December saw the opening of a new shopping centre in Burwood East, Victoria. With the centre came the installation of a stunning Aboriginal mural paying homage to the surrounding Country.

Wurundjeri, Dja Dja Wurrung and Ngurai Illum Wurrung artist, Mandy Nicholson, created the art that is the key feature of the new Burwood Brickworks shopping centre, designed to be one of the world’s most sustainable shopping centres.

The centre was developed by Frasers Property Australia and designed by NG Architecture. Frasers connected with Nicholson through Indigenous Design Studio, Balarinji.

“The company, Frasers, they were amazing. They got us in and met with us and told us the story of the place. The theme and how it was going to be environmentally friendly and sustainable,” Nicholson said.

“They really embraced me and my ideas and matched them with their ideas. The whole process was really, really good. They were open to extra ideas from me.”

Nicholson’s artwork features on the outer façade and across the centre’s ceiling, reflecting six different elements of Wurundjeri culture.

“Initially it was going to be a façade, but they said, ‘Why don’t you take people through that journey from the outside to the inside?’ and that’s how the [ceiling] came about.

“[It shows] the different layers of Country that we are connected to. There’s obviously the layers we all walk on every day, no matter what background you are from – that physical ground.

“It goes from below Country, on Country, water Country and sky Country.

“It goes through all those different levels and how all those different layers are connected to us spiritually.”

Dancers at the launch of Burwood Brickworks. Photo supplied.

The design, which is featured predominantly on the outer façade, features different south-eastern Victorian Indigenous design work. The ceiling is covered in black and white linework, a style that represents what Nicholson describes as the ‘carbon culture’ in Victoria.

Nicholson’s work has been crafted to pay homage to the Country that the centre stands upon and the landmarks that surround it.

“I went on a tour of the shopping centre and up on the roof they have a little garden and things.”

“The thing that stood out to me the most, is when I looked out to the east, maybe a little bit north-east, was Mount Dandenong. So, the design is related to those layers but also how that mountain, in our language name means ‘to grow’.”

“And further back past that mountain you can see the Great Dividing Range and that is connected to our Creation story of the Yarra River.

“I incorporated all the flatlands that are included for the Yarra Valley, all the way through to Port Phillip Bay. I incorporated the water journey, all those rivers and how they connect.

“Also, that site was used as a brick factory. It is really relevant to us because brick material is clay and ochre. That was part of the layers in the low Country.”

Nicholson remembers being blown away seeing her artwork finished.

“I was overwhelmed when they took me through during construction. Within three or four days, they had it all cleaned up and opened … When I walked in, it blew my mind.

“It’s a major feature, your eyes travel up … It is basically like, a venetian blind but on the roof, these huge big panels that overlay one another – you can’t miss it!”

The panelled ceillings at Burwood Brickworks adorned with Nicholson’s art. Photo supplied.

Nicholson had an opportunity during the launch in early December to walk people through the meaning behind her artwork.

“I like to educate people rather than just have a little artwork, I need to almost write a thesis on the story.”

“On the launch day, we did a dance and I got to explain the meaning of it, and I said, ‘Everyone look up’.

“I explained every circle and every little wave and line and it makes me feel good that they are getting the full story.”

Nicholson’s artwork links local Aboriginal art into a public space, encouraging reconciliation and appreciation. Her work is particularly powerful in bringing ancient stories of place and Country into a contemporary and modern space.

By Rachael Knowles