Don’t just set up a Not for Profit because it’s the “right thing to do”. Do your research and make sure you are filling gaps in the sector otherwise you’ll be setting up an organisation that delivers competing services to a community or group. Basic Google searches, as well as looking on specialist websites such as Pro Bono Australia can give you an idea of what groups are operating in your chosen field.
Engaging and Partnering with the Indigenous Community
The best organisations empower and work collaboratively with the communities they assist. Make sure that key community stakeholders are involved in the management of your organisation before setting up programs in a community.
Strategic Plan for Keeping Place
Strategic plans help new not-for-profit organisations frame why they exist and what goals they are trying to reach. Creating a solid strategic plan will also help you track how effective the organisation is during its first years of operation.
If you’ve never done a strategic plan before, contact friends and family who work in business to guide you through it. Otherwise Pro Bono Australia has a service called Volunteer Match which matches skilled people with organisations in need.
Sustainability of the Foundation
Where will you be in ten years? It’s often an uncomfortable question for Not for Profit organisations, but it is something that you need to know before you found an organisation. It can be harmful for a Not for Profit organisation to deliver short term services or programs, especially if you’re working with vulnerable communities.
Competition from other Not for Profit Organisations
The Not for Profit sector is competitive enough as it is. You don’t want to be creating an organisation that competes with an established organisation.
Avoiding Founders Syndrome
Make sure that when creating an organisation that you avoid Founder’s Syndrome. Some typical behaviour from Founders Syndrome includes: boards made up of friends and colleagues of the founder; the identity of the organisation becoming the personality of the founder; and excluding newcomers who want to be involved in the organisation.
Protect the Foundation and Stakeholders Legally
If your organisation will deliver services to a community, you need to ensure your organisation is incorporated and has relevant insurance. You’ll also need deductible gift recipient (DGR) status before you can receive grants or other funding. A useful guide can also be found underwww.pilch.org.au/beforeyoustart/
Establishing a Board for the Foundation
A talented and diverse group of people who are all committed to the cause is needed to help the founder achieve their goal. Many founders are so passionate about their cause that they take on everything for themselves. You can’t do everything and it’s often harmful to the cause to do so.
Creating Administrative and Finance Systems
Before you can start your Not for Profit organisation, you’ll need to establish administrative and finance systems. This can include budgetary plans, adopting an accounting system, adopting code of conducts for how you operate and a whole range of other policies and practices.
Planning for Failure
Establishing a Not for Profit organisation is an extremely challenging process and many organisations do not sustain themselves after their first few years of operation. Make sure you have an exit strategy for your organisation and the stakeholders that you work with.
Original version authored by Larissa Behrendt, Professor of Law, UTS, 2007-2008
Updated by Gordon + Elaine Syron, 12-nov-2014
…celebrating our survival…
….growing our culture…
…protecting our heritage…
…keeping our community strong…
This proposal document emerged from the work of a committee of mostly Aboriginal people, who met under the leadership of Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor during 2007, at “The Shed”, Wilson Street, Darlington. The committee was made up of many close friends and supporters of Gordon and Elaine Syron. One of the most significant achievements of this committee was their recommendation too the Syrons to transition the name of the project from Black Fella’s Dreaming Aboriginal Art Gallery Museum to the much simpler Keeping Place.
To create a National Aboriginal Keeping Place and Cultural Centre in Sydney that celebrates our survival, provides a space for the contemporary expression of our contemporary culture, protects our heritage and keeps our community strong.
Our plan to form The Keeping Place and Cultural Centre is to find a benefactor who will purchase the Black Fella’s Dreaming Museum’s collection from Gordon and Elaine Syron and use it to found the Keeping Place and Cultural Centre for the absolute benefit of the Aboriginal commmunities. The benefactor will not sub-divide the collection for any purpose and will guarantee that all artworks currently belonging to the Museum will be included in the founding collection of the Keeping Place. Artworks by Gordon Syron and photographs by Elaine Pelot-Syron will be loaned to and preserved by The Keeping Place and Cultural Centre.
Aboriginal communities will benefit from the founding of The Keeping Place and Cultural Centre in the following ways:
A Keeping Place –There is no Aboriginal cultural centre in metropolitan Sydney that provides a safe, temperature controlled and humidity-free place to store cultural material including: artworks, sculpture and artefacts.
A cultural centre –There is a need for a cultural centre in the inner urban area that provides a space for the celebration of and for interaction with our contemporary urban culture. This can include the hosting of workshops on painting, sculpture, performance, music, the creation of Aboriginal cultural artefacts and creative writing.
