You’re (Not) Wanjoo

INDIGENOUS artists Cole Baxter and Ilona McGuire’s thought-provoking exhibition You’re (Not) Wanjoo delves into Noongar protest and resistance and its role in  shaping Fremantle.

Part of 10 Nights in Port, the exhibition is on display at the Moore’s building until August 20 and delves into the rich tapestry of Noongar resistance, activism, and protest using archival material juxtaposed with existing and adapted works.

Baxter says despite being a site-specific installation, the exhibition’s scope extends beyond the city limits of Fremantle, encompassing the broader Noongar boodjar (land) and the interconnected stories of resistance across different regions. 

“Some important stuff has happened here, and depending on how you zoom in, some important stuff has happened in a lot of places close by,” he said. 


McGuire’s contributions bring personal anecdotes and family histories to the forefront, emphasising a shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. 

“It hasn’t even been that long, it’s been less than 200 years here… and we can count back, only a few generations, that have experienced [colonial oppression],” McGuire said. 

• Ilona McGuire. Photo by Cole Baxter

Research played a pivotal role in shaping the exhibition’s narrative. McGuire delved into resources like the book That Was My Home by Denise Cook, a compilation of stories from Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives shedding light on the displacement of Noongar people in Walyalup (Fremantle) and surrounding areas. 

“It even maps out the Noongar camps at the time and how how they were spreading, being pushed out, and also how non-Indigenous and Indigenous people interacted at the time; working together some times, working against each other,” she said.

The pair aim to prompt critical thinking and inspire action, and while they don’t hold their punches, they say it’s a genuine invitation to Wadjelas to engage in some important discussions.

“Whereas oftentimes, for black fellas, there’s entry barriers for us to not engage with things, we’ve recontextualised that and deliberately made an entry barrier – but also an invite – for people to unlearn, and then to relearn some things,” Baxter says.

“And if the audience decides to check their fragility at the door, then there can be some tremendous growth to participate in. 

“We’ve said it a bunch of times; the truth telling has been done, it’s time for truth listening.”

Both also hope the Noongar “mob” will be empowered to take their own action, but McGuire says it’s often deeply embedded in their identity.

“Many of us are brought up in families where it’s sort of a given, almost an obligation that you will join in this kind of civil war that we’re all part of, whether you know it or not,” she said.

Her research revealed the common threads between campaigns over the years, and she says much of the colonial imprint which was so devastating to Noongar culture didn’t do much more than change its name along the way.

“You see the kind of mentality that people use, and the language that they use to justify these things that have happened, and it’s all about ‘get over it’. 

“You know, we’re still living in it. 

“That’s why I call it a sort of silent war, or silent nation, or the Great Australian Silence.

“It’s a great shame; some people squirm when they even see the word Indigenous,“ McGuire told the Herald.

Baxter said once they started exploring the theme, they found enough material to run 10 exhibitions: “We started with a big mountain of what it could be, and then made it really strong with less,” he says, adding much of his was based on photographs he took at rallies and marches in recent years.

McGuire says You’re (Not) Wanjoo may serve as a stepping stone for larger projects in the future, with even broader impact.


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