Tarryn Love, “Koontapool wayapawanh” - Meeting the Whale.

Tarryn Love, Koontapool wayapawanh” – Meeting the Whale. 

Tarryn Love used to stand on the sand dunes at Logan’s Beach as a child and wait for the whales to swim close to the shore.  Koontapool as they were called in her people’s (Gunditjmara -Keeray Woorroong) language were a strong symbol for her of being connected to everything.

“I think with Koontapool the whale, my spirituality is such a deep feeling; a connection to the past that happened before me but also happened beyond me, it refers to the dreaming, when all our law was created for the land,” she said.

Tarryn is a proud Indigenous woman who comes from a family of artists, and activists. Her auntie, artist Vicki Couzens, has shown her much about her culture through art practice. Her grandfather Ivan Couzens was an influential Gunditjmara leader, who helped to set up co-ops, create a dictionary of their local Keerray Woorroong language and worked with Deakin University to set up the Deakin Institute of Koorie Education 32 years ago and a Koorie teacher Education