A celebration of survival –A space dedicated to the preservation of our cultural material and for the expression and practice of our contemporary urban cultures could also provide a space that collects and stores the history and stories of urban Aboriginal people.
An educational environment –A space dedicated to our culture and history is a place where Aboriginal people and all other Australians can come to and learn about the diversity and vibrancy of our contemporary, urban Aboriginal cultures.
An Opportunity for Economic Development –A cultural space that focuses on showcasing contemporary Aboriginal culture also provides an opportunity for economic development by creating a place where Aboriginal artists can sell their art to the public. It can provide an environment where a majority of the money made in sales can be directed back to the artist.
A space for developing youth –A space that is dedicated to Aboriginal culture and history with a commitment to education is an ideal environment in which to deliver programs to youth aimed at developing self-esteem, confidence and vital life skills.
A space for developing leadership – A space that is dedicated to Aboriginal culture and history with a commitment to education is also an ideal environment in which to focus on developing the skills of community members through leadership programs, literacy programs, financial numeracy programs and other programs focused on developing capacity.
A place to focus on the therapeutic benefits of culture and art – A Keeping Place and Cultural Centre that is focused on education and capacity building is well placed to be offering programs that capitalise on the therapeutic benefits of engaging in cultural and art practice. Groups within the Aboriginal community who could be the focus of this work are: Aboriginal people transiting from prison back to the community and Aboriginal people with disabilities or mental illnesses.
Opportunities for employment and training –The activities of the Keeping Place will provide a large range of opportunities for the employment and training of Aboriginal people in order to staff the centre, curate the material, educate the public and run the operations with transparency, accountability and good governance principles.
The Keeping Place Art Collection
The heart and starting point for the Keeping Place and Cultural Centre is the Gordon and Elaine Syron’s Black Fella’s Dreaming Museum. It is an important collection that contains many of Australia’s leading contemporary and urban Aboriginal artists such as:
James P. Simon
Shane “Yondee” Hanson
The collection also contains: a didgeridoo collection, a book collection, a poster collection, a t-shirt collection, doll collection, artefacts and a rare sculpture collection.
Some other important traditional pieces in the Syron Collection are:
2 large bark paintings by Robin Nganjmirra
2 early controversial Clifford Possums
4 early Gabriella Possums
66 body paintings by Emily Kngwarreye and her family
Kamahi Djordon King
Lindsay Bird Petyarre
Vivianne Gilbert Muiya
an early Michael Jagamara Nelson
an early Lily Sandover
40 “Bunda” paintings from the Northern Territory,
and hundreds more.
Catalogue of Keeping Place Art Collection
On 14 May 2009, a catalogue of the all of the artworks in the Syron’s collection was finished by the not-for-profit organisation & volunteers, headed by Rona Wade, Executive Director and CEO, UNILINC Limited, online.
The catalogue of 547 artworks has now been valued by Adrian Newstead, ex-CEO of Deutscher-Menzies Auctioneers, and Director/Owner of Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Bondi NSW.
It also includes never-published photographs taken by Elaine Pelot-Syron (nee Kitchener) that document events, portraits and Sydney’s history over the last thirty years.
Figure 1. Unpublished photo by Elaine Syron, ‘Mum Shirl Leading the Land Rights Rally’, 1980s
The acquisition of the Syron Collection will provide a significant foundation for the important cultural archive that the Keeping Place and Cultural Centre will host.
Figure 2. Gordon Syron, ‘Judgement By His Peers’, 1978
A Keeping Place and Cultural Centre with the quality of artwork planned, will require a significant and prominent space, somewhere close to the Redfern community, but accessible to public transport, to allow access to other Aboriginal communities and the general public.
The space will need to accommodate large exhibitions, host workshops and educational programs, have facilities to sell art and other products and provide adequate office space to the administrative staff.
A Sustainable future
Start up costs need to negotiated.
Terri Janke and Jeremy Morse have agreed to produce a contract for copyright, etc.
Next Steps Identified in 2008
Solidify the vision and finalise business plan
Start campaign to raise community awareness, attract sponsors and gain support
i. develop list of supporters
ii. develop e-mail list
iii. approach Indigenous media
Scope possible funding options for a space to house the Cultural Centre (NSW Aboriginal Land Council, Indigenous Land Council, NSW State Government, City of Sydney Council)
Scope possible funding opportunities for the funding of the purchase of the collection (NSW Aboriginal Land Council, NSW State Government, Rio-Tinto Foundation, other philanthropic organisations)
Scope possible funding options for adminstrative positions (DEEWR, Indigenous Business Australia, Arts Council)
Gather letters of support from people in the Aboriginal community, politicians, and the arts community
Work Number 1 in the Syron Collection
Title of painting
The Dreaming Man
Name of artist
Owner of painting
Oil on canvas
50 x 45 cm
Story: The first of a series on how a traditional Aboriginal comes ‘to Redfern’, to the ‘big smoke.’ He comes from the ‘bush’, to get a job, to see relatives and friends, to see Sydney and does he get a shock, at all them things. The living conditions are better at home. He is caught in the crossroads of life, stranded, no money to get back home, no hope even for a job and what is left? If he stays in Redfern then the chance of going to jail is great. He can then have drugs and alcohol under police supervision. The Dreaming Man is lost in time, the poor bastard.
