White Australia has a Blak History [Gangurru Camouflage]

Place Oceania: Australia
Accession Number ART94989
Collection type Art
Measurement Sheet: 30.6 x 21 cm
Object type Work on paper
Physical description acrylic on paper
Maker Albert, Tony
Place made Australia: New South Wales, Sydney, Lilyfield
Date made 2012 - 2013
Conflict Period 2010-2019

Item copyright: AWM Licensed copyright


In 2012 Tony Albert became the Australian War Memorial's first official war artist to deploy with the Army's Regional Force Surveillance Unit, North West Mobile Force (NORFORCE). NORFORCE is a surveillance unit, and camouflage is an important part of its operations, assisting soldiers to move invisibly within the landscape. In response to his experience in the Northern Territory Albert created a series of 20 small works he titled "Gangurru camouflague" which address the invisibility of Indigenous Military Service within our national museums and military histories.

Albert has customised his own "gangurru camouflage" (gangurru is a Girramay word used by Tony's family meaning "grey kangaroo"). For the pattern he uses the shape of a kangaroo in the same camouflage colours used by NORFORCE. This design acts as a visual metaphor for the unit and for Indigenous military service. However, instead of concealment, Albert's camouflage is also about revelation. Carefully interwoven into his camouflage is a series of terms. These include slang, patriotic phrases, political slogans, song lyrics, and vernacular used by NORFORCE soldiers. Together these texts offer a broader historical context for engagement with the little-known experiences of contemporary NORFORCE soldiers.

The slogan hidden in this work ' White Australia Has a Blak History' first appeared around the time of the Australian Bicentenary of European colonisation in 1988.

Albert has his own family history of military service. His grandfather Edward 'Eddie' Albert enlisted in 1940 and served in the Middle East before becoming a prisoner of war. His Grandfather's service and post-war experience as an Indigenous returned serviceman have been an ongoing source of inspiration for Tony Albert.