2007 Proposal for an Aboriginal Keeping Place

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An Aboriginal Keeping Place

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.

The Vision

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:

The Possibilities

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:

Adam Hill
Bev Coe
Carmel Nicholson
Christine Christopherson
Daphne Wallace
Darren Cooper
David Janganlinji
Euphemia Bostock
Genevieve Grieves
Gordon Hookey
Gordon Syron
James P. Simon
Jason Wing
Jeffrey Samuels
Karen Casey
Karla Dickens
Laddie Timbrey
Merv Bishop
Michael Riley
Michelle Blakeney
Roy Kennedy
Shane “Yondee” Hanson
Tim Ives
Tracey Moffatt

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
Mary Dixon
Gordon Pupugamirri
Kamahi Djordon King
Djawida Nadjongorle
Abraham Dakgalawuy
Lindsay Bird Petyarre
David Cameron
Joshua Bangarr
Chris Ngaboy
Vivianne Gilbert Muiya
Billy Petyarre
an early Michael Jagamara Nelson
an early Lily Sandover
Dorsey Smith
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.

Mum Shirl, leading a protest marsh in the 1980sFigure 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.

 Judgement by his peers

Figure 2. Gordon Syron, ‘Judgement By His Peers’, 1978


Space Requirements

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

  1. Solidify the vision and finalise business plan
  1. 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

  1. 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)
  1. 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)
  1. Scope possible funding options for adminstrative positions (DEEWR, Indigenous Business Australia, Arts Council)
  1. Gather letters of support from people in the Aboriginal community, politicians, and the arts community

Work Number 1 in the Syron Collection


Gordon Syron, 2002
Gordon Syron, The Dreaming Man, 2002
Catalogue number 1
Title of painting The Dreaming Man
Year 2002
Name of artist Gordon Syron
Owner of painting Artist’s collection
Medium Oil on canvas
Measurements 50 x 45 cm
Framed/Unframed Framed

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
Keeping Place
PO Box 295 | St Peters NSW 2044 | Australia
e: elainesyron@hotmail.com
w: 0411 725 981     international: +61 411 725 981

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Indigenous urban art collection needs a home

This program and video material was originally broadcast on ABC TV’s Stateline NSW on Friday 10-sep-2010 and can be heard at http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2010/09/10/3008952.htm?site=sydney 

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.

Source: ABC TV, Stateline NSW
Published: Friday, September 10, 2010 10:24 AEST
Expires: 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.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Save the Keeping Place Art.