Additional comments by Gordon Syron: There are Dreaming Aboriginal Women too. Not just men. Kids, the whole lot too. There are a lot of Aboriginal people who dream. The truth is they used to own all this land. You gotta have a dream or you don’t go nowhere. “The Dreaming Man” was created from many different perspectives. There is a sadness about this first one. Southern Cross shows it is Australia. The Waratah shows it is New South Wales. I used to see the Waratah on my brother Kevin’s boxing shorts. He held the NSW featherweight title.
Exhibition History: First shown in 2002, at “Reconcilation,” Gordon Syron Solo Exhibition at Black Fella’s Dreaming Aboriginal Art Gallery & Museum, Darlinghurst (Sydney NSW). Then shown in 2003 in “Private Clubs & Politics,” Gordon Syron Solo Exhibition and Retrospective, curated by Sheryl Connors, Indigenous Programs Manager Australian Museum, Sydney NSW. And in 2004 it was shown in “A Retrospective,” Gordon Syron Solo Exhibition opened by Jody Brown, Director of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
History of this Proposal
This Proposal document emerged from the work of a committee of mostly Aboriginal people, who met under the leadership of Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor during 2007, at “The Shed”, Wilson Street, Darlington NSW.
The committee was made up of many close friends and supporters of Gordon and Elaine Syron. One of the most significant achievement of this committee was their recommendation to the Syrons to transition the name of the project from Black Fella’s Dreaming Aboriginal Art Gallery Musuem to the much shorter and simpler Keeping Place.
The original version of this Proposal was authored by Prof Larissa Behrendt in 2007 and 2008.
It was amended in 2008 for a Petition that was to be submitted to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, but was never completed due to him being replaced as Prime Minister.
This Proposal was updated in November 2014, under the direction of Gordon + Elaine Syron.
For more information about the Syron Collection
Gordon + Elaine Syron
PO Box 295 | St Peters NSW 2044 | Australia
w: 0411 725 981 international: +61 411 725 981
Black Fella’s Dreaming includes both an Aboriginal Art Gallery which has both contemporary and traditional Aboriginal art for sale as well as an Aboriginal Art Museum comprising
a Hall of Fame and kitsch history,
White Art-on-Black Art and oral histories,
ceramics, art & crafts,
plus collections of historic t-shirts and tea towels.
Black Fella’s Dreaming Gallery and Museum is free-standing and not connected to any institution and is not down the wing or in the basement of a building. It was first housed in Darlinghurst Gallery and moved to an old granary shed in Bangalow, that had continuous floods and brown snakes, rats, mice and spiders. This collection represents 30 to 40 years of art and memorabilia.
Unfortunately due to a lack of funding, the Black Fella’s Dreaming Museum and Gallery has closed and is now in storage. The museum has been moved back to Sydney to increase its profile. It is currently being catalogued and valued by Bonhams & Goodmans. We have agreed to sell one half of our museum at an auction on May 9th, 2006. A catalogue will be available from the third week of April from Bonhams & Goodmans of Double Bay.
I still hope one person could buy the collection, a philanthropist or organisation who will continue the museum as a non-profit social enterprise employing Aboriginal people. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if a person came along and bought the whole museum and turned it over to the Taree Aboriginal Community, whose history is so traumatic. In 1999, Peter Smith, Aboriginal Liaison Officer of the Taree Hospital told me the cross was burned on his lawn and he had 5 children.
Another idea would be to put the museum at Redfern. I believe there are people, real people out there who care and who would put their money where they think it best to combat and expose the truths of Aboriginal History. One installation is The Wall of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and What causes Aboriginal Deaths in Custody? There must be a person who cares enough to create real Aboriginal jobs, jobs for Aboriginal Curators and Aboriginal Security Guards and Aboriginal Clerks and Aboriginal Storytellers and Aboriginal Artists. Many people have told me they care but do not know what to do.
I ask you “Who owns Aboriginal History?”
Who owns the stories that our artworks tell?
What happens to the artworks that these investors collect?
