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Hon DANNY PEARSON MP Talks About William Barak Art Returning

Updated: May 27, 2022

Hon DANNY PEARSON MP is the Assistant Treasurer, Minister for Government Services, Minister for Regulatory Reform and Minister for Creative Industries. DANNY PEARSON is the Member for Essendon to yarn about the return of Wurundjeri artist William Barak art to Melbourne after a last minute intervention by the Victorian government at the Auction house Sotheby's the other day.

Descendants of prominent Wurundjeri artist William Barak have bought two of his culturally significant artworks at auction in New York, after a crowdfunding campaign and a last-minute intervention by the Victorian government Auction house Sotheby's auctioned off the late 19th-century painting and shield on Thursday morning, Melbourne time.

Both were believed to have been given to a Swiss family who had a strong friendship with William Barak and owned vineyards on Kulin Country, in what is now the Yarra Valley, in 1897.

The painting sold for more than $530,000 and the parrying shield sold for more than $74,000. The Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Cultural Heritage Corporation set up a crowdfunding page to buy the artworks, and had a bidder in the room in New York. The group raised $117,627 through the page, and the Victorian government contributed $500,000 after a meeting late on Wednesday.

There were also contributions from the City of Melbourne and Melbourne Airport. Wurundjeri elder Ron Jones, a descendent of William Barak, said he was watching the auction with tears in his eyes. "I feel pumped, I tell you," he told the ABC's 7.30 program. "We brought an ancestor's relic back to Australia where it belongs, and Uncle William Barak, what a tremendous man he was." He said the artworks would go on display, and that he hoped all Victorians would get to see them.

"If people follow our history, it's a great learning tool to show that we didn't have a written history so Uncle William's paintings were depicting our culture and our history, through drawings. "If people know how to read William Barak's paintings, he's telling the story of Wurundjeri people, not just Wurundjeri but all the people living on Coranderrk." He said it was disappointing to see the artworks listed on the auction site.

Mr Pearson is a member of the Legislative Assembly in the Victorian State Parliament, having been elected in 2014 and subsequently in 2018. Prior to being promoted to Cabinet, Mr Pearson was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier of Victoria. He served as the Chair of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee of the Parliament of Victoria from 2014 – 2018.

"That was given as a gift to that family group, now if they no longer want to keep it in their possession, hand it back to those people, to that country," he said. William Barak was influential in the establishment of the Aboriginal farming community known as Coranderrk, in the colony of Victoria. Barak watched his father and uncles negotiate with the white settlers, and he witnessed the signing of John Batman's "treaty" for the land that became the cities of Melbourne and Geelong. Victoria's Minister for Creative Arts Danny Pearson said there would now be discussions with elders about how best to store and present the two works. "We wanted these items to come home, that's why we've provided $500,000 to make that happen, and it's going to happen," he said. "And on National Reconciliation Day, these priceless artefacts that provide a window into a time that stretches back tens of thousands of years — they're coming home where they belong."

He said the government would work with the Wurundjeri Corporation to get the works back to Australia and put them on display. Co-chair of the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria and proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation, Marcus Stewart, welcomed the items returning home. "We are pleased that these items will be returning home to the Wurundjeri people and look forward to this happening more often," he said. "Repatriation of culturally significant items is important to our people, and it goes hand-in-hand with truth-telling and Treaty. "With these items finally returning to Country, we are reminded that we need a permanent keeping place, such as that proposed by the Wurundjeri and the City of Melbourne."

The artworks' existence and their sale were only recently discovered by the Wurundjeri people. According to the Sotheby's catalogue, Jules de Pury returned home to Switzerland with the artworks. "William Barak's two and three-dimensional artworks document Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung culture and speak to the survival of First Nations' traditions in defiance of colonisation," Dr Nikita Vanderbyl from La Trobe University wrote. The de Pury family still owns and runs the Yeringberg winery and vineyard in Coldstream, in the Yarra Valley.

Sandra de Pury said the Coldstream branch of the de Pury family donated all the William Barak works they had to the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum years ago. "We believe these artworks should come back to Australia because it's important, and we've been doing what we can to support it," she told the ABC. By Margaret Paul.

Mr Pearson holds an Arts (Hons) Degree from the University of Melbourne and was awarded a Master of Business Administration from the Melbourne Business School. Mr Pearson lives in Ascot Vale with his wife Nicole and their five children.


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