My Story by Chern'ee Sutton: Artist in Residence at the 2018 Commonwealth Games
Updated: Apr 26
My name is Chern’ee Sutton and I am a proud Kalkadoon woman from the Mount Isa area in Queensland, most recently I was lucky enough to work with the Commonwealth Games, I designed the indigenous component and story to the Games Mascot Borobi, I was also commissioned by the city of Gold Coast to create a painting for Prince Charles during his royal visit to Australia.
I also created 2 large interactive art pieces, the first piece was a 14 metre painting which took over 6 months to complete with the 20 000 volunteers that applied to be a part of the games adding their fingerprints to the piece that was displayed in the Athletes village during the Games. The second piece was a 9 metre painting that I created as part of a residency in the Athletes Village with all of the Athletes and dignitaries from around the world including Their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles and Price Edward. That painting is now going on a touring exhibition around Australia starting at the Royal Australian Mint.
I would like to share with you all the story behind my painting “Caina Putut, Ilya, Wartanganha” which means in the Kalkadoon language “Long ago, Today, Tomorrow”.
This painting represents a timeline history of my people, Aboriginal Australians who are the oldest continual living culture on our planet.
In the beginning over 65,000 years ago it was the Dreamtime where mythical creatures and beings roamed the lands and skies creating the mountains, gullies, rivers and waterholes that we see today.
From the right hand side in my painting the Rainbow Serpent comes out of the Dreamtime and his journey represents over 65,000 years of Aboriginal history and culture and it also represents the longest continuous belief or religion in the world which is the Rainbow Serpent.
Out of the Dreamtime also came Malkanuru who came from the skies above and they would come down to earth to collect bush tucker, it was these sisters that gave birth to all of the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. Kurityityin also came out of the Dreamtime and she kicked up the dust and told all the animals to rise up out of the dirt and to come forward and eat the grass and leaves and to live life on the land, this was the Dreamtime.
Over 65,000 years ago in Northern Arnhem Land Aboriginal Australians were using elaborate technology to produce stone tools, flints and spear tips. They used ochre crayons and ground ochre and processed plant foods on grinding stones and at this site is the oldest fireplace ever found.
Aboriginal Australians over 50,000 years ago co-existed with Mega fauna which were very big animals that were much bigger than the animals of today. Some of these animals weighed from 45kg to over 2 tonnes and they are all now extinct. Such as Diprotodon a giant, wombat which was the largest marsupial that ever lived, Procoptodon a giant short-faced kangaroo, these kangaroos used to walk and could not hop like the kangaroos of today.
Genyornis which was a large flightless bird with tiny wings and massive hind legs that was over two metres tall. Thylacoleo carnifex was a marsupial lion with a pouch and was the largest meat eating mammal in Australia, Meiolania was a large turtle and was the largest land turtle to ever walk the earth being over 2.5 meters long.
Meglamania was a giant goanna that was up to seven metres in length and weighed 320kg and was the largest terrestrial lizard known to have existed.
The Thylacine or Tasmanian tiger was one of only two animals to have a pouch in both females and males. Unlike most of Australia’s mega fauna, which went extinct tens of thousands of years ago, these marsupials survived on the island of Tasmania until European colonisation.
A petroglyph is a rock engraving and over 45,000 years ago Aboriginal Australians were marking their territories and telling stories with petroglyphs in the Olary region of South Australia.
At Lake Mungo in Western New South Wales Aboriginal Australians performed the oldest known ritualistic cremation in the world over 42,000 years ago, Lady Mungo was covered in red ochre before being cremated and buried.
Over 35,000 years ago Aboriginal Australians were using ochres for rock art on cave paintings in Warreen cave in Southwest Tasmania and 20,000 years ago 10% of Tasmania is still covered in ice from the last ice age.
18,000 years ago using ground ochres Aboriginal Australians were painting the Zaglossus which was the long beaked echidna and the Thyacline the Tasmanian Tiger on walls at Kakadu National Park.
Around 16,000 years ago the sea levels begin to rise as the ice caps melt and 13,000 years ago the land bridges between mainland Australia and Tasmania are flooded. Tasmanian Aboriginals are now isolated from the mainland for the next 13,000 years.
Australian Aboriginal people have looked at the stars and used them to follow their dreaming tracks or songlines for thousands of years. An ancient Aboriginal site in the Victorian bush dated at 11,000 years ago is the world’s oldest astronomical observatory with some stone arrangements able to map out the movements of the sun and stars throughout the year. Aboriginal people had a very good understanding of the motions of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars throughout the year and over longer periods of time.
Returning boomerangs are being used to hunt waterfowl by Australian Aboriginals 9,000 years ago and the land bridge between Australia and Papua New Guinea is flooded 8,000 years ago forming the Torres Strait Islands.
The coastline of present day Australia is formed 6,000 years ago and the Dingo arrives in Australia 5,000 years ago and all modern day Australian animals are now thriving. The Rainbow Serpent ends with over 65,000 years of Aboriginal history and culture and the tall ships represent the colonisation of Australia by Europeans in 1770 which is almost 250 years ago.
The large yellow and white community symbol with the buildings in the centre represents the Gold Coast community and people. Borobi begins his journey walking around the Gold Coast visiting the sporting events as they take place leaving the story of the Commonwealth Games imprinted in the sand behind him.
All Commonwealth Countries are connected as one under our Southern Cross which lights up the night sky and the white spirit trails unite us all in remembering “Caina Putut” – The Past, “Ilya” – Today and “Wartanganha” – Tomorrow.
The 6 yellow, orange and brown community symbols represent the 6 main buildings of the Commonwealth Games athlete’s village and the 70 green community symbols represent each Commonwealth country that is participating in the games with each of these community symbols having a man and women athlete sitting around them. The boomerangs and message stick tell the world this is Australia and these are the 21st Commonwealth Games.
The three medals, Gold, Silver and Bronze represent the many athletes that have excelled in their field and pursuit to be the best in the world.
The 11 large red, orange and yellow circles represent the 11 days of the Commonwealth Games and the many coloured fingerprints represent the athletes from all Commonwealth Countries that have come together as brothers and sisters to compete in the games.
Let all who see this painting and read this story know that Australian Aboriginal history and culture is timeless and as old as time itself.