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'Tears of joy' as Reconciliation Rocks artworks installed

On Tuesday 16 March 2021, a Traditional Waymburr Owner was overheard likening the torrential downpour over Cooktown to “tears of joy from Ancestral Elders” as Traditional Owners joined artist and sculptor Braham Stevens, architects, Council staff and the project management team to witness the installation of the artworks at the revitalised Reconciliation Rocks precinct.

Reconcilation Rocks | Braham Steven and Freddie Deeral unwrap the artworks

The two larger-than-life artworks celebrate and commemorate the Indigenous narrative of the first recorded act of Reconciliation that took place in Waymburr (Cooktown) at Reconciliation Rocks in 1770.

“Reconciliation is not about tearing down statues, but ensuring the Indigenous side of the story is accurately and meaningfully told, shared and commemorated,” said Cook Shire Mayor, Peter Scott.

“What took place at Reconciliation Rocks, is corroborated by the stories of the Waymburr Warra and the journals of the crew on the Endeavour. There is no hero or villain, but rather two leaders with the wisdom and insight to cultivate respect and trust despite their differences. It’s an uplifting and unifying example of reconciliation that can be celebrated inclusively by all Australians.”

Reconciliation Rocks Cynthia Deeral and her brother Freddie Deeral unwrap the first of the artworks

Queensland artist Braham Stevens worked closely with representative of the Waymburr Warra people, of the Guugu Yimithirr Nation who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Cooktown sits, to share their perspective of the historically significant series of events that occurred between clan Elders and Captain James Cook

The two artworks focus on the central story the Waymburr Warra Elder, referred to in Cook’s journals as ‘The Little Old Man’ who instigated the first recorded act of reconciliation, by approaching Cook and his crew with a broken spear while performing the Ngaala-ngun Daama – a traditional way of welcoming visitors to their land.

The entrance statement piece at the end of Furneaux Street now entitled Gulbuuygu (All Together) features a 6 metre-high dual feather form modelled on feathers from both a black, and white cockatoo that are totems of the Guugu Yimithirr peoples. The piece also features a central figure of the Elder carrying the broken spear while engaging in Ngaala-ngun Daama on the front, with a White Cockatoo in flight over the Waalmbal Birri (Endeavour River) and 12 sea-turtles featured on the reverse.

Reconciliation Rocks Gulbuuygu by Braham Stevens being installed

The second piece, at the southern end of the rocks is untitled and features a 2.4 metre-high bust effigy to symbolize the Waymburr Warra Elder, looking towards the river in the direction where Cook arrived and over the ancient rocks and the almost unchanged landscape. Viewers can look through the piece from different angles, taking in this landscape and the Heritage listed precinct, evoking the connection between the land, Traditional Owners and ancestral spirits.

Reconciliation Rocks Ancestral Elder Bust Effigy by Braham Stevens

Funded by the Australian Government’s Community Development Grants Program, the project is part of the Council’s on-going revitalisation of Cooktown’s Cultural Precinct that also includes installation of accessible pathways, amphitheatre-style seating around a natural performance space, and landscaping to complement and enhance the unique biodiversity of the area. 

With installation of the artworks and revitalisation of the area now complete, the public are encouraged to visit the park for themselves and to ‘snap and share’ their experience of Reconciliation Rocks to help broadcast the special shared history of Cooktown as the site of the first recorded act of Reconciliation across Australia and around the world.

The official opening of Reconciliation Rocks will also feature as part of the Cooktown & Cape York Expo 2021: The Rising Tide from 11-20 June 2021.

 Reconciliation Rocks Traditional Owners overjoyed with the result of collaboration with artist Braham Stevens

Reconciliation Rocks Freddy Deeral sits infront of the effigy of the Ancestral Elder

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