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Rainbow Serpent to realise a dream

21 February 2020

Gunnedah’s Aboriginal heritage will be permanently celebrated with a large new sculptural installation about to take shape in Gunnedah Shire’s Cultural Precinct.

Work has begun on the Gunnedah Rainbow Serpent Water Feature, a sculpture that has been more than a decade in the making.

The impressive, 9.2m long sculpture is being constructed in the forecourt of the Civic Centre by Waterforms International and local contractors including Frank Capezio Concreting , Thompsons Electrical and Pete Jensen Plumbing.

Gunnedah Shire Council Cultural Precinct Team Leader Lauren Mackley said the water feature had wound its own journey through the last decade or two of Gunnedah history, beginning in 2001.

“The Gunnedah Rainbow Water Feature Project began as the third stage of a plan to create linkages and connectivity throughout the Cultural Precinct,” Ms Mackley said.

“The Two Rivers Arts Council was delivering and developing community arts projects that promoted a deeper connection to Gunnedah Shire. The then-Chair of the Red Chief Lands Council Ellen Draper took this idea and opened the door for extensive consultation with our Aboriginal community.

“It became apparent just how strong Gunnedah’s connection to the river, local fauna and flora was, and artists Max Powell and Bronwyn McKeon put together a plan for three sculptural installations.

“The first two were the River Red Gum Tree and the Water Mural which are on permanent display, and the third was the Rainbow Serpent Water Feature.

“This spectacular project will recognise the integral and important role of Indigenous heritage in our Shire. It will also be a meeting place to share stories.

The water feature incorporates mosaic tiles made over a six-year period by a dedicated group of women. Local indigenous women, Shirley Long, Janet Wanless, Delma Jones, Ellen Draper, Gloria Foley, June Cox, Alison Cox, Rita Long and Cindy Foley became the core group of artists who met regularly to create the glass mosaics that adorn the surface of the Rainbow Serpent Water Feature.

These women have been advocating for the completion of this project for just under 20 years.

In 2019 the project was awarded $155,725 through the NSW Government Regional Cultural Fund in December 2018, adding to the council's 54 per cent contribution to the total.

The Gunnedah Rainbow Serpent Water Feature Project is expected to take about two months to complete.

The story of the Rainbow Serpent
“In traditional Aboriginal storytelling, the Rainbow Serpent was not always a snake but a man who, by deception and lies, attempted to turn the people against their God, Baiame.

“The Elders in the Dreamtime went to Baiame and told him what Rainbow was doing. Baiame punished Rainbow for his treachery by causing him to slither along the ground and sending him from the Dreamtime, never to return. He was ordered to place all of the heavenly bodies and earthly objects in this land in such a way that balance was maintained.

“When he laid his head on the ground to rest from his labours, a waterhole or billabong was created; and where he travelled, rivers formed.

“When his creation work was finished, the Rainbow Serpent transported all living creatures, including the people, to the land he had made for them and deposited them in their rightful places”.

- As told by Late Elder Ellen Draper


Media contact: Eliza Gallen (02) 6740 2100.