The City of Sydney commissioned a site-specific artwork for installation at the new Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre in Green Square. Modelled on the handheld water carriers once used by Aboriginal communities along Australia’s east coast, the bronze sculpture, Bangala (water carriers) has been collaboratively created by Aboriginal Elder Aunty Julie Freeman and artist Jonathan Jones.

Considered the largest pool complex built in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics, the Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre will service the fast-growing local population and is scheduled to open on 1 February 2021.

The Bangala artwork has two structures depicting oversized vessels made of bark or palm fronds and fastened to a stick and string. Positioned close to a rain garden near the centre’s Zetland Avenue entrance, Bangala will be a permanent reminder of the enduring importance of Eora culture and the area’s history.

“Customarily made from bark or the frond of a Bangalow palm, bangala are handheld containers used for carrying and maintaining fresh water in coastal environments and are shared up and down the east coast of Australia,” said Aunty Julie Freeman.

“Sometimes people just need to be reminded that the city may change but there’s still the presence of Aboriginal people,” she noted.

Green Square is part of the extensive Lachlan and Waterloo wetland system – a series of freshwater creeks and wetlands that once flowed into the Cooks River and Botany Bay. The Waterloo Swamp – the area’s largest wetland – was drained and reclaimed in 1908 to create Victoria Park Racecourse.

“Today, Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre retains its aquatic memory, with large drainage systems still passing under the site. The new centre recalls the traditional landscape, returning the site to a place of water and recreation,” said artist Jonathan Jones.

After creating the bangala using the base of a palm frond, an oak handle and twine, the forms were scanned, made into 3D models, scaled up, produced in foam and then cast in bronze, Jones explained.

Aunty Julie Freeman is a Gorawarl/Jerrawongarla traditional owner for South Sydney and the south coast of NSW. She is a recognised artist, cultural leader and storyteller, with a strong knowledge of the region’s environmental system.

Artist Jonathan Jones is a member of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nations of southeast Australia and is based in Sydney. He creates site-specific installations and interventions to explore Indigenous practices, relationships and ideas. He has exhibited nationally and internationally since the late 1990s. His work is in major public collections throughout Australia and overseas.

Aboriginal Elder Aunty Julie Freeman and artist Jonathan Jones

“Aunty Julie Freeman and Jonathan Jones have interpreted the ongoing importance of Aboriginal culture and water narratives to this site, while cleverly linking its history and future,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

“Commissioning thoughtful and site-specific public art has been a key priority of the City of Sydney in developing the high density urban village of Green Square.

“Bangala at the Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre joins Maria Fernanda Cardoso’s While I Live I Will Grow in the community and cultural precinct, as well as Michael Thomas Hill and Indigo Hanlee’s High Water and Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro’s Cloud Nation at the library and plaza.”

The name ‘Gunyama’ meaning ‘wind from the south-west’ comes from the Aboriginal language of Sydney and refers to the strong southerlies that blow through the area.

Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre features a 50m heated outdoor pool set within a larger, irregular shaped pool inspired by ocean pools, in addition to a 25m indoor pool, children’s waterplay area, hydrotherapy pool, health and fitness centre, crèche and a synthetic sports field for use by community teams.