Melbourne’s new COVID-19 lockdown comes as a blow to RISING festival curator and Yorta Yorta woman Kimberley Moulton, but one aspect of the festival will be able to go ahead despite restrictions.

Although Moulton doesn’t yet know whether most of the festival’s events will be cancelled or postponed, Melbourne’s beloved art trams will still be rolling onto the streets.

A first for the event, the festival will be showcasing the work of six First Nations artists.

The project features works from:

  • Wadawurrung woman Deanne Gilson
  • Wotjobaluk and Gunaikurnai man Thomas Marks
  • Dhudhuroa, Wemba Wemba and Yorta Yorta Elder Aunty Rochelle Patten
  • Boonwurrung and Wemba Wemba woman Jarra Karalinar Steel
  • Brabrawooloong Gunnai man Ray Thomas
  • Yorta Yorta Elder Aunty Zeta Thomson.

Moulton is the first curator in the history of the Art Trams, and she said it’s exciting to see the work of Aboriginal Victorians supported.

“We got over 60 applications which was really overwhelming and fantastic, and it really was a beautiful example of the diversity and strength of Aboriginal artists in Victoria,” she said.

She said the stories told by the artists are deeply personal.

“There’s … this beautiful conversation happening between all six of them, which is talking about, not only our connection to Country and identity, but ideas of healing Country and coming together as a community to do that,” Moulton said.

Though the first iterations of the Art Trams project featured hand painted trams, this year’s showcase sees artworks with a printed vinyl wrap installed on the trams for 12 months.

The names of the artists will be featured on the outside of the trams and QR codes on the inside will provide travellers with more information about the artists and the artworks.

The first of the trams was launched last Friday, featuring Mookies around the watering hole by Aunty Zeta Thomson.

The artwork is about respect for Country and honouring Ancestors, Aunty Zeta explained.

Mookie means ‘Spirit’ in Yorta Yorta. In our culture, visitors would call out to Ancestor Mookies as they walked through the bush announcing they were coming onto Country,” she said.

“They would meet and gather at sacred waterholes for ceremony.

“After meeting, the travellers would begin their journey across Country to the next place, ‘galyan woka ngana buraya moya’ — a beautiful place far, far away.”

Aunty Zeta Thomson. Photo by Jadan Carroll.

Aunty Zeta’s work can be viewed by those on routes 5, 6, 16, 58, and 72.

Moulton said the project is a great opportunity for Melbourne’s residents to be exposed to Aboriginal artwork.

“It goes all around Melbourne, so you’ve got people engaging with Aboriginal art that might not necessarily engage with or connect to Aboriginal art in everyday life.”

The project is a collaboration between the Victorian Department of Transport, Yarra Trams and Creative Victoria.

“These tram-size artworks are an amazing addition to our city’s vibrant cultural environment and we’re proud to be partners with RISING in sharing First Peoples’ stories through the Melbourne Art Trams Program,” said Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll .

Harriet Shing, Parliamentary Secretary for Creative Industries, called the display groundbreaking.

“Art Trams are a much-loved fixture of Melbourne’s creative landscape, providing a moving canvas for local artists and bringing art to our daily commute,” she said.

Moulton said she hopes the trams will bring some hope to Melbourne’s residents throughout the lockdown.

“You can see this work and contemplate, think about these stories,” she said.

“Aunty Rochelle’s tram for instance, March of the Ants. This tram is talking about how ants work together as a community and how we must heal Mother Earth for us to heal — it’s pertinent to our times.

“It’ll provide something new for people to connect with, and I hope that it makes people happy.”

By Sarah Smit