Urban Doolagahl

By Right Now | 07 Mar 12

Big, hairy and smelly the Doolagahl came to visit urban Melbourne.  A spiritual creature, he usually lives up in the hills of Victoria, near the coast. But a search for fish that has become scarce up in Gippsland brought him to Melbourne where he experienced a very different type of urban culture.

He is a creature known to the Aboriginal people in Southeast Australia. Though shy by nature, at night he would snatch children that stray from their camp. Thus he is in some ways their protector; with his fiery red eyes scaring them out of midnight wanders.

He was bought to Melbourne by artist Steaphan Paton and his team as part of Melbourne’s Indigenous Laneway Festival (to read Right Now’s review of Laneway click here).  When we was 10 years old, Paton and his brother terrified their younger cousins with stories of the Doolagahl, even going so far as to use cow fur as evidence of the creature’s existence. Now, the sculptures are made of bark collected from East Gippsland. Pre-colonisation bark was an essential resource to the day-to-day lives of the Aboriginal people, used for everything from canoes to wrapping babies.

The project aims to explore clashes of cultures whilst at the same time educating Victorians on local Aboriginal culture. Paton writes:

This project brings a traditional Aboriginal story into an urban context. It is a series of artworks that interact with the urban spaces of Melbourne whilst engaging and sparking imagination in the viewer.

It is the childhood imagination of this story that I wanted to capture in my work, while keeping the work relevant and meaningful. Underlying the narrative of the Doolagahl coming to Melbourne is the theme of a clash of cultures between Aboriginal Victoria and modern culture. It is this idea of coming into the new. But also for Victorian Aboriginal cultures it hints at this notion of revival and emergence. As most Victorian Aboriginal cultures, some might say, are in a state of revival and little is known about it in mainstream culture. In comparison to places such as America and New Zealand, it is quite easy to say that Australia has little knowledge of local Indigenous stories and of Aboriginal Victorian cultures. So in another sense this work is about educating the public by bringing those traditional stories and culture to the forefront. By retelling these stories in a modern context it is a continuation of culture and keeping these stories alive and relevant. There is also an underlying environmental theme to the story hinting at the city’s large consumption of resources and the far reach of this consumption.

Corner of Tavistock Place and Flinders St © 2011 Steaphan Paton

Unnamed Laneway off Little Bourke St © 2011 Steaphan Paton

Degraves Place © 2011 Steaphan Paton

Corner of Malthouse Lane and Flinders Lane © 2011 Steaphan Paton

Unnamed Laneway off Exhibition Street © 2011 Steaphan Paton