When Aboriginal people from remote communities grieve, they come together in a camp and bring flowers to lay on graves as an expression of their love and sorrow.
Senior Aboriginal artist Nyunmiti Burton heard of the attack against Muslim worshippers in Christchurch mosques and wanted to show her sadness and grief, but was separated from the city by thousands of kilometres of land and sea.
The artist from South Australia’s remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands said she was heartbroken at the thought of all of the families who had lost loved ones.
“For us when we lose someone, we go to the families and we go to the communities and we grieve, and we grieve and we grieve,” Ms Burton told the ABC through an interpreter.
In Amata, a remote Aboriginal community nestled among the Musgrave Ranges below Uluru, she and other female artists gathered to talk about Christchurch and paint.
What came of that is two large canvases that depict the sorrow of a people separated by sea and culture, but united in humanity.
One of the canvases has now been gifted to Adelaide’s Islamic community, with the second canvas destined for Christchurch’s Muslim community.
The canvases depict the honey Grevillea shrub, a native plant that in winter produces long spikes of striking yellow and green flowers.
She said the flowers also symbolised rebirth and coming together.
“We wanted to put that love out there, we wanted to grieve with everyone, but New Zealand is so far away,” she said.
Love and connection instead of hate
In the holy month of Ramadan, the first of the paintings was delivered to Adelaide’s Muslim community through a presentation at the Marion Mosque, in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.
Speaking to each other through a three-stage translation from Arabic to English to Pitjantjatjara, Imam Riad El-Rifai said there were no words to express the gratitude felt by his community.
“This signifies not only your own greatness but also the significance of people getting together despite their backgrounds, in spite of their language, and the significance of coming together not only in times of difficulties but also in times of ease,” he said.
“There are no words that can express our gratitude at this moment but we can only pray that God Almighty keeps us safe, keeps this country safe and brings people together despite their differences and despite the tragedies that may seem to want to divide us.”
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall, who presented the canvas, said the paintings were symbolic of the Christchurch attacker’s failure to sow division and hate.
“This painting is the joining together of these two diverse communities in an act of love and an act of solidarity and it really flies in the face of what the terrorist in Christchurch was trying to achieve,” Mr Marshall said.
Special connection to the Muslim community
While the paintings are an unexpected and unprecedented gift, the relationship between Australia’s first people and Islam spans back centuries, with evidence that from the early 1700s Muslim fishermen from Indonesia travelled to the northern Australian coast and traded goods with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
From the late 1800s, Afghan cameleers migrated to Australia, and played an important role in opening up the centre of the nation, working the inland tracks to transport goods.
Many chose to remain in Australia, settling in Aboriginal communities including in the APY Lands.
Islamic Society of South Australia treasurer Waleed Alkhasrajy said there were many Aboriginal people who had descended from the Macassar traders and cameleers.
“We have a continuous connection with Aboriginal people from the 1600s that continues to today,” Dr Alkhasrajy said.
He said the painting would be stored safely at Marion Mosque and brought out to display for special occasions.