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© Gordon Syron/ Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

Terror Nullius - 2

Date: 1997
Overall: 560 x 1830 mm
Display Dimensions: 560 x 1830 x 20 mm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Copyright: © Gordon Syron
Object Name: Painting
Object No: 00031857

User Terms

    This painting is the second panel of the diptych 'Terror Nullius' by Gordon Syron.

    The High Court battle over 'terra nullius', a legal Latin term for land owned by no-one, has generated much discussion over Aboriginal place in Australian society. Gordon has played on the Latin and swapped the word Terra for 'Terror'. He has painted the nonsense idea that 200 years ago the land was owned by no one because a foreign power decided that since Aboriginal people live by hunting and gathering rather than farming, they had no idea of ownership.

    SignificanceGordon Syron is a pioneer of Indigenous political urban art. He has inspired and taught many Sydney Koories to paint. This painting 'Terror Nullius' was highly commended by the Australian Heritage Commission's National Indigenous Heritage Art Award in 1998 and the Commission toured the painting in their 'The Art of Place' exhibition.
    HistoryGordon Syron was born in 1941 and is from the Biripi community who lived on the Hastings and Manning Rivers, north coast New South Wales. He was born and grew up near Forster Tuncurry. Gordon was one of 16 children whose Aboriginal parents kept him away from other Aboriginal people. His mother worried about her children being
    taken from her and did not want them to have the hard life she had experienced growing up in Bulahdelah. The family lived on a farm and Gordon's father taught him about the wild life on the land. The birds in particular fascinated him and he was inspired to use these birds in his paintings.

    In 1972 Gordon was sent to gaol. He describes gaol as a cultural shock, but one of the most important changes in his life was meeting other Aboriginal people. He became politicised and has painted learning about his aboriginally in 'Meeting My Brothers'. It was in gaol that he learnt to paint. He took art books out of the goal library and started to copy them. A prisoner in goal for forgery gave him tips like using a magnifying glass to see how other artists used different brush techniques.

    Once out of gaol Gordon was employed first to paint murals for the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. When that finished he was approached to help start the Eora Centre in Sydney for Aboriginal youth. He later moved onto Sydney University to give occasional lectures on art and still does. He has been President and Chairperson of
    Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee as well as a member of Boomaji. Gordon paints fulltime now and says "I will always paint. A lot of things need to be painted".

    Gordon believes he has a unique perspective on history being both Aboriginal and what he calls 'convict'. The coming in of the First Fleet was the most important moment in Aboriginal history. It was the first contact with aliens. Gordon has painted this meeting a few times but he believes the painting the ANMM is acquiring is his best.

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