Three Kurnai Women Honoured in Bronze Sculpture

Published on 29 May 2023

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A life-sized bronze sculpture celebrating the leadership of three Kurnai women who kept their community safe and their culture alive was unveiled in Drouin’s Civic Park on Saturday, marking the start of National Reconciliation Week.

Approximately 200 excited attendees took part in celebrations that involved a short film, a smoking ceremony by Cheryl Drayton, speeches from Natalie Hutchins MP, Minister for Education and Minister for Women, Harriet Shing MP, Minister for Water, Regional Development, Commonwealth Games Legacy, and Equality, and Baw Baw Shire Mayor Annemarie McCabe, prior to the official unveiling. 

Proudly supported by $155,416 from the Andrews Labor Government’s $1 million Victorian Women’s Public Art program, and $40,000 from Baw Baw Shire Council's Public Art Fund, the artwork celebrates First Nations women Dorothy Hood, Euphemia Mullet Tonkin and Regina Rose, who were hugely influential in keeping the Kurnai community safe from the 1940s to the 1960s on Jackson’s Track, Labertouche.

The women continued to lead the community after the Board of Protection relocated the families into Drouin township in 1961.

The artwork and accompanying historic storytelling piece was created by local artists Jessie McLennan and Rebecca Vandyk-Hamilton, working in close consultation with local Kurnai Elder Cheryl Drayton and Jeannie Haughton.

Regina Rose’s daughter, elder Lynette Grace Hayes created a frieze to border the bottom of the sculpture, incorporating Kurnai symbols such as the blue wren, the Kurnai women’s totem.

The women hold a book, a laundry tub and a guitar, objects of white culture which helped their children and communities survive.

Drouin’s Three Kurnai Women is the fourth of six permanent public artworks being unveiled throughout Victoria to acknowledge and celebrate women’s achievements.

Quote attributable to Minster for Women Natalie Hutchins

“The sculpture acknowledges these Kurnai women’s leadership, tenacity, and cultural integrity – they upheld their Kurnai heritage while still seeking to obey government decrees, living constantly with the fear of having their children ‘removed’.”

Quote attributable to the Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing

“I hope that through honouring and elevating the story of these three women and their families, more Gippslanders and more Victorians will know of their extraordinary courage and leadership during a time of great hardship.”

Quote attributable to Baw Baw Shire Council Mayor Annemarie McCabe

“Baw Baw Shire Council greatly welcomes the Andrews Labor Government’s support on this significant art piece that stands proudly at Drouin Civic Park and pays homage to the recent history of First Nations people.”

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Image: Crowd gather to celebrate the sculpture launch. 

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Image: Cheryl Drayton performing a smoking ceremony ahead of the sculpture's official opening. 

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Image: Jessie McLennan, Lynette Hayes, Jeannie Haughton, Rebecca Vandyk Hamilton and Cheryl Drayton. 

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