Aboriginal people should collect our stories. Djon Mundine recently asked these questions at an exhibition at the Lismore Regional Gallery, and if you contact them I’m sure they will tell you more of what he said.
Anyway it is time that Aboriginal people owned their own art and stories and history and memories, before they are lost forever.
All we have left are these stories, as Big Bill Nedjie of the Northern Territory, Kakakdu said many times, “I hope you can hold onto this story”.
Please contact us if you are interested or have any ideas of people or organisations who might be. The Koorie Mail and the National Indigenous Times have published articles. An article was published in the Byron Bay Echo newspaper on this subject.
Aboriginal Art has long been exploited by the white man. One installation in our museum tells the History of Dots and did you know it started only in 1972?
The importance of Aboriginal-owned Art Galleries has not yet been appreciated and honoured. We have to break the cycle of Aboriginal people selling their paintings for $20 at the petrol station like Clifford Possum told me he used to do.
My satire has not been appreciated yet. This art gallery and museum has grown out of frustration and anger. I refused to sell my paintings cheaply to galleries.
In 1997 the Darlinghurst Gallery first opened and began exhibiting Aboriginal Art and was also multi-cultural. They told me that collectors only want dots not even barks as much because they are not on canvas. So Aboriginal Art has evolved in the last 40 years to suit the buyer,it is a White Man’s World.
The Black Fella’s Dreaming Gallery always ensures all paintings are bought direct from the artist.
The name, Black Fella’s Dreaming came from one man’s dream, my dream. I have had so much encouragement from other Aboriginal artists. As a matter of fact, one Aboriginal artist Darren Cooper told me that “You dream for all of us”.
The Black Fella’s Dreaming Museum & Gallery offers a wide range of Aboriginal Art ranging from traditional to contemporary, with a large body of brave Urban Aboriginal Art.
This precious and priceless contemporary collection explores themes such as the political, gay, historical and satirical. Other artists represented include Gordon Syron, Karla Dickens, Gordon Hookey (5 large canvases), Michael Nelson Jagamarra, Malcolm Jagamarra, James P. Simon, Bronwyn Bancroft, Clifford Possum, Gabrielle Possum, Daphne Wallace, Darren Cooper, Arone Ray Meeks, Shirley Amos, Nancy Taxof Balgo, Joshua Bangaar, Cedric Todd, Tim Ives, Robin Nganjmirra, Djawida Nadjongorle, Lily Sandover, George Milipirru, Lily Karadada, Carmel Nicholson, Yondee, David Rose, Judy Watson, Tracey Moffat, Michael Riley, Merv Bishop, Paddy Fordham Wainbarranga, Gary Jaggamarra, Gordon Pupangamirri, Roy Kennedy, Billy Petyarre, David Cameron, Abraham Dakgalawuy, Dennis McCarthy, Bede Tungatalum, Karen Casey, Pooraar, Jeff Samuels, Adam Hill and Emily Kngwarreye & 66 members of Emily’s family (Utopia) body paintings. There are many more that are not listed and we apologise to those not mentioned.
We also apologise that our website is not more developed and very very slow. We will have a section of art for sale. Publications section has over 400 books. The authors of our books, are all listed together in alphabetical order. We will put the rest on as soon as possible.
When a painting has been sold as many have we have kept it as a record that it used to be in our museum. Eventually we plan to put how much it was sold for as a true documentary of the history of our museum.
Each and every piece in our museum will be listed with an image and a story. After the auction we intend to get a professional overhaul and will put back all the images that went missing in 2005/2006. Every image disappeared off all our website. We had no back-up and wanted to blame someone but… Feel free to browse our exhibiting artists’ profiles and work by clicking on the artists and exhibitions buttons below.
It is ironic that 4 years later not very much has changed for the Syron’s vision of a permament Keeping Place for their remarkable art collection. It is worthwhile watching this video again while their network of supporters are still trying to find a permanent home for The Keeping Place, this time at Middle Head, Mosman, in the former buildings of the 10 Terminal Regiment.
ABC TV, Stateline NSW
Friday, September 10, 2010 10:24 AEST
Thursday, December 9, 2010 10:24 AEST
The ‘Keeping Place’ archive of contemporary Indigenous art and photography is under threat as artist Gordon Syron and wife Elaine Syron are evicted from their Eveleigh home to make way for redevelopment.
QUENTIN DEMPSTER, PRESENTER: An uncertain future. The “Keeping Place” collection has been amassed over 30 years by Aboriginal artist Gordon Syron and his American-born photographer wife Elaine Syron. The collection contains hundreds of works, including both traditional and edgy urban Aboriginal art. It’s currently housed in an old shed at Sydney’s Eveleigh railyards. Recently the Syrons were told to leave and make way for redevelopment. Their collection will have to be put into storage. The collection’s many admirers say it’s a National Treasure that urgently needs to be showcased in a permanent home – but where? A warning to viewers: this story may contain images of people who are no longer living.
