A lone man unloads tins of paint and spray cans from his car, under the unwavering gaze of curious eyes that look out over Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus.
It’s a cold Tuesday morning, but renowned Melbourne street artist Matt Adnate is undeterred.
For nearly three weeks, he has been busy creating a large artwork on the side of Swinburne’s three-storey chemistry (CH) building, on Burwood Rd.
His plan for this day is to finalise the portrait portion of his mural and begin painting an Aboriginal eel trap; he hopes it will only take the day to complete.
Looking through his box of spray cans, he finds the eel trap sketches on a small piece of paper that he will soon translate onto the side of the building.
Adnate’s work was being created as Melbourne hurtled towards its long 2021 lockdown, creating his stunning mural just as students disappeared from campus.
It was the first of an ambitious series of street artworks planned across Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus.
Swinburne’s product marketing officer Filip Janda said the series tied into a central theme of “people and technology together for a better world”.
The second mural, by Creature Creature at The Junction (ex Holy Moly) site, is approaching completion. More are planned for next year.
Adnate’s work is a powerful portrait, a tribute to Swinburne lecturer of Indigenous studies Dr Andrew Peters.
As a proud descendant of the Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta people, Dr Peters has been “instrumental in deepening the university’s Indigenous links and understanding” for more than 20 years.
He was an integral part of developing Swinburne’s Reconciliation Action Plan and has continuously contributed efforts to “establish an interconnectedness in the university” by integrating Aboriginal learning into Swinburne’s foundations.
His recent project involvement includes “an evaluation of a study support program for Indigenous inmates at Port Phillip Prison (and) an inquiry into an effective national homelessness system and the role and effect of Indigenous culture and knowledge.”
Dr Peters’ contributions to Indigenous education and cultural understanding were recognised in 2019 when he was presented with the university’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
While Adnate painted the eel trap, working towards the the art’s completion, Dr Peters’ cousin, Arbup Ash Peters, was working on a dot painting on the bottom left of the wall.
The dot painting is based on Arbup’s famous work Gathering knowledge, which celebrates “the continuous cycle of footprints on a never-ending journey travelling around Swinburne’s campuses located on Wurundjeri land”.
Arbup is described by the Mullum Mullum Festival as a “Wurundjeri/ Yorta Yorta man, artist, storyteller and Koori culture facilitator”. He is the Koori Employment Advisor for the Department of Justice and mentors the Department’s Koori trainees.
“[This mural] symbolises family, generational transfer of information, Indigenous technology, and astronomy,” Arbup said.
Adnate agreed, saying the artwork aimed to pay homage to Dr Peters for all he had done for Swinburne and for promoting Indigenous culture.
“The piece is about Andrew Peters and explores themes of Indigenous technology and knowledge,” Adnate said.
In his description of the work on his Instagram page, he wrote: “Symbolising not only his family connection, the mural connects between generations and the transfer of knowledge that is still relevant today. The eel trap is Andrew’s mother’s creation, referencing ancient technology that has been passed on for thousands of years. Similar for Indigenous astronomy – that what we consider ancient or historic things, including knowledge, have enormous relevance today if we open our eyes and ears, and learn what to look and listen for.”
Dr Peters’ mother, referred to above, is Dorothy “Dot” Peters, who was a fierce advocate for Aboriginal people and widely celebrated in Australia for her reconciliation efforts, community engagement and for raising awareness of Indigenous history and culture.
The Victorian government said: “Over the years she [Aunty Dot] has held countless workshops, teaching the ancient techniques in schools, at festivals and community events and to overseas delegations. In 2002, she won the prestigious Red Ochre Award for her work in preserving and teaching the art of basket coiling in Victoria.”
Aunty Dot was responsible for the first Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service in 2007 at The Shrine of Remembrance, which finally recognised the efforts and sacrifices of Aboriginal servicemen and women. The service has been held every year since.
Adnate has had an impressive history as an artist in Australia and abroad, completing works across Australia, New York, Berlin and Toulouse.
He is responsible for the 20-storey mural on the Wellington Street public housing block in Collingwood and the 25-storey mural on The Adnate Art Series hotel in Western Australia—some of the tallest murals in the Southern Hemisphere.
His work predominantly features Indigenous people, drawn to their stories of strength and resilience in the face of so much adversity. His large-scale artworks not only draw attention to Indigenous issues but are a symbolic statement of “reclaiming the land that was always theirs”.
The developing art work
The following series of pictures were taken by Jack Jowett (@OldNewStock) as Adnate worked on the site.