Maleny has a new space above Forest Heart Eco Nursery, Munnimbah-Dja, which has been a long time coming, and we are so glad it has finally arrived!
By Victoria McGuin
I parked outside the lovely Queenslander that is home to Forest Heart Eco Nursery in Coral Street, but instead of heading to the right and checking out the native plants and trees, I went up the stairs into an inviting, open and fresh space housing an art gallery amongst other things.
Munnimbah-Dja ‘Welcome Place’ is the brainchild of BJ Djinidjini Murphy and Libby Harward, both Indigenous contemporary artists and community members. This space was kindly offered to them by Karen and Spencer Shaw who run the nursery below.
BJ has matrilineal Indigenous connections to fresh water Jinibara Country in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, and ancestral connections to the saltwater countries of the Kabi Kabi and Kuku Yalanji people.
Libby is a Ngugi woman of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) in the Quandamooka (Moreton Bay).
Together, they opened the gallery in November 2021, wanting to create a safe space for everybody to come together and learn about Indigenous culture on the Sunshine Coast.
“We had over 350 people at the opening,” said Libby. “We had no funding for this, it just grew organically, and we responded creatively and artistically.”
On the day I visit, there is a powerful exhibition of work by Jinibara Elder, Uncle Noel Blair, and there are plans in place for plenty more in the year ahead. I was curious to know more about the couple who created this ‘welcome place’.
“I grew up in Brisbane, and I loved bushwalking as a kid, but I was very assimilated into the life there,” shared BJ.
“My family were part of the Stolen Generation, my mum, Aunty, Uncles were sent to the Nudgee Orphanage. Mum was taken off Grandma when she was sick and never given back.”
BJ always felt a connection to Stanley and Mary River despite being a ‘city kid’. Whenever I came up to Woodford and Kilcoy visiting family, I always felt … home.
“Willie MacKenzie is my third great uncle and a Dungidau man from Kilcoy. He has shared and documented a lot of our culture and history.
“In 2012 my uncles handed me a transcript of my grandfather’s recordings and I’ve been on a journey ever since to reconnect, retrace old footsteps,and listen. I’ve found a lot of peace with that; connecting the dots from oral history and reading Grandfather’s information puts a lot of pieces of the puzzle together, though some are still out there.”
As well as being an artist and curator, BJ is a song man, dedicated to the continuation of his Aboriginal culture. Songlines trace the journeys of ancestral spirits and the creation of land, animals and lore, and provide important cultural values and wisdom to Indigenous people.
“I share songs across different countries (tribes), that hold country and law together. It’s my responsibility to learn songs from other countries as laws are passed that way, along with the representation of stories passed down through my family.”
Libby spoke of her ancestors having strong connections with BJ’s ancestors long before they met, as her people would travel to the Bonyi Bonyi (the Bunya Gathering).
“One of the gathering places was where Lake Baroon is now. It was originally a meeting place for the tribes at the Bonyi Bonyi gathering, where trade would occur, marriages, disagreements settled, laws sorted in a responsible way. The people of the Quanamooka came this way every 3-4 years,” said Libby.
“We are currently planning a Bunya exhibition,” said Libby, who very much continues culture through art.
“We are also looking at bringing the Bunya Festival back to Baroon Pocket,” added BJ, “It’s been away too long and this is where it belongs.”
(BJ then told me an interesting fact as an aside, that cutting the bottom branches of the Bunya means more sap rises up to make the nuts juicier.)
Although Libby loves living on Jinibara country, it is important for her to spend time on her salt water country too, where her grandfather was born. Libby’s grandfather was born on South Stradbroke Island, he grew up on North Stradbroke.
“His father was of English Ancestry and his mother a Quandamooka woman. They worked in Dunwich” said Libby. “He left the island around 1920 when he went away to go to war.” The family tries to visit Quandamooka country every school holiday.
Although he loved drawing since he was a kid, BJ only began painting seriously in 2008, plus creating his carvings, wood burnings and doing educational work.
Libby began as a graffiti artist before shifting to her current conceptual, political and public Indigenous art practice.
“I’d make T-shirts, and BJ was running the Jinibara gallery at Woodford Folk Festival,” smiled Libby. “I’d been asked to put shirts in the gallery and they gave us tickets to the festival. That’s when I met BJ and we talked about art – a lot!
“He took me for a date on the back of his Harley, although he says it was ‘just coffee’!” They both laughed.
Fast forward to 2022 and this creative couple and their blended family are happily ensconced in Maleny.
“We also have a one-acre block of repatriated land given to us by Nick and Brydie Holliday from Belvedere Farm,” shared BJ. “They identified they were farming unceded Jinibara County and we appreciated that acknowledgement.
“The local Indigenous people had been denied access for 180 years and forced to join the mission, so it was a special moment to return to that land.”
BJ realised that the hinterland was crying out for Indigenous culture and connection, and decided to create a safe space to talk, ask those uncomfortable questions and to showcase Indigenous art.
“The hashtag is #letsyarnaboutit,” smiled BJ. “We want people to come for a coffee and a chat in a safe environment for Indigenous and non-Indigenous to share knowledge, and unpack the many layers that come with understanding Indigenous people and culture.”
“Our main aim is to use this space to help us actively live and practise culture,” said Libby.
BJ added, “To me, this place is our way of working with the system in a positive way, then on the weekend we can climb out and simply ‘be’ our culture, breathe and live it every day.
“I didn’t want to fail my community, my people, or the wider community who wanted to know more. When Karen and Spencer Shaw suggested this space above their nursery, we knew it was perfect for what grew to be “Munnimbah-Dja.”