Cover image of the review

Colony: Australia 1770–1861 / Frontier Wars

7 Jul 2018
Colony: Australia 1770–1861, 15 Mar - 15 Jul 2018 Colony: Frontier Wars, 15 Mar - 30 Sep 2018

Colony is undoubtedly the best show the NGV has put on since Australian Impressionists in France in 2013. And I’d even say that the two shows are connected. Seriously. Both shake up our conception of what “Australia” is and perhaps even more profoundly where “Australia” is. Certainly, a number of the artists in the second half of Colony might one day be included in something called Indigenous Australians in Oxford.

Installation view, Colony: Australia 1770–1861, National Galley of Victoria. Photo: Tom Ross.

Colony: Australia 1770–1861 is an extraordinary social history exhibition, tracing the European discovery and colonisation of Australia, from Melchisédec Thévenot’s 1644 map of New Holland through to Nicholas Chevalier’s 1860 watercolour of the State Library, which in the early days also housed what was called the Museum of Art. The show concludes with Chevalier’s much-loved The Buffalo Ranges (1864), the first purchase for the new gallery, and throughout Colony: Australia 1770–1861 and Colony: Frontier Wars there is a salutary, although not virtue-signalling, self-implication of the institution in the very colonial history it is now trying to unpick. Upstairs in Frontier Wars, there is a scattering of unidentified Aboriginal shields that the Museum of Melbourne is now in charge of, which at once is a heart-breaking indication of the indifference with which they have hitherto been regarded and a spectacular affirmation of their new cultural power, as spotlit emblems of colonial death and dispossession.

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