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City West Water

First Nations Artwork Project 2019

City West Water and SALT Studio have worked together to turn plain, often graffitied, electrical cabinets into beautiful works of First Nations art.

It has become somewhat standard practise for asset owners to transform unremarkable, often ugly, cabinets into art. At City West Water we thought we could take this practise a step further into the win-win territory and use the space to specifically showcase First Nations art.

This view sits in line with our reconciliation journey at City West Water and adds to creating safe and welcoming spaces. These works of art allows us to engage and interact with the public via the story and concepts that SALT Studio created for City West Water.

 For First Nations Peoples , the sharing of culture and lore is traditionally passed on through song, dance, art and creation stories. Using these cabinets as a different platform to share the same knowledge was identified as a great opportunity. Therefore, City West Water engaged SALT Studio to turn the cabinets into beautiful visual stories sharing knowledge of First Nations culture. Three First Nation female artist from SALT Studio developed the story concept of the water warrior themed around water, land, ceremony, totems, community and implemented the designs onto the cabinets.

On this page you will find

Cabinet 1 - Water

The first cabinet was painted in Footscray at the roundabout on the corner of Errol St and Cross St. The artwork on the first cabinet showcases the importance of Water as a sacred being that is held in First Nation lore to protect and never harm. “Water is Life” is an international First Nations movement to bring the voice of water into the wider communities, the importance and how much we depend on it as global citizens.

Written on the cabinet is “Protecting our waterways protects our future” which touches on the responsibly we have to protecting this vital natural resource for future generations First Nations peoples see water as the life blood of earth and is a gift to all who dwell on it. At the front of the cabinet the water is shown flowing through a coolamon, this signifies the important place water holds in ceremony and to lore and that First Nations people hold water as sacred.

The water warrior is surrounded by water to her signifying her sacred duty to protect it and hold lore and ceremony in place. The four ancestors on the small box signify the responsibility falling on the global village…North, East, South and West. We are all responsible to protect and not harm water.

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Cabinet 2 - Trees

The second cabinet adorned by the three SALT Studio artists is at Fels Park in Yarraville. This small park is very important to the community here and is always filled with families and people looking to enjoy a slice of nature.

There are several native trees in this park which provide this valuable experience. Therefore, the second cabinet showcases art around the significance of Trees in First Nations culture.

The images on this cabinet express the importance of connecting to country for First Nations peoples. But also where our lores are held and passed through the generations. The scar trees painted here highlight that First Nation knowledge comes from the roots and is carried and shared, and that our scared Trees need to be protected and not harmed.

On this cabinet the water warrior is painted on the side of the cabinet so that she looks on to the park, her hand holds on to the roots of the tree where knowledge is held. On the other side of the cabinet is another image of the scar tree using sea of hands signifying that we are all responsible for protecting country and that we must give back to country for future generations to continue its care. Afterall, “our trees are sacred” and “our sacred trees hold our sacred lore”.

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Cabinet 3 - Ceremony

The third cabinet that was painted is on the north-west corner of Raleigh St and Pascoe Vale Rd in Essendon. The third cabinet showcases the value of Ceremony in First Nations culture.

First Nations ceremonies centre around balancing healing and wellness as core to traditional lore and practice of culture. On this cabinet, the Water warrior is in ceremony and holds fire in her hands signifying the relationship between water and land and that both must be balanced. On the street side of the cabinet, two bolgars are painted, a mother and child, signifying the journey of ceremony is life long and is part of First Nation knowing and being. The Feathers signify healing and keeping of First Nation ceremonies.

Around the meeting place is written "Holding our ceremony strong heals our community" meaning that the practice of cultural ceremony heals country and heals our waterways.

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Cabinet 4 - Community

The fourth artwork was created on a cabinet in Darling Gardens, on South Terrace, near the public amenities. The fourth cabinet is adorned with artwork that displays the value of Community. It is appropriate that the concept here is that "Where the waters meet, we will gather".

Although there is no open water feature here a sizeable 600 mm City West Water pipeline which traverses diagonally across Darling Gardens, which is the largest meeting place of all the locations chosen for this project. The artwork here is a celebration of the First Nation community and its people, “we are a diverse many but we come from one land”.

On the front of cabinet shows a river trail with bunjil flying overhead keeping an eye on water and country.

On the park side of the cabinet, the water warrior is shown with child, signifying the celebration of our youth and our next generations and the responsibility we have to keeping culture and lore strong in community.

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Cabinet 5 - Totem

And finally, the fifth cabinet exhibits values of Totem. This cabinet is on the west side of Anderson Rd where it intersects with Derby Rd. The artwork here explains the importance of the totemic system in First Nations culture and the relationship that this has with land and water. The artists here express that First Nations are custodians and protectors of the land and water ways and follow the ways of totems.

“When we look after spirit, spirit looks after us”. Signifying the importance of always caring for country and water and the benefits we receive in return. On the street side of the cabinet, we see the water warrior with Waa and Bungil, informing the importance of listening to our totems and understanding country through the protection of our totems. On the front of the cabinet, we have a canoe with the water running like a ribbon over it with ceremony instruments in it, this signifies the importance of ceremony to keeping First Nation totemic systems and its knowledge through the generations.

There are hand prints on some of the cabinets, these hand prints are there as a reminder that we walk together on our journey to protect water and care for land.

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More information

All the cabinets feature a strong Water Warrior which ties all the cabinets together. The Water Warrior appears in different forms on each cabinet depending on which story she is telling. She is always strong and brings out the ‘mother’ and the ‘nurture’ voice into the creative work. Many cultural knowledge keepers in tribes were women, so it is appropriate that this Water Warrior was created by the all-woman team from Salt Studio and the City West Water project managers involved in this project are women too.

And just in case you were wondering, the cabinets provide power to “corrosion protection systems”. These systems help make City West Water’s pipelines last longer and suffer less leaks and bursts. It’s part of our way of operating our assets in a sustainable and proactive way to provide fiscally responsible, high quality services to you, our customers.

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