mounted sculptures symbolising the persevering presence of the Gadigal people.

Elisa Jane Carmichael’s work ‘plants, waters, gathering time’ at Cross River Rail’s Woolloongabba Station evokes the importance of Woolloongabba as a meeting place of great spiritual significance to First Nations peoples, image courtesy of Cross City Rail.

Nicole Monk’s oeuvre of art integrates the past, present and future, reflecting the continuous connection of the Gadigal community to their land. “Gadigal mob have walked this Country since the beginning of time and their footprints continue to walk this Country today and into the future,” Monk explains. Her artwork melds with architectural design features designed by John McAslan + Partners to create a station deeply rooted in its historical and cultural context.

Further north, Cross River Rail in Brisbane features 14 artworks by many of Queensland’s esteemed Indigenous artists across four underground stations. This ‘art trail’ guides the daily commute for thousands of passengers, where thought-provoking pieces celebrate Indigenous heritage. Notable among these is the vibrant cyanotype installed at Woolloongabba Station by Quandamooka artist, Elisa Jane Carmichael, which goes by the name of plants, waters, gathering time.

Related: Central Station with JMP

“It’s an honour to join so many other respected senior First Nations artists to help tell the stories of the rich cultural heritage where these new stations are being built,” says Carmichael.

Art advisor, Barbara Flynn, highlights the project’s commitment to showcasing artists from various career stages, ensuring a rich representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices: “The range of ideas that the project allowed artists to come up with is terrific. It’s not just visual – some of them are tactile and three-dimensional. The project is a picture of the extraordinary calibre of artists in Queensland and puts it out there in a very accessible way.”

John McAslan + Partners

Peter Bennetts

A book launch and five years in Sydney for JMP

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