Queep-Queep by Rebecca Atkinson

Colourful mural of six birds on Richmond Kindergarten wall

Two aluminium birds on playground entrance wall

Queep-Queep is a site-specific artwork created for the Richmond Kindergarten on Lord Street in Richmond, by artist Rebecca Atkinson. The artwork includes two aluminium birds (a wedge-tailed eagle and a raven) at the entrance to the building, and a large, colourful mural on the other side of the wall facing into the playground. The artwork was designed to engage children and to be a starting point for learning about Aboriginal history and culture as well as the natural environment.

‘Queep-Queep’ means ‘birds’ in Woi-wurrung language—the language of the Wurundjeri people—the Traditional Owners of the land on which the building is standing. Referencing what lived and flourished in this area prior to European invasion, the artwork acknowledges the important Aboriginal history of the area now known as the City of Yarra.

The six native birds depicted in the artwork can all be found living within the City of Yarra: the male red-rumped parrot, kookaburra, superb fairy wren, rainbow lorikeet, raven, and wedge-tailed eagle. Many south-eastern Aboriginal people recognise the wedge-tailed eagle as Bunjil—the creator spirit. Bunjil is the head of the Kulin Nation and is very powerful. Bunjil created the land, waterways, animals, plants and even the people. He is watching over the land to ensure that we are caring for Country—reminding us to respect ourselves, respect others and respect the environment.

Waa, the raven or crow, is recognised as the protector spirit throughout the Kulin Nation, and beyond. Believed to carry knowledge through generations, Waa is a powerful ancestral being. However, he is also regarded as a trickster, and is renowned for both his cunning and intelligence. Legends relating to Waa tell the story of how he brought fire to people.

Aboriginal Australians have a strong spiritual connection with birds. Some see them as messengers who can lead us to food sources, identify where water can be found or notify us when the weather might be about to change. Atkinson reminds us that bird life was thriving in this space long before the built environment interrupted the landscape and man-made structures began to diminish their homes and shelter. In creating our feathered friends in a frenzy of bright colour and at a momentous scale, she ensures that we can’t ignore them and the impact that we have on their environment. As she brings some of the City of Yarra’s birds sharply into focus, Atkinson highlights the critical role these creatures play in our lives and within the ecosystem.

Rebecca Atkinson is a culturally strong Moiradu woman from the Bangerang Nation on her father’s side, and Kerrupmara woman from the Gunditjmara Nation on her mother’s side. Based in Shepparton, Victoria she works under her artistic design business, ‘Nurratj Galnya’ meaning ‘dream sweet’ in Bangerang language.

Atkinson enjoys expressing her identity and culture though her art practice. The creative influences of her upbringing, and the surrounding landscapes of her Country, where her connection to culture is embedded, are the framework for her art.

Showcasing her cultural knowledge and connection to Country, Atkinson uses a range of materials including painting, weaving, ceramics, photography and digital media to share her story. She began learning to paint at the age of eight, when her father Kevin Atkinson Junior began to pass his skills on to her. Atkinson paints in a style specific to Bangerang people. Bangerang People are the People of the tall trees. Bangerang Country extends across the North-east of Victoria (including Shepparton where Rebecca lives), through to the Southern Riverina Murray region of New South Wales, from the Campaspe River in the west, through to the Ovens River in the east.

Atkinson’s artwork has been featured in many exhibitions and has won prizes and awards. She is frequently commissioned to create artworks for specific projects, and she has designed and created artwork for a number of organisations including: the Council of Australian Government (GOAG) for Shepparton; Bunjilaka, Melbourne Museum; Aboriginal Housing Office; Bangerang Cultural Centre; Picola United Football and Netball Clubs; Greater Shepparton Secondary College; Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative; BreastScreen Victoria; the University of Melbourne; Birth, Deaths, and Marriages Victoria; Black Eagles Basketball Club; Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service; Trust for Nature; Whorouly Football Netball Club; Melbourne Vixens; and Richmond Kindergarten.