Seven Sistas Weavings, an exhibition of works by Master Weaver and Big Skies Collaborator Beverley Coe and three generations of fibre artists who weave together at the Condo SistaShed, opened as a feature event at the first Condo SkyFest in the small remote town of Condobolin on Friday 9 November 2018.
[Meet the weavers and see their works below.]
Bev Coe established the SistaShed with Elder Aunty Shirley Merritt in a corrugated iron building in the grounds of the Wiradjuri Study Centre in 2014 to give local women a place to meet, yarn, and express themselves creatively through the arts and crafts.
For this exhibition, the Sistas have done much more than that, however! They’ve reclaimed their ‘forgotten’ ancestral skystories and created a collection of works to inspire us all to embrace Wiradjuri skylore and ‘reach for the stars’!
Seven Sistas’ Weavings ‘began’ just six months ago after Bev visited one of Central Western New South Wales’s most ‘forgotten’ knowledge sites, Seven Sisters Ridge near the rural locality of Yarrabandai. This extraordinary line of hills was almost certainly a place of great religious, astronomical and time-keeping significance to Wiradjuri people before colonisation and a key site on Australia’s continent-wide Seven Sisters dreaming track or songline.
The ridge, with its seven conjoined peaks, embodies traditional dreamings, or creation stories, about seven young women being pursued by one or more men and escaping them to become Mulayndynang, the stars of the Pleiades or M45. The seasonal movement of this star cluster across the night sky continues to be of profound cultural and scientific significance to First Nations people in Australia and around the world.
Bev felt a deep connection to her Wiradjuri ancestors when she visited Seven Sisters Ridge but, at the time, was unable to express her feelings. Evidence of her ancestors’ presence was all around her though, including in the yellow ochre she collected at the base of the ridge. “I picked up the ochre and couldn’t wait to get home to do a painting and weave the Seven Sisters,” she said.
“I googled the stories and the constellations, and thought ‘Wow, I’m sixty next year and I’ve never ever heard these stories before!’ If I’d known about them I could have asked my father!”
Bev and the Sistas of the Condo SistaShed are now using their art to ensure that their children and grandchildren know their ancestral skystories and can pass them on to future generations. “That would be a good educational thing for the kids,” Bev said.
Bev has been weaving and teaching arts and crafts in inland NSW for more than 30 years and is recognised as one of the region’s most skilled, knowledgeable and productive weavers. Her formal qualifications include an Associate Diploma in Creative Arts from Mitchell College of Advanced Education (now Charles Sturt University) and a Certificate 1 in Aboriginal Art and Cultural Practices from the Western Institute of TAFE. She has taught part-time at Condobolin TAFE (1997-2002) and conducted workshops with West Women Weaving and other groups throughout the region.
Bev’s work is inspired by her Wiradjuri heritage and her strong bond with Country. Her fibre art has been exhibited in many venues, including the Australia Museum, Boomalli Aboriginal Artists collective gallery in Sydney, the Kangan Institute’s Textile and Fashion Hub in Melbourne, Canowindra’s Age of Fishes Museum, Cowra’s Japanese Gardens, Kew-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Art Gallery in Hartley, and at Regional Arts NSW’s MasterWeavers Gathering in Dubbo, for example. Her work has also been featured in a variety of publications such as the Little Black Book of Strong Black Women and Australian Artist magazine. She retains a strong commitment to her local community, and now passes on her skills at the Condo SistaShed. She is very proud of what the Sistas have achieved.
Aunty Shirley Merritt
Aunty Shirley is recognised as one of Condo’s senior elders. She grew up in the days when her people were subjected to many cruel and discriminatory government policies which disrupted the intergenerational transmission of culture and language. She visited Seven Sisters Ridge on a community bus trip in October 2017 but couldn’t recall any traditional stories about it.
Shirl began weaving with Bev through West Women Weaving and later with the Elders at the Wiradjuri Study Centre. She helped Bev establish the SistaShed in 2014. Some of her work has since been exhibited at Kew-T-Ahn Aboriginal Gallery in Hartley
Shirl enjoys fibre arts and spending time with the Sistas. For her, the SistaShed is more about sharing food, yarning and getting out of the house.
Mary Dargin Wighton
I’ve been weaving with Bev’s group for a couple of years. My work has already been shown in a group exhibition at Kee-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Gallery at Hartley Historic Site near Lithgow so Seven Sistas Weavings is my second group exhibition.
I love weaving and am extremely proud to be part of SkyFest 2018.
