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9th July 2018

Tumbalong Gatherers - Q&A with Kirli Saunders, Jeanine Leane and Joel Davison

By Kristy Wan

Image of Tumbalong Gatherers - Q&A with Kirli Saunders, Jeanine Leane and Joel Davison

Gunhinarrung grows from wanggaay to ngamandhuray
now she learns to gather secrets – things that only
women know and keep deep in storage vessels of memory –
the seamless baskets of the mind where
what is woven will never unravel

from 'The Gatherers' by Jeanine Leane


Follow the lights and sounds of the Eora poetic path with the Tumbalong Gatherers this July. From 6 - 27 July, Red Room Poetry (RR) and Lendlease are bringing poetry to the streets of Darling Square and Darling Quarter to celebrate  NAIDOC Week’s theme "Because of Her, We Can". Tumbalong Boulevard will be illuminated by words from some of Red Room's First Nations Poets - Ali Cobby Eckermann (Yankunytatjara), Lorna Munro (Wiradjuri/Gamilaroi), Kirli Saunders (Gunai and Gundungurra Custodian), Jeanine Leane (Wirajuri) and Joel Davison (Gadigal). Their words will be presented alongside the visual work of artist, David Cragg.

Red Room aims to make poetry a meaningful part of everyday life and has collaborated with award winning First Australian poets to amplify First Nations voices and languages in a place that holds a deep connection to country. Kirli Saunders, Manager of RR Poetic Learning and creator of Poetry in First Languages hopes to ‘encourage the audience and explore First Nations languages, to reach out to the local community to pause and acknowledge the wisdom embedded within this land’.

Because of Her, We Can celebrates the contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made, and will continue to make to our families, our communities and our nation. Celebrating the first women of Australia who have been
and still are inspired leaders, activists and advocates for justice, equal rights, rights to country, access to education, equal opportunity and the preservation and promotion of the culture of Australia’s first people.

Find out more about Tumbalong Gatherers in Darling Harbour

Submit to #gadigalpoetry


What does it mean for you to be involved in the Tumbalong Gatherers project, delivered by Red Room Poetry and Lendlease?


I am really looking forward to the opportunity to perform my poetry for the Tumbalong Gatherers project within the exhibition spaces at Darling Harbour and Darling Square. Red Room's vision is to make poetry a meaningful part of everyday life and what better way to amplify First Nations voices and languages in community than with a poetry reading and installation of this scale. For me, this project is about Connection to Country, it pares back the built environment, the bustle and alludes to the thriving culture and stories that flow here at all times. I hope Tumbalong Gatherers encourages the audience to explore First Nations languages, to reach out to their local community and to just pause and acknowledge the wisdom embedded within this land."



The project gave me the opportunity to reflect on and write about connections and relationships to Country from a women's perspective. In particular, it gave me the space and encouragement to use language and remembering how the women who raised me spoke about gathering all sorts of small things, like secrets, family stories and histories that connect us and make up the big picture of our story, past, present and future.



For me, my involvement provides a beautiful opportunity to exercise my ancestors’ language, which I have spent the past two years learning and revitalising. It's a marker for how far I've come in my understanding of the language and a shout from the rooftops to everyone who might not know just how alive my language is.


This year's NAIDOC theme is 'Because of Her We Can', are there particular women in your life that have influenced you? Can you tell us a little about the Queens in your life?



East Coast First Nations culture is largely matrilineal. I've always been surrounded by really strong women who embodied leadership and were the backbones of our community.

One Queen, in particular, is my Mum. She was removed from Country with her siblings as a child and raised as a State Ward in Children's homes. She's the most resilient, hardworking, kind and heart-full woman I know. Mum raised us to be really proud of our culture and to define ourselves, rather than succumbing to stereotypes or prejudices. I've her to thank for becoming brave in life and in writing. She's phenomenal and I can only hope that I grow to become half the woman she is.



The Queens in my life are my Aunties who encouraged me to write with the hope that one day there'd be a space for our stories. So, because of them I can and I have a voice and this project gives me an opportunity to use it!



My mum and my nan stand as two pillars of absolute resilience in my life, not only examples of survival no matter the odds, but the resilience to get back up and keep pushing forward. To love fearlessly and unconditionally is something else I learned from them that I will always take with me in life.



Visit the exhibition Friday 7 July - Wednesday 25 July
The exhibition will be installed at Darling Square (next to Steam Mill Lane) and Darling Quarter.

Performances Friday 20 July & Saturday 21 July
Darling Square (next to Steam Mill Lane) at 5 – 5.30pm & Darling Quarter at 6 - 6.30pm
Join proud Gadigal poet Joel Davison and proud Gunai poet Kirli Saunders as they perform poetic works from the Tumbalong Gatherers exhibition at Darling Square and Darling Quarter over two nights.

Snap a photo of our train banners!
To celebrate NAIDOC week, Red Room Poetry has published excerpts of poetry from Gadigal poet Joel Davison. Share a photo with us on instagram @RedRoomPoetry with the hastag #gadigalpoetry.

Contribute a poem
Red Room Poetry is holding a Twitter poetry competition. Created with community consultation, this competition is about community interactivity, encouraging people to mindfully engage with Gadigal language, poetry and art.

Find out more