Marriage: Love and Law exhibition catalogue - Page 40

Transubstantiation explores the means by which the intended and purposeful
use of land was changed during Australia’s early colonial history. Land grants
accorded through the initiative of ‘marriage portions’ made to unmarried
women were an instrument designed to encourage respectability in the colony,
and seemed to provide the means by which recipients could enjoy agency and
a degree of empowerment. While the scheme had its own internal complexities
when it came to class, discrimination and selection, it was essentially a pathway
to expanded rights over land.
The change in how land could be used was instituted through an administrative
act, and through a union considered holy and (very possibly, wholly) pragmatic.
It marked the beginnings of trauma in the spirit of Indigenous people who
became subject to a series of ideas around possession and occupation, and
the implementation of those policies. While transubstantiation has Eucharistic
interpretations in religious teachings, it is used here as a means to signify
transformation, in which the ‘essence’ and spirit, the very properties of the
land was changed; it shows an alchemy of change in matter and the soul
of our shared landspace. It also hints at the undertones of the sacred in a union
through marriage, and the severance of long-standing and equally sacred
connections to land maintained in Aboriginal culture.
A side effect of an apparently well-intended initiative was the displacement
of Aboriginal people. All land claims by colonisers eventually had the effect
of divesting Australia’s First People of their sovereignty, and their cultural rights
to access and use of Country. While colonisation had a whole of community
impact, this work highlights the outcomes of intended and unintended
consequence around the lives and stories of women, who were often overlooked
in the telling of contemporary history at the time, regardless of culture.

31 Danie Mellor
Photographic print
on aluminium panel
Commissioned by
NSW State Archives


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