I enjoy learning to weave baskets and all our other things in our traditional cultural way. I find it very healing.
I also find weaving good therapy for loneliness, depression, grief and loss.
I have been weaving with our group for a couple of years.
I love learning new things, I love the company of the ladies, and I love being able to teach my kids.
I began weaving with West Women Weaving with my Nan Isabel Coe. Aunty Bev was tutoring traditional weaving then and I really enjoyed working with native spiny sedge.
At first, I went to the SistaShed for a yarn but this year I began working with Aunty Bev and the fibre art group on the Emu in the Sky.
I enjoy sitting with the Sistas in the shed and listening to their stories. Now that I’m part of the SistaShed I’m loving it.
I’ve been weaving baskets and other traditional things for a couple of years with my sister-in-law Bev Coe.
I’ve had some of my work exhibited at Key-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Gallery at Hartley Historic Site. Bev and I went to that exhibition together.
I’ve been painting with my Mum Bev Coe since I was a baby and started weaving with her when I was fifteen. I wove with her at Lake Cargelligo when she was doing workshops for West Women Weaving, and, at seventeen, assisted her when she was teaching at Aunty Annette Sloane’s weaving group in Parkes.
I returned to weaving after my twins were born and still enjoy it, but I prefer fibre art that involves more than weaving. I like making dream catchers, for example. Mum took me to Seven Sisters Ridge and showed me the ochre mine. I found that very inspiring.
For me, the trip was a big eye-opening experience. I am now beginning to understand how significant the Seven Sisters Ridge and its stories must have been to our ancestors and I want to know more!
Marlene Coe after visiting the ridge for the first time.
The Seven Wiradjuri Sisters and The Hunter
Skystory: Seven young women are being chased by a lascivious male hunter. They escape his attention by leaping into the sky to become the Mulayndnang or Pleiades star cluster. The hunter continues to chase the girls across the sky as the constellation Orion, but can never catch them.
Materials: bark, raffia, other fibres
Makers: Bev Coe, Charmaine Coe, Mary Dargin-Wighton, Sharon Dargin, Mary Parker, Zannette Coe, Anita Johnson
Mulayndnang, Seven Sisters Star Cluster
SkyStory: To escape their hunter, the seven young Wiradjuri women become the Seven Sisters star cluster Mulayndnang, also known as the Pleiades.
Materials: raffia, quandong nuts, steel rod
Maker: Bev Coe
Gugurmin, The Emu in the Sky
Skystory: Gugurmin, the Celestial Emu, lives in the dark clouds and dust lanes of the Milky Way. His movement tells his people about the changing seasons and what food is available. Gugurmin is also culturally important in many other ways.
Materials: raffia and steel
Makers: Bev Coe, Zannette Coe, Mary Dargin-Wighton, Sharon Dargin, Aleesha Goolagong, Aunty Shirl Merritt, Charmaine Coe
Maliyan, The Eagle
Skystory: Maliyan, the wedge-tailed eagle, lives in the sky with his wives, the Maliyan Ngubaanbularr, who guard their family nest. Maliyan manifests himself as the constellation Aquila on the celestial equator. His wives are represented by Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, and Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Bootes. Their nest, Maliyan wollai, is the constellation Corona Borealis.
Materials: raffia, wallaby grass
Makers: Bev Coe, Charmaine Coe, Mary Dargin-Wighton, Aunty Shirl Merritt
Skystory: In some First Nation traditions, the constellation Orion represents a canoe carrying three warriors on a fishing expedition. In other traditions, the canoe ferries the spirits of the dead to their new home beside the River in the Sky or Milky Way.
Materials: spiny sedge, raffia
Maker: Bev Coe
Maker: Bev Coe
God’s Eye, Ojo de Dios
Skystory: These ancient cultural symbols are traditionally made by First Nations people in Central America and the Southwest United States to evoke the ancestors and protect the living from unseen dangers. The sticks represent the four ‘directions’ of earth, fire, water and air. Children all over the world now love making these objects.
Materials: knitting yarn, feathers, sticks
Makers: students of Condobolin Primary School
Skystory sources: These works are inspired by the research of cultural astronomers, including Trevor Leaman, and Bev’s own research.
We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund and Regional Arts NSW which made this project possible, and in-kind support from Arts OutWest staff, including Aboriginal Arts Development Officer Aleisha Lonsdale who hung the exhibition; and, of course, from Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation’s Wiradjuri Study Centre staff.
Page created September 2018. Last updated 16 November 2018.