Until the 26th of September 2020 you can conduct your own reading at the biennale installation at Carriageworks. Onsite there is an installation of unbound booklets from the production of NIRIN NGAAY – you can take a selection and do your own reading. Go visit!

Reading NIRIN: Andrew Rewald

In this video, Andrew Rewald reads 'On the Movement of Plants' from NIRIN NGAAY. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Karla Dickens

Karla Dickens reads her contribution, 'Ready, Willing and Able'. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Gladys Milroy

In this video, Gladys Milroy reads her story, 'The Black Feather'. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Jessyca Hutchens

In this video, Jessyca Hutchens introduces us to the book. Watch here

Printed matter & NIRIN publications

Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter speak with Brook Andrew about their own artistic processes in printed matter and how they came to collaborate and produce two publications for NIRIN. The two publications, the exhibition catalogue NIRIN (edge) and the 'reader' NIRIN NGAAY (see the edge) were created in collaboration with (editors) Jessyca Hutchens (Assistant Curator to the Artistic Director) and Brook Andrew. Watch here

An artist’s book by Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter.
Edited by Jessyca Hutchens, Brook Andrew, Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter.
Commissioned for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.

The Biennale of Sydney team and authors of this publication acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation; the Boorooberongal people of the Dharug Nation; the Bidiagal, Dharawal and Gamaygal people, on whose ancestral lands and waters NIRIN gathers.

NIRIN is a safe place for people to honour mutual respect and the diversity of expression and thoughts that empower us all.

NIRIN NGAAY is a compilation, a collection, a volume, an Artist Book, a Reader, an artwork, a sprawling, excessive heterogenous space of connections. Published as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), titled NIRIN, A Wiradjuri word meaning ‘edge’, this book is a space where ideas, themes, research, and experiments arising out of NIRIN find places on pages. Traversing many disciplines and forms, encompassing new and previously published works, complete works as well as excerpts and fragments and responses, each piece may ask for new modes of reading and seeing. Instead of disorienting, we see many lines darting and weaving across these works, beautiful moments of syncing and overlap, affective and abstract resonances, moments of density, as well as pauses to breathe deeply. Read and see and touch at random or with resolve – we hope that you will appreciate the way these works unfold and twist together, creating movements of meaning between them. ‘NGAAY’ is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘see.’ To really see ‘edges’, might also be to sense and feel and trace them, they come into view with clarity, hover in the periphery, or drift away like memories.

Buy the book

Copies of NIRIN NGAAY can be purchased at the
Biennale of Sydney Shop

Book credits

First published in 2020 by the Biennale of Sydney Ltd.

Published with generous support from Aesop and the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

This publication is copyright and all rights are reserved. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced or
communicated to the public by any process without prior written permission of the copyright holder.

© Biennale of Sydney Ltd
All texts and artworks © the author or artist.

Published for the exhibition the 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, 14 March – 8
June 2020.

ISBN: 978-0-9578023-9-1

Biennale of Sydney
Chief Executive Officer: Barbara Moore
Artistic Director: Brook Andrew
Editors: Jessyca Hutchens, Brook Andrew, Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter
Publications team: Sebastian Henry-Jones, Liz Malcolm and Jodie Polutele

Designed, typeset and printed by Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter on a Heidelberg GTO 52. Some sections printed by Printgraphics and Newsprinters.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Biennale of Sydney.

Biennale of Sydney Ltd
Level 4
10 Hickson Road
The Rocks NSW 2000

Film credits

Director & Producer
Amy Browne

Amy Browne
Jason Heller

Jaime Snyder

Sound by
Jaime Snyder
Ben Coe

Nirin Ngaay


In response to the idea of ‘NIRIN’ and ‘edges’ being proposed by this volume, this piece introduces the concept of Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) – an area of land and/or water that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community has decided to voluntarily declare and manage through a mixture of legal and other effective means in line with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area (PA) guidelines – as a way of considering how certain settler practices that impose imaginary boundaries and ‘edges’ are being dissolved, countered, and re-imagined. While considerable effort has been committed to making visible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ ways of knowing, seeing and caring for Country, complexities emerge when such knowledge and practices are forced to exist within sustained colonial systems.

Are Indigenous Protected Areas a practice in disrupting dominant environmental narratives about how best to care for our lands and waters?
>… they [forest people] may speak for their version of a forest but they do not speak for the forest we want to conserve1

Historically, a key belief informing how the environment should be managed is that humans and nature are in constant opposition and that ‘wilderness’ areas should be cut out and reserved for non-consumptive use only. This belief aligned more with the perspectives of western elites than those communities who inhabit the areas targeted for conservation.

