Gumbaynggirr artists’ connection to marine environment on display at Jagun Yamarr

Program facilitator Ashleigh Frost welcomes the public to the Culture Hub.


WET weather won’t deter art and culture lovers who can still see exhibitions despite the Regional Gallery in Coffs Harbour being closed for urgent maintenance.

Upstairs in Coffs Central’s Culture Hub, the Jagun Yamarr exhibition is showcasing artistic works by Gumbaynggirr artists which depict their connection to the local marine environment.

The exhibition brings the temporary gallery space to life with local Aboriginal culture for the next four weeks.

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Chels Marshall, traditional owner, cultural systems ecologist and Director of Flying Fish Blue, explains the local Gumybaynggirr nation’s connection to land and water through a complex kinship and totemic system.

“It’s always been part of our cultural ethic and responsibility to look after country first and for Gumbaynggirr people, the ocean is our totem.

“My family totem is the red bass fish, and I’ve got cousins that are shark totem, and nephews that are stingrays.

“So kinship, Aboriginal ideology and worldviews all come in play and artists are showcasing fish they like to eat or have kinship with, or fish they admire,” she said.

The art works in the exhibition evolved from traditional owners in Nambucca (Nyambaga) working with Southern Cross University and the National Marine Science Centre on photographic inventories of marine species in Gumbaynggirr sea country.

The result was an exchange of knowledge about names, meanings and uses of the species.

Integrating Gumbaynggirr ecological knowledge and community participation, the research shared both western and Aboriginal biocultural science to promote biocultural diversity.

“Traditional ecological knowledge includes a holistic and broad disciplinary approach to sustainability, including language, art, and ceremony, as critical ways to maintain healthy human-environment relations,” said Ms Marshall.

Embedding two-way learning, the exhibition includes Gumbaynggirr language alongside scientific terms for fish that inhabit the river, nearshore reefs and rocky shores around Jagun (country).

“Gumbaynggirr is a living language, so part of this was engaging with knowledge holders, language teachers, the language centre and language hub to record the cultural names of the species.”

The resulting works offer powerful cultural and emotional expression.


By Sandra MOON


Ashleigh Frost holding Aunty Dot Edwards’ felt work, titled ‘The Season for Blackfish’.

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