If you are caught in Sydney’s housing squeeze, spare a thought for Gordon and Elaine Pelot-Syron who need a home for around 1,500 seminal Aboriginal artworks, most recently collectively valued at $1.5 million.
Entering their temporary warehouse in the old Eveleigh railyards in Darlington is an assault on the senses. Framed pictures, unmounted canvases, bubble-wrapped works and drawings clutter every surface, mixing it with full-sized stuffed crocodiles, sculptures, Elaine’s documentary photographs and a virtual library of books and magazines including a timeworn copy of the United Nation’s Charter of Rights for Indigenous Artists.
Mr Syron’s own paintings, dating back to the 1980s, hang from rafters alongside works by Emily Kngwarreye, Michael Jagamara Nelson, Clifford Possum, and original posters by photographer Tracey Moffatt. Other Syron originals are on display in the Australian Museum and the National Museum in Canberra.
While some works by these artists have sold for over $1 million, the Syron collection is not exactly stored in archival conditions, with rain leaking into the old railway shed while the Syrons shift works away from the wet bits and the collection deteriorates. And already hundreds of works, including 28 Moffatt originals, have been auctioned at desperation prices to keep the collection together as the Syrons moved from the north coast to Sydney, surviving on a shoestring.
They are seeking a Keeping Place, a dedicated national museum of Indigenous Art along the lines of those in other countries such as Canada and the US.
The current premises were loaned three years ago by the Redfern Waterloo Authority (RWA) under former CEO Robert Domm, who also allocated funds for professional valuation of the collection and for the couple to begin properly cataloguing the collection.
But the lease was nominally for only six months. The site is part of the coming Eveleigh redevelopment and the shed has to make way for new apartment blocks, so the collection is under notice of eviction by the end of this month.
A last-minute reprieve has seen the RWA promise the Syrons more storage for the collection and a flat for them to live in, but that too is only temporary.
Meanwhile a growing base of supporters is campaigning to find a Keeping Place. Professor Larissa Behrendt from UTS has written a proposal for an Aboriginal-run cultural centre to keep the Syron collection, add to it and provide cultural education and run events.
Some of the group think the centre should be built in Barangaroo. Supporter Selena Blakeney attended the recent Barangaroo community forum. After at first being refused entry, she found that there was no opportunity for her to read a short speech.
All those visitors from the whole world “ do they come here and see a fancy sign saying ˜Barangaroo’ and that’s all? she had written.
The original Barangaroo, Bennelong’s wife, resisted his co-operation with the colonists, refused to wear European clothing, and died bearing a child after being forced into hospital which she saw as a place of death.
Supporters of a Keeping Place believe including it in the Barangaroo development would add some depth to the name and offer belated respect to its name-giver.
The group has a website where people can register their support for the project at blackfellasdreaming.com.au.
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