“This is the most beautiful thing that has been done for Aboriginal people,” a Blue Mountains gallery owner, Vesna Tenodi, says. “They should be thanking me, but instead I get yelled at wherever I go.”
Tenodi is the owner, together with her husband Damir, of the ModroGorje Wellness and Art Centre. Originally from Croatia, Tenodi ruffled feathers late last year when she published her book Dreamtime Set in Stone: The Truth about Australian Aborigines, an exploration of indigenous culture that was dedicated to “the Aboriginal people and to the Aborigine in each of us”. But the book offended many local Aborigines, not least for its illustrations of wanjina, a sacred creation ancestor of the Kimberley people in Western Australia.
“It’s totally inappropriate for a non-indigenous person to be doing wanjinas, especially without permission,” said Chris Tobin, a member of the local Darug people who works as a guide with the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
“Aboriginal law is very specific on what you can and can’t do with wanjinas.”
The owner of Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery in Bondi, Adrian Newstead, says local Aborigines have every right to be disgusted. ”Only a few Aboriginal artists ever win the right to depict wanjina, and only then after years of initiations and ceremonies. And then this artist rocks up and says, ‘Bugger all that; I’ll just do whatever I like’. “
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