… for that ridge-top and mountain that great body-monolith that one that holds lessons casting shadows as it takes first slice of the sun and that stone that smooth piece of old-riverbed that one that gifts strength eroding pathways to fit in the palm of your hand and that grain of sand rippled clean cleansed that journeys the earth washed-up from ocean floors to stick to your skin and that tree that family-tree that one that shelters shades anchors you deep to the core of the earth then rises up to the sun … all this beyond what the eye can see this beautiful strong blood-memory-land always was always will be something else and so much more than what is carved-consumed-wasted for just now …2

Narungga woman Natalie Harkin’s poem ‘Land Rights’ begins by referencing lyrics from musician and activist Archie Roach’s 1997 song ‘A Child Was Born Here’;

Be careful when you walk through this land
Because a child was born here

Both Harkin and Roach speak to the concept of ‘Country’ and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ relationship with Country. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities the relationships with their lands and waters are intimate, entangled, and enduring. They contravene the supposed dualism between people and nature, and the existence of pristine untouched ‘wilderness’. They extend far beyond descriptions of territory and the matching of people to place. According to Rose: ‘County is a place that gives and receives life. Not just imagined or represented, it is lived in and lived with’.3 People converse and engage with and feel for Country in ways similar to close human relations. Country brings people and nature together describing an interconnected socio-ecological system grounded in culture. Support for this understanding of human-nature relations have emerged over recent decades in response to an increasing acknowledgement of the impact of colonisation on Indigenous peoples and nature, a rise in Indigenous-led activism, and a growing interest in Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and practices for the purpose of conserving the environment.

Colonisation has sought to destroy this relationship. Since settlers began colonising Country the experiences many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have had with environmental conservation has been through violent encounters that inevitably led to their forced exclusion, dispossession, and displacement. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were labelled nature’s enemy and relegated to the edge; the reserve, the mission, the ‘worthless’ space. This overpowering belief that to conserve nature humans must be removed and quarantined has underpinned exclusionary top-down management practices.

Aboriginal people are to the nation a social body which must continue to bleed because that blood in its various forms signifies settler conquest.4

How nations and governments conceptualise the environment can be explained in part by discourse on the territorialisation of space. Territoriality is a strategy focussed on controlling both people and resources, by controlling and asserting power over space. Control of space is emphasised by the construction of boundaries. Central to exclusionary forms of conservation is the creation of PAs; clearly demarcated geographical areas reserved for conserving nature. For centuries PAs have been the primary mechanism used by government to retain control over space for the sole purpose of conserving and commodifying nature and morally and legally justifying the removal of Indigenous peoples by coercive force.

Sacred place, all over our Aboriginal land was sacred, but we see now they have made a map and cut it up into six states
(Myra Watson).5

The dominant method used to create PAs is cartography. Generated by bureaucratic agencies, maps play a fundamental part in the enactment and legitimisation of a government’s territorial rule. Carolan asserts that maps have become ‘an indispensable instrument in environmental science and policy due to their ability to depict aspects of reality that are otherwise difficult to see’, and that ‘we must not forget that these representations do more than depict reality; they also mask and distort it’. 6

In Australia, support for exclusionary forms of conservation has been reinforced through the creation of maps. Cartography enables the explicit redrawing of imagined boundaries by the dominant authority to create new categories of space; such as world heritage areas and national parks. Nadasdy argues that the internal creation of territories and units has come to (re)structure Indigenous peoples’ lived experiences on Country.7 Botanist and biologists, for example, restrict the extent of flora and fauna surveys by management sub-units. The maps created influence how all people come to understand a particular space and by whom and in what ways it can be used.

Nevertheless, Vandergeest and Peluso argue that regimes of territorialisation exist in a perpetual state of instability, because there is a clear mismatch ‘between lived space and abstract space’. They suggest that a government’s territorial regime for governing resources is ‘often a utopian fiction unachievable in practice because of how it ignores and contradicts peoples’ lived experiences’.8 Whilst it is acknowledged that forms of territoriality act as powerful frameworks for a contemporary system of legal relations, it has not subverted Indigenous peoples’ ways of relating to each other and Country. It does, however, destabilise them and presents an obstacle to those Indigenous peoples who wish to maintain their connection to Country.9

As PAs expanded advocacy grew for the development of more inclusionary community-based approaches to conservation, Indigenous Protected Area’s (IPA’s) emerged as a new form. An IPA is an area of land and/or water that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community has decided to voluntarily declare and manage. In many ways IPAs are considered the contemporary physical manifestation of the ongoing relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Country. At the same time, while dissolving some imposed boundaries, IPA’s necessarily involve a demarcation of territory through the practice of map making. Efforts to put Country back together again through IPAs requires Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to walk the line between reinforcing exclusionary practices and reinstating their ways of knowing and doing and relating to Country.

