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Reproduced courtesy of Michael Cook

Civilised #12

Date: 2012
Dimensions:
Overall: 1205 × 1080 mm
Medium: Inkjet print on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Copyright: © Michael Cook
Classification:Art
Object Name: Photograph
Object No: 00054884

User Terms

    Description
    Michael Cook
    Bidjara people of South-West Queensland

    “They have no houses, but lie in the open air, without any covering;
    the earth being their bed, and the heaven their canopy...”
    William Dampier (1651–1715) an English buccaneer who first visited
    Western Australia in 1688 on the privateer Cygnet

    woman in white dress, carrying ship.

    This body of work dresses Aboriginal Australians in the fashions of four European countries that visited Australia before and in the early stages of colonialisation: Spain, The Netherlands, England and France. It asks 'what makes a person civilised?' and suggests how different history might have been if those Europeans had realised that the Aborigines were indeed civilised.
    For Aboriginal Australians were certainly civilised, as James Cook appreciated. The harmony with the land that had existed for tens of thousands of years was precious, in perfect balance, and in the last 400 years some of these lessons could have been considered more thoughtfully. 

    Captain Cook wrote "these people may truly be said to be in the pure state of nature, and may appear to some to be the most wretched upon the earth; but in reality they are far happier than ... we Europeans." What was the colonisers' view of what it means to be civilised, and would a better understanding of Aboriginal cultures have made a difference to our history? Was being civilised about fashion, speech, cultivating the land, having Christian beliefs, or was it to do with the colour of someone's skin or how they appeared?
    Upon the European discovery of Australia, Aborigines were seen as 'natives'—part of the flora and fauna. European settlers were not interested in understanding new cultures, or how Aborigines lived in harmony with the land—only that their way of life was superior. Even today, Aboriginal people are still suffering because these beliefs still exist amongst some non-Indigenous Australians. Even today, in a so-called 'modern' society, racism is rife. (artist statement)
    SignificanceThis body of work dresses Aboriginal Australians in the fashions of four European countries that visited Australia before and in the early stages of colonialisation: Spain, The Netherlands, England and France. It asks 'what makes a person civilised?' and suggests how different history might have been if those Europeans had realised that the Aborigines were indeed civilised.

    For Aboriginal Australians were certainly civilised, as James Cook appreciated. The harmony with the land that had existed for tens of thousands of years was precious, in perfect balance, and in the last 400 years some of these lessons could have been considered more thoughtfully.

    HistoryARTIST'S STATEMENT
    I was never taught Aboriginal history at school, only about European settlement of Australia. What I learnt in school was similar to the first European settlers' beliefs, with words like 'natives' and 'discovery of Australia'. Looking back now, I realise that it was a false way of teaching, and that it hid the truth about the treatment of Aborigines over the past four hundred years.

    Captain Cook wrote "these people may truly be said to be in the pure state of nature, and may appear to some to be the most wretched upon the earth; but in reality they are far happier than ... we Europeans." What was the colonisers' view of what it means to be civilised, and would a better understanding of Aboriginal cultures have made a difference to our history? Was being civilised about fashion, speech, cultivating the land, having Christian beliefs, or was it to do with the colour of someone's skin or how they appeared?
    Upon the European discovery of Australia, Aborigines were seen as 'natives'—part of the flora and fauna. European settlers were not interested in understanding new cultures, or how Aborigines lived in harmony with the land—only that their way of life was superior. Even today, Aboriginal people are still suffering because these beliefs still exist amongst some non-Indigenous Australians. Even today, in a so-called 'modern' society, racism is rife.

    This body of work dresses Aboriginal Australians in the fashions of four European countries that visited Australia before and in the early stages of colonialisation: Spain, The Netherlands, England and France. It asks 'what makes a person civilised?' and suggests how different history might have been if those Europeans had realised that the Aborigines were indeed civilised.

    For Aboriginal Australians were certainly civilised, as James Cook appreciated. The harmony with the land that had existed for tens of thousands of years was precious, in perfect balance, and in the last 400 years some of these lessons could have been considered more thoughtfully.

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