In celebration of its people, their real-world impacts and its vision for the future, Swinburne University of Technology has commissioned a street art mural by artist Adnate who is considered one of the most influential street artists in Australia. It can be seen on Burwood Road, on the Chemistry (CH) Building of Swinburne’s Hawthorn Campus, located on Wurundjeri Country.
Adnate, who is non-Indigenous, is known for his long-standing work with the Indigenous community. The subject of Adnate’s mural is Dr Andrew Peters, a Yarra Yarra and Yorta Yorta man and a teacher of Indigenous knowledge. He has been at Swinburne for 27 years (he started as a student and never left).
Dr Peters has dedicated his working life to embedding Indigenous culture in all aspects of Swinburne and all aspects of Australian life. Part of that unrelenting drive has seen him strongly contribute to Swinburne’s Reconciliation Action Plan.
While Dr Peters is flattered about being the subject of the mega-scale mural, he’s a little uncomfortable with all the attention.
‘It’s an honour to be recognised like that by a place I love working at. But it’s kind of embarrassing, because I’m not a big self-promoter,’ says Dr Peters.
Part of the reason for the longevity of his partnership with Swinburne is the sense of community and connection that he still feels strongly there. ‘Connection is a really important part of Indigenous culture and Indigenous people,’ says Dr Peters. ‘It’s nice to see Indigenous culture and Indigenous studies being embraced by the University.’
Adnate’s portrait of Dr Peters symbolises his family connection. In fact, some of the street art was painted by Dr Peters’s own family. His cousin, Arbup Peters, was brought in by Adnate to create the Indigenous painting that features to the left of Dr Peters’s chin and neck. It’s a replica of the artwork Arbup created for Swinburne’s Reconciliation Action Plan.
Embedding Indigenous technology
The eel trap, which runs diagonally behind Dr Peters’s neck, is his late mother’s creation. It references ancient Indigenous technology that has been passed on for thousands of years. ‘Mum learned how to make these when she was a little girl, from her grandmother,’ says Dr Peters. ‘It was a way for her to relax and to connect with her spirits.’ It’s what we’d now call meditation or mindfulness. ‘The eel trap is a personal connection, but it’s also a clear link to technology,’ says Dr Peters.
Hand woven and made of only dried grass, eel traps are coiled in such a way that they can withstand currents of river systems. The ‘discovery’ of eel traps in Budj Bim cultural landscape built by the Gunditjmara people is considered the largest example of ancient freshwater fishing structures created by hunter-gatherers in the world. Their existence proved the misunderstandings of the Europeans. Specifically, that the Europeans had overlooked, or chosen not to be open to see, the complexity and sophistication of Indigenous culture and history.
The hints of yellow and black beneath the eel trap are the result of a deal struck between a diehard Tigers fan, Dr Peters, and the artist.
The mural of Dr Peters can be viewed on Burwood Road, Hawthorn.
‘The mural connects between generations and the transfer of knowledge that is still relevant today,’ says Adnate. ‘Ancient or historic things, including knowledge, have enormous relevance today if we open our eyes and ears, and learn what to look and listen for.’
To create the future, we must fully understand the past. In Australia, that means actively engaging with, respecting and embracing our Indigenous culture and history. Adnate’s mural of Dr Peters is a celebration, but it’s also an important reminder to keep our eyes and ears wide open – always.
Upgrading the campus
Adnate’s mural of Dr Andrew Peters is the first in a series of Swinburne commissioned street art pieces. Created by Melbourne artists, the murals form part of broader Swinburne Hawthorn campus upgrades including a new half court, a new location for the Moondani Toombadool Centre, and The Junction – a space for students to collaborate and study, which also features an Esports centre, queer room and women’s space.
Boroondara’s Revitalising Glenferrie Place Plan, which is currently open for feedback, is also set to transform the laneways and spaces around Glenferrie Station. Over the coming years, the public can expect upgraded lighting, added greenery, recreation spaces and more in the laneways connecting Glenferrie Station and Swinburne University of Technology.