The IPA program administered by the Australian government was established in 1996 to provide financial and technical support and a formal process to enable IPAs to be recognised. The first IPA was declared in 1998 in Nantawarrina, South Australia, by the Adnyamathanha peoples. The declaration marked the first time a PA in Australia had been created with the informed consent of an Aboriginal community. Currently there are 75 IPAs covering over 67 million hectares, making up more than 45 per cent of Australia’s National Reserve System (NRS).

Under the IPA concept, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have majority control over decision-making and resource allocation, and the role of government is determined at the community’s discretion. For many communities with IPAs the establishment of a ranger program is a priority. Rangers are trained in Western methods of conservation management; conducting flora and fauna surveys and weed management. Conversely, the establishment of IPAs has facilitated the re-emergence of Indigenous fire management techniques and enabled the reconnection of many Elders to Country. IPAs have become an important mechanism for communities to wake subjugated knowledges and practices and enable their transfer to younger generations. More recently, some communities are harvesting and propagating traditional plants such as wattle seed and bush tomatoes.

Looking after Country is more than just a job for me, it’s part of who I am. The trees, the soil, the water, the animals, we’re responsible for keeping them healthy. And when we keep Country healthy, it sets up right too (Joelwyn Johnson, Nantawarrina Ranger).10

Should Country-based IPAs be considered a practice in ‘counter-mapping’? Peluso coined the term to describe the process through which Indigenous peoples appropriate a government’s methods of formal mapping and create their own maps as alternatives to those utilised by the nation-state.11 Historically maps have been the product of the privileged and dominant knowledge resulting in the dismissal of other incompatible knowledges and ways of knowing. The development of counter-mapping viewed from the perspective of the IPA concept can be situated within the process of restructuring relations between the nation-state and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Counter-mapping drives the restructuring of relations between the government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Rather than continue to be rendered invisible and subject to territorialising processes, Country-based IPAs enable the uprising of formerly subjugated peoples and knowledges and makes imposed boundaries less relevant. Counter-mapping works to disrupt asymmetrical power relations by exercising power in the form of re-imagining and re-representing areas according to Indigenous peoples’ values and practices. In this context, mapping can be considered part of a broader effort to re-establish and care for Country in ways that reflects the peoples and cultures who are embedded in it.

Have IPAs become the mechanism Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can employ to disrupt the dominant practice of creating exclusionary spaces in the name of conservation? Or have we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples facilitated our own integration into the institutional construct that is the national conservation estate? Have we merely superimposed another layer of internal territories upon those already existing? Or are we taking control of how established internal territories function and impact our relations to Country?

Here on this continent, there is no place where the feet of Aboriginal humanity have not preceded those of the settler. Nor is there any place where country was not once fashioned and kept productive by Aboriginal people’s land management practices. There is no place without a history; there is no place that has not been imaginatively grasped through song, dance, design, no place where traditional owners cannot see the imprint of sacred creation.12

  1. K. H. Redford and S. E. Sanderson, ‘Extracting humans from nature’, Conservation Biology, vol. 14, no. 5, October 2000, pp. 1362–1364. 

  2. N. Harkin, Dirty Words, Cordite Press, Melbourne, 2015, p. 17. 

  3. D. B. Rose, Nourishing Terrains. Australian Aboriginal views of landscape and wilderness, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra, 1996, p. 7. 

  4. D. B. Rose, ‘Aboriginal Life and Death in Australian Settler Nationhood’, Aboriginal History, vol. 25, 2001, p. 149. 

  5. F. Gale, We Are Bosses Ourselves, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1983. 

  6. M.S. Carolan, ‘This is not a biodiversity hotspot. The power of maps and other images in the environmental sciences’, Society and Natural Resources, vol. 22, 2009, pp. 278–286. 

  7. P. Nadasdy, ‘Boundaries among Kin: Sovereignty, the modern treaty process, and the rise of ethno-territorial nationalism among Yukon First Nations’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 54, issue 3, July 2012, pp. 499–532. 

  8. P. Vandergeest and N. L. Peluso, ‘Territorialization and State Power in Thailand’, Theory and Society, vol. 24, issue 3, 1995, pp. 385–426. 

  9. P. Nadasdy, Hunters and Bureaucrats: Power, Knowledge, and Aboriginal-State Relations in the Southwest Yukon, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2003. 

  10. Strong women on Country: The success of women caring for country as Indigenous rangers and on Indigenous Protected Areas, copyright © 2019 by Country Needs People. Used by permission of the publisher: countryneedspeople.org.au/strong_women_on_country, p. 16. 

  11. N. L Peluso, ‘Whose woods are these? Counter-mapping forest territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia’, Antipodes: A Radical Journal of Geography, vol. 27, issue 4, 1995, pp. 383–404. 

  12. D. B. Rose, Nourishing Terrains. Australian Aboriginal views of landscape and wilderness, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra, 1996, p. 18.