THE Wollotuka Institute is one of the notable successes of the University of Newcastle. It is the nation's most prominent institution for bringing Indigenous people into tertiary education and then supporting their studies.
It is natural, therefore, for the university to devote one of its 50th anniversary exhibitions to the history of Aboriginal presence in this area.
This project is necessarily fragmented and the historical exhibition at the University Gallery until May 30 shows gaps for almost a century between the serious studies of the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld in the 1830s and the documented Aboriginal occupation of Platt's Estate, including the present site of the university, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Bringing the exhibition into the present are photographic portraits of significant elders of today.
Were the clubs and spears collected in the 1950s even made in the Hunter? These elaborately carved objects are also handsomely reproduced in large wall drawings by Bernadette Dabsch - an experienced archaeological draughtsman.
Why no stone tools, since we know that the fine-grained coastal chert was consistently worked near Glenrock lagoon?
Some of the wooden weapons appear in the prints, paintings and drawings by convict Joseph Lycett who was stationed in the settlement at the mouth of the Hunter before 1820.
Large reproductions of his studies of Aboriginal life are the high point of the exhibition. They show an idyllic culture of hunting and gathering, with ceremonial displays and corroborees in seemingly familiar landscapes. Nobbies often appears but it seems improbable that a convict artist could wander far from the main settlement.
Are there written records of Aboriginal feasting on beached whales at Bar Beach? Or of women herding lobsters or crayfish? They were fortunate people who lived on this fruitful coast with its game-rich hinterland. They called the place Mulubinba, but what exactly were the seaferns?
The present exhibition is only a starting point. New research with a fresh eye for existing materials, such as the Skottowe Manuscript of 1813, will consolidate details of daily life and the tribal boundaries. The Pambalong peoples have become associated with the site of the university, but it seems the better-known Awabakal is an invented later title. There is still much to learn.
- THE term "shibui" refers to Japanese reverence for the simple beauty of handmade forms. At Back to Back Galleries until tomorrow, some 24 artists reveal refinement in clay and fibre. Colour is universally muted, but form is full of surprises.
Sheralie Wood makes baskets from coiled fabric. Katherine Heinrich knits tiny vessels. Clays contrast in Susan Myerson's porcelain windrush and the curious terracotta bodily organs by Pam Sinnott. Respect for materials takes many forms in Sue Stewart's metallic glazes, Jane Robinson's embroidered tea ceremony and the stitched collage of old kimonos by Mandy Robinson.
- GAVIN Vitullo studied sculpture at TAFE with John Turier and his first solo exhibition at Curve Gallery until June 6 shows a passionate belief in the power of three-dimensional form.
His 2014 prize-winning work explores stepped architecture, but newer pieces use rounded timber for suggested landscape and for a playful sphere. He thinks in solids. He also thinks in symbols given solid presence. A maquette for the work that won the inaugural lord mayor's public sculpture award in 2013 suggests with splendid economy life above and below the harbour surface. When will it be installed?
- AT the neighbouring Lock-Up, I caught Robin Hungerford's elaborate performance; part comedy shaman, part MasterChef, with a miraculously melting Buddha. It was the centrepiece of the second weekend of time-based artmaking - a popular, stimulating innovation for Newcastle.
- SCHEDULED to become a yearly event at Gallery 139 is an exhibition of artmaking by Newcastle-based students.
Some in the present exhibition come from the art schools, including graduate students such as Shelagh Lummis, but others come from dedicated classes at NAS.
Highlights until May 30 include Bree Rooney's year-long series of tiny daily aquatints, and James Rhodes' huge black and white digital landscape print. Maddyson Hatton has a charming haptic drawing of Sydney Harbour. There are also paintings and ceramics.
- Apologies to artist Sally Reynolds, who was mistakenly identified as Cathy last week.