GORDON SYRON, ARTIST AND ART COLLECTOR: There’s about 1,400, 1,500-plus paintings in this building. There’s more paintings on shelves put away than what you see than what’s hanging up and the smaller paintings are on shelves. And each painting tells a story, and it tells a story from each individual’s perspective. And of course each perspective is a different story.
ADRIAN NEWSTEAD, COO-EE ART GALLERY: It’s a most remarkable collection of work. Gordon Syron is a renowned urban Aboriginal artist who’s principally exhibited within the Aboriginal community for over 40 years. And during that period he has known and worked with and been associated with a very large number of artists, urban artists with a special concentration around NSW artists, Koori artists, but also much further afield: urban Aboriginal artists from all over Australia and then traditional artists. And as many artists do, he’s swapped works with many of the people that he’s worked with and alongside of. And so over a 40-year period Gordon and Elaine have collected a most eclectic group of artworks.
GORDON SYRON: The photographs are important. They record and show different things in history and what’s happened with Aboriginality. Some of the characters in them, some of those people are not there no more. And that’s important to people.
ELAINE SYRON, PHOTOGRAPHER AND ART COLLECTOR: It’s a national collection and it should be treated with respect and the way that other countries treat their first indigenous people. You know, Gordon is part of the first Australians, and they deserving a keeping place for when the tourists come and then they can see the Aboriginal people working, talk the them, they can tell their stories and somehow it’s things that they choose rather than what the white people choose.
LARISSA BEHRENDT, UTS JUMBUNNA HOUSE OF LEARNING: I think one of the things that everyone in the community’s appreciated is that this is a really significant collection, that Uncle Gordon and Aunty Elaine have been collecting pretty much over a lifetime, so the diversity of the artists, the – its reflection of the richness of contemporary Aboriginal art is really significant to us as a community, and I think also too we feel very strongly that what’s very strongly represented within the collection is urban Aboriginal experience, which doesn’t tend to always be as valued as other Aboriginal art. Uncle Gordon in many ways is a real embodiment of that struggle, and us working so hard to get him acknowledged was also part of a broader plan to try and emphasise that this kind of collection is really reflective of our culture, our contemporary culture, our contemporary urban experience and for those reasons we feel it really should be protected.
IRENE DOUTNEY, CITY OF SYDNEY COUNCIL: This is a treasure trove for Aboriginal art and Aboriginal culture. But for me it’s so important that it is somehow put into a place where it will be safe, where the community will have access to it.
ADRIAN NEWSTEAD: And all of this is sitting in a shed, a railway shed in Redfern. The shed is totally inappropriate for its home and they’re being moved out. And their own future and the future of the collection is uncertain.
GORDON SYRON: Course you can see the mark on the paintings being damaged because of the weather conditions in – it’s suffered in this building.
We’re about to be evicted from this building. We have to find a place for the collection and a place to live – simple as that. And that’s a pretty big task.
ELAINE SYRON: We have agreed to go now because we have to get out of this building and we were hoping that once we go the State Government and the Federal Government and the City of Sydney will help us more. And we are grateful that we had this place to live in for three years and keep the collection together and now we hope to move on and prove a point that we – it’s a struggle and now it’s time to make peace with the governments and hope that they help – we hope that they’ll help us find a benefactor or they’ll buy it themselves.
MICHAEL KIRBY, KEEPING PLACE PATRON: It would be a tragedy if we couldn’t make sure that we’ve got some facility in all of our great and glorious city where we could put together and keep together this collection and have it properly displayed, and not all at once, but bringing out examples of Aboriginal artists, from the marvellous dot paintings of the Northern Territory down to the very accurate portraiture.
GORDON SYRON: I don’t know. It’s all part of my life, I guess, Aboriginal life. It’s been part of my struggle. But I always – you’ll always see the living ships coming through the heads in my paintings.
The Keeping Place project is acquiring more energy due to a growing number of individuals, government agencies, not-for-profits and corporates who are offering their support in 2014.
We need to convert this expression of support into time, bodies and $$$ to work on various projects associated with the Keeping Place. I have identified a number of sub-projects that need to be completed, and in some cases started from scratch.
updating the Keeping Place Art Catalogue
revaluing the Keeping Place Art Collection
doing a full risk management assessment on the Keeping Place Art Collection
completing transport and storage of the bulk of the Keeping Place Art Collection from Greenwich to a number of short-term locations
curating an exhibition of Elaine Syron’s photography, which hasn’t been seen publicly for some years
creating a Keeping Place on Walkabout exhibition that could be touring Greater Sydney, Canberra and a number of regional NSW locations, as soon as October.
