Gusts of wind scream across Botany Bay and slam into Bare Island at La Perouse on the southeast tip of Sydney, where the First Hand Black Markets featuring Aboriginal art and culture are open. The markets offer an authentic experience while supporting the traditional inter-generational passing down of knowledge by elders to young people in Aboriginal communities.
Held on the first Sunday of each month, they began in March, with a bit of fanfare and MPs attending under wet skies. Today it’s dry but bitingly cold. Waves crash against the rocks. Hundreds of visitors hang onto their hats as they lean against the wind, crossing the footbridge which connects the mainland to the markets located in the austere relic of the island’s military fort. One hardy man fishes off the bridge. The fort and its tunnels can usually only be visited by guided tour. In 1770, this rocky place was described as “a small bare island” by explorer Captain James Cook, hence its name. The area was home to the Aboriginal Gweagal and Kameygal tribes. Until 1902, the fort was full of guns but soon became redundant as a military installation. It was used as a rest home for soldiers until 1963 and is now a historic site. The Aboriginal art and culture markets day is the only other occasion when you can freely explore. Oh, and Tom Cruise made part of Mission Impossible II here.
Stalls are set up inside the main building, sheltered from the wind, where visitors can buy Aboriginal paintings, jewellery, watch basket making, or do a workshop and make their own, or hold a live snake, listen to Aboriginal music, buy a boomerang. And eat bush tucker such as emu, roo or crocodile sausage topped with sauces including pepperberry and quandong plum.
Pictured below is vivid jewellery created by Cleonie Quayle, who paints native gum nuts and threads them with beads to create necklaces, bracelets and other accessories. She uses rich tones and delicate earthy colours – reflecting the palettes of our deserts. One beautifully painted gum nut tells a whole story.
The markets are run by First Hand Solutions, a charity set up to help disaffected indigenous youth. CEO Peter Cooley explains income from the markets support two core programs helping youth at risk. Aboriginal young people are disproportionately represented in Australia’s prison system.
“Dispossession of culture creates problems for indigenous youth and contribute to the suicide and incarceration rates which need to come down,” he says. “We couldn’t have got the Black Markets started without the cooperation of National Parks and Reserves. This is a good project for both of us.”
At the entrance to the building, didgeridoo player Glen Timbery greets visitors with the pounding rhythm of the most widely-known Aboriginal musical instrument. Glen’s family has quite a history – his grandfather Joe threw a boomerang around the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and also displayed his skill for Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Australia in 1954.
If you want to buy a boomerang, Glen has made them for left and well as right-handed people and will burn your name on the back using a traditional method. It’s not only Aboriginal artists who exhibit here. French/Australian company Mo Resin, based in Maianbar, has joined the markets, creating unique Aboriginal jewellery in gold and silver leaf, encased in durable resin. He too has drawn on vibrant colours of indigenous culture, with dramatic results.
I buy a cute fish, for $45, made by Aboriginal weaver Kristine. That’s her mum, Phyllis Stewart, holding up the woven fish for me to choose. They’re too much fun to resist.
Phylliss and Kristine, along with Steven Russell, form Jungah Weavers, who run weaving workshops, and teach canoe making, possum skin cloak making, and fish trap and tool making. They also mentor school and community groups, and make baskets for art exhibitions.
CHECK LIST FOR THE FIRST HAND BLACK MARKETS
FEATURING ABORIGINAL ART AND CULTURE
- First Sunday of the month
- Bare Island at La Perouse in southeast Sydney
- $2 entry fee
- Great day out for families and art lovers
- Fish and cook workshops for kids
- Weaving and spear-making workshops
- Aboriginal paintings and jewellery
- Bush tucker, tea and good coffee
- Go for the stunning views of Botany Bay as well
- Contribute to the First Hand Solutions charity.