Millu Wudungi Thangurra Pingathurra (Murray River Man Our Country Our Art)—

Brendan Kennedy Millu Wudungi

Tati Tati Latji Latji Mutti Mutti Wadi Wadi Weki Weki Yita Yita Nari Nari

My Irish name is Brendan Kennedy, but I refer to myself as Millu Wudungi (Murray River man). My background has involved asserting our rights and responsibilities to our country and culture, advocating for the existence and conservation of our Ancestral cultural heritage sites and places, and my strong opposition to the Native Title system that further dispossesses us of our lands, waters, cultural heritage and connection to our animals and natural and cultural landscape.

I began my personal artistic expression of these issues through traditional cultural and artistic practices such as traditional fibre net making, stone tool artefact making, canoe making, shields, wood carving and burning, bark paintings, boomerang and wooden weapon making and decorating.

This activity also coincides with my endeavour to retrieve, reclaim, revive, and revitalise my traditional language. Through my art and language journey I am creating living and vibrant cultural documents about how my country and people are surviving in our stressed cultural landscape. My artwork is an expression of my relationship with my people’s cultural landscape – our animals, and spiritual beings, and the waterways that I belong to. Dindi means river and Milloo is the River Murray, Rind is the Murrumbidgee River, Kolaidt is the Edward River, and there is also the Wakool River. Across my country are many lakes, creeks, wetlands, swamps and lagoons. My people’s totem animals live in this country, animal beings from our creation times. All of this forms the basis for my art.

I’m a Muckwarra, Pathangal the pelican is my totem, I am Millu Wudungi from the Murray River Nations and clans, Tati Tati Latji Latji Mutti Mutti Weki Weki Wati Wati Yita Yita Nari Nari are all my Ancestral bloodlines to my people and to my people’s country.

My people are the from the following rivers – Millu (Murray River), Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Wakool, and Kolaidj (Edward River). These areas were the most heavily populated rivers where our people lived.

I have many roles and responsibilities that include towards ancestral heritage, language, art, songs, stories, caring for country, water, traditional knowledge, kinship connections, and genealogies. One way that I express these roles and responsibilities is through my artwork, depicting and expressing how I see and feel about my country. I also imagine how country and culture is seen and felt through from the perspective of country, animals and Ancestral beings.

I use many shades of bright and dull colours to depict the many aspects of country, and I use a great deal of detail to show how rich and complex our culture and country is. My art is my way of telling stories from my understanding of our world – I depict the past and the present in my art.

Most times the image or story that I depict happens during the process of creating the piece itself – the meaning of the story usually becomes evident and understood by me towards the end of finishing a piece.

I don’t set out to deliberately create a piece of artwork based on a story or knowledge, I just start with a part of country, or sky, or an animal and just follow and create from there. I just keep adding animals, trees, birds, land, water, sun, and add more detail and colours as I go.

I’m always enjoying the process of creating and experimenting with the ideas that I’m thinking about while I’m painting. I think about country, people, animals, events. I think about the past, present and the future while I am painting.

I’ve gotten to the stage now where I don’t worry about making mistakes or whether the artwork is going to be any good or if I’m going to like it or not, because I am comfortable and confident enough to trust that whatever I create will happen for a reason. I can just trust that it’s going to be an enjoyable experience.  

People often ask me about my art, about what kind of art I make, and I often find it hard to explain the type of work I create. Although it’s mainly acrylic paint on canvas, the type of artworks I paint are not necessarily easy to explain. I prefer for people to just look at it and come up with their own interpretations.

For the most part, my art is my representation of my understanding of my people’s country – the river is almost always a prominent and main feature within my painting and I like to include fish, turtles, crayfish, pelican, and the land animals such as kangaroo, emu, goanna, snake, and then the birds in the sky such as eaglehawk and crow. These are the main birds, and they are almost always in my paintings along with emu and kangaroo – this represents the Mukwarra and Kilparra moiety kinship systems that my river people belong to.

I always like to include blue colours in my artworks, depicting the sky and the waters, along with greens for plants, browns for the soil of my land, orange for animals and the sun, and I like to paint clouds and sunsets with pink, purple, grey, and yellow.

I also like to include earth colours of ochre, charcoal, and pigments, in keeping with depicting mother earth naturally, through the eyes of us, the First Nations people.

On many occasions my paintings end up becoming songs translated into language, and sometimes they have become animations. It’s very satisfying to see my art take on many other forms of expression.

My artistic practice has evolved over time and become an important part of who I am and how I see my world. It allows me to express and share my understanding of the world around us and express it in a way that is non-colonial, non-threatening, and culturally safe.

My journey in producing art is a live experience that is taking shape constantly. Although I am well established and artistically grounded, I feel that my most important artwork storytelling is ahead of me in my journey, and that is something that I am very excited about.

Everyday I get inspiration from everything that I experience throughout the day. I’m inspired by the images of country, shapes, colours, sounds, smells, movements, interactions, the beauty of country. Sometimes my attention will get captured by a bird, particularly Wangi (crow), or any bird or animal that I come into contact with. This not only inspires me but also reinforces my connection and relationship with my country. These are examples of the never-ending layers of our connection to country and reminders of how rich our cultural landscape is and has always been.  

I store these experiences and observances within my memories, combining not only my personal lived experience, but also my people’s lived experience. These form the basis of my traditional knowledge, which informs all my artistic expression.

Originally commissioned for ngaratya (together, us group, all in it together). 
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