There are lots of interesting projects to be done. We need people with all sorts of skills, literally
people who can run catering at fund raising events
people who have art curator experience
help with creating an e-commerce enabled online gallery for selling the works of Gordon and Elaine, and help pay some of the bills for managing the Keeping Place Art Collection
people who can pack and load art works and boxes of documents, etc into vehicles
people who can drive their own vehicle to help us complete the current move
digital designers who can help with our WordPress based web site
people who can lead project teams of no more than 6 people
people who are happy to be “worker bees” on one of the project teams
people who can answer phone calls and emails on behalf of the Keeping Place Project
To take advantage of all the people and organisations out there who have offered their support we are now creating the Keeping Place Network (KPN), which will soon have its own web site, that will have detailed descriptions on projects that are require people and resources, and ways to register the skills, experience and physical resources that you may be able to offer.
Physically the Keeping Place Project is located in northern Sydney right now. But because we are leveraging the Internet for almost all of our activities it is possible for some volunteers to work elsewhere, including their own home or office.
Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to become more involved with making Gordon and Elaine’s Keeping Place vision into a reality. I can guarantee that it will be a challenging but stimulating and fun experience for you.
Director Communications Keeping Place
m 0407 940 943
Immigrated to Australia in 1971. Taught English for two years at Picnic Point High School, Randwick Girls High, Vaucluse Boys High. Received Diploma of Special Education from Alexander Mackie College. Marked Higher School Certificate for 5 years. Taught part-time at Randwick TAFE and Sydney TAFE.
1978 Began documentary photography full-time by taking photos for Koori Bina (later AIM Aboriginal Newsletter), Koorier, Ministry of NSW Aboriginal Affairs, Mum Shirl, Joe Croft, Dr Roberta Sykes and Pat O’Shane. Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal & Islander Dance Theatre.
1982 First Solo photographic exhibition at the Aboriginal Children’s Service run by directors Jenny Munro and Isabel Coe. This collection was moved to the AMS where Charlie Perkins’ encouraged, appreciated and used the photographs to the Canberra collection.
Shot cover photograph for Mum Shirl book.
In association with Mum Shirl, obtained two grants from the Aboriginal Arts Board to produce two books on “The Urban Aboriginal” and “The Aboriginal Matriarchs of Australia”. Tapes and photographs were made over the next years. Mum Shirl and I never finished these books. Being the recipient of these two grants for photographic work was significant as the Aboriginal Arts Board stopped giving grants to Whitefellas after that time.
1985 Grant received from the Aboriginal Arts Board for another Solo Exhibition covering the Aboriginal Legal Service, Portraits, Land Claims and Aboriginal Legal Services throughout NSW, e.g., Moree, Walgett, Dubbo, Gulargambone.
1986 Solo Exhibition at the Australian Museum, Sydney, officially opened by Gary Foley and Mum Shirl.
1989 Exhibition at Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Paddington. Title: “The Birth of Bangarra – A Decade of Dance” opened by Fay Nelson and the Bangarra Dancers.
1991 Solo Exhibition at Josef Lebovic Gallery, Paddington. Title: “On The Cross” opened by ‘Carmen’.
1996 Exhibition at NSW Parliament House. Title: “Aboriginal Deaths In Custody”, opened by Jeff Shaw, Attorney General. Co-Exhibition with Gordon Syron’s paintings of Aboriginal Deaths In Custody.
1999 Solo Exhibition at DQ Art on Oxford, Darlinghurst. Title: “Play and Politics of The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Community”. Official Opening by Smantha Leith with Play Theme starring Ms Hillari & Guests 1986 to 1999.
2004 Solo Exhibition at Black Fella’s Dreaming Art Gallery, Darlinghurst. Tille: “A Blast From The Past – A Photographic Retrospective of Mardi Gras Moments”. Official Opening by Clover Moore and Vanity Fair.
2005 Solo Exhibition at Black Fella’s Dreaming Art Gallery. Title: “An Arm, A Leg, And A Coloured Man”. Opened by Arm. A Retrospective of Australian Tattoo and Tattooists, 1986 – 2005.
Biggest Achievement besides having 4 children, was winning the State of Florida’s 100 Mile Endurance Ride at the age of 16.
Biripi/Worimi painter, educator and political agitator, Gordon Syron was born at Nabiac on the mid north coast of NSW on December 26th 1941, the eleventh of 16 children. He grew up close to the land on the family dairy farm at Minimbah. With so many children the family was never well off, but there was always food on the table. Working before and after school and at weekends helping to milk and herd the cows as well as other chores provided him with the self-discipline that has since helped him to remain focused on his painting for over 30 years.
The farm was originally purchased by Syron’s Irish grandfather, Patrick Daniel Syron, enabling his Worimi grandmother and her descendants to escape the mission environment, whose oppressiveness for Aboriginal people is a constant theme in Syron’s work. Syron’s Biripi maternal grandmother made a similar escape by marrying a Scotsman named McKinnon. Both were practising Christians and Syron’s mother Eileen owned a stack of bibles. Syron was particularly fond of his paternal grandmother, a “fine dresser” who wore a fox stole and a hat with feathers on their trips to the movies in Forster. He sat proudly beside her in what he thought were the best seats in the house (right down the front), not realising until decades later that they were the “black seats” [segregated seating for Aboriginal patrons].
In 1959 after completing his Intermediate Certificate, Syron came to Sydney where he studied Technical Drawing at Ultimo Technical College and became an apprentice electrician at the Railway Institute. He was also a Lifesaver at Soldiers Beach Budgewoi on the NSW Central Coast. Between labouring and factory jobs he pursued his passion and talent for amateur boxing. He won several NSW Golden Globe Awards before being knocked unconscious when he slipped in a wet ring on the eve of the Australia and New Zealand titles and decided to quit before he did himself serious damage. He also worked as a truck driver and PMG linesman.
Though aware of his Aboriginal parentage, Syron did not engage with his own Aboriginality until his trial and conviction for murdering his uncle’s adopted son over the inheritance of his uncle’s farm – which to this day Syron regards as a “land rights” issue. The judge refused Syron’s defence counsel’s request for an Aboriginal jurist on the grounds that his client was not black enough to be considered Aboriginal. This incident inspired Syron’s most famous painting Judgement By His Peers, in which a white defendant faces an all-black jury and courtroom. A more perfect symbolism for the failure of the criminal justice system to deliver justice to Indigenous Australians is hard to imagine. It was painted in 1978, while he was still in prison, having taught himself to paint over the preceding six years, with some pointers from a forger who was a fellow prisoner. Former Director of the Department of Corrective Services, Dr Tony Vinson, was so moved by the painting when he first saw it in an exhibition of prisoners’ art that he came and knocked on the door of Syron’s cell to shake the hand of the man who had painted it.
In 2004 Syron told an audience of inmates at Bathurst prison that art had saved his life and his sanity in prison. He shares this pathway into art with other high profile Aboriginal artists including Jimmy Pike and Kevin Gilbert.
Since his release after serving 10 years of his life sentence in some of the most forbidding prisons in New South Wales, Syron has worked tirelessly. He joined the campaign against Aboriginal deaths in custody, serving as President of the Black Deaths in Custody Watch Committee before deciding to pour his anger at social injustice and the ongoing devastation of Aboriginal society and people by colonisation into his art. Syron’s paintings express his wickedly sardonic and savagely satirical sense of humour – and a heartfelt admiration for heroic Aboriginal activists and artists such as Mum Shirl (who helped him survive prison) and David Gulpilil. The lyrical painterliness of his recent Where Wildflowers Once Grew series, commenced in 2002, recalls the happiness of his country childhood in the 1940s and early 1950s and his bitterness at the loss of his family’s land. It is also a reminder of Syron’s long-held ambition to “paint gum trees like van Gogh”.
His post-prison style has progressively harnessed the expressive properties of paint to vent his ongoing emotional engagement with struggles for Aboriginal social justice. Other major series include Coming Through the Heads, comprising more than 100 representations of Invasion Day, Emus, Gender of God and Black Fairies (in which he expresses his concern for the environment). In the 1990s Syron executed three variants of Judgement By His Peers: in one a white Defence lawyer represented Mr Justice Roden, who defended Syron at his murder trial; in another a flame haired caricature of Pauline Hansen stands in the dock and in a third O.J. Simpson confronts an all-white courtroom.
Syron first exhibited his work in 1972 in an exhibition of prison art at the Ball and Chain Gallery in The Rocks, Sydney. As a model prisoner, he was permitted day release to work in the gallery, spending hours studying the paintings in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in his free time. His first solo exhibitions were at Murawina Aboriginal Childcare Centre in Redfern in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His first cousin, renowned Aboriginal actor Brian Syron, encouraged his painting and from 1977-1982 he painted many backdrops for Aboriginal theatrical productions, most famously The Cakeman in 1981.
In 1982 he painted the backdrop for the Face, Masks & Costume Jewellery Pavilion at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.
Between 1982 and 1986, he helped set up the Eora Centre, an Indigenous visual and performing arts school in Redfern where he worked as head teacher (Visual Arts). Among his students were James P Simon, Andrew Saunders, Darren Beetson, Euphemia Bostock, Peter Chester, Isabelle Coe and Terry Shewring. Others influenced by Syron’s work were the makers of the mockumentary Babakiueria (Directed by Don Featherstone ABC1986) in which Aboriginal redcoats invade an Indigenous white society.
In 1984 Syron and Judgement By His Peers had their first exposure to the contemporary Australian art world in ‘Koori Art ’84’. After leaving Eora, Syron worked for two years (1987-88) as a Lecturer in Fine Arts for the Aboriginal Education Unit at the University of Sydney.
In the years following (1989-91), he devoted himself to his art, experimenting with primitivism, impressionism and surrealism . In 1992-93 he produced lithographs in collaboration with Theo Tremblay, which were included in a group exhibition of Urban Aboriginal Art lithographs at Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery in 1995. ‘Black Deaths in Custody’, his first solo exhibition since the Murawina show, was held at the Balmain Community Centre in 1994-95 and gave expression to the artist’s pent-up rage and frustration at still climbing Aboriginal rates of incarceration and deaths in custody, in the raw emotion with which Syron explored his dark theme.
In 1996 the series was exhibited with photographs by Syron’s devoted friend and agent, photographer Elaine Pelot, at NSW Parliament House and the following year, the same exhibition, re-titled ‘I Shoulda Been A Statistic’ was shown at North Adelaide School of Arts Gallery.
In 1997, Syron had two solo exhibitions and a two person show with Pelot’s photographs at DQ Art on Oxford St, a small gallery upstairs from Pelot’s Doublequick Photo shop, where the following year his solo exhibition ‘My Rally Against Racism’ began to attract more interest in his work. He was also included in a group exhibition, the optimistically titled ‘Dreaming the Republic: Aboriginal Responses to the Coming of the Republic’ at Newcastle City Gallery.
In 1999 he was included in the Museum of Sydney’s ‘Bamaradbanga’ group exhibition and the Australian Museum Sydney staged a mini-retrospective of his work, titled ‘The Quiet Achiever’.
In 2000, Syron was artist-in-residence for the Australian Humanist Society Sydney. His work was included in an exhibition of Aboriginal Art staged at the Australian Pavilion for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and his massive 1998 portrait of Mum Shirl was the centrepiece of the Mum Shirl Tribute exhibition staged at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, later shown at the Powerhouse Museum. At the opening of the exhibition ‘In Ya Face: Gordon Syron and Gordon Hookey‘ at Boomalli the following year, Hookey acknowledged Syron as a key influence.
In 2002, Pelot closed her photography business after 16 years and the Oxford St premises became Black Fella’s Dreaming Aboriginal Art Gallery and Museum, a response to Syron’s anger and frustration at the exploitation of Aboriginal art by non-Indigenous interests. “I refuse to sell my paintings cheaply to white galleries who make all the profit”. The Gallery gave artists 70% of the sale price of their paintings and bought directly from the artists. Though not a commercial success, it was a source of great pride to Syron as Sydney’s only Aboriginal owned and run commercial gallery and it provided a venue for numerous Syron solo and group exhibitions including his work, notably ‘Private Clubs and Politics: Paintings by Gordon Syron and James P. Simon with Photographs by Elaine Pelot’ 2003 and the ‘Black Fairies’ exhibitions in 2004.
For much of this period, Pelot and Syron lived in the idyllic surroundings of Magnetic Island in far north Queensland. In November 2004 Syron and Pelot were married before the cameras of the SBS funded documentary ‘Our Bush Wedding’.
At the end of 2004 they moved the Museum to Bangalow on the far north coast of NSW, employing local Aboriginal people to run the gallery and ‘Talkin’ Up Culture’ tours of the Museum. In a corner of the Museum, cordoned off from the sprawling collection of bark paintings, desert acrylics, sculptures, hand carved weapons, bold political paintings, early prints, etchings, historical newspapers, books, magazines, documentary photography and Aboriginal memorabilia, and surrounded by most of his best known works, still unsold, from his prison days to the present, Syron painted doggedly on, as he put it, “for justice, self-determination and reconciliation”.
By 2006 the Bangalow venture had been abandoned and the Museum collection placed on the market. Syron returned to Sydney, taking up a three month studio residency at the College of Fine Arts UNSW before returning to Magnetic Island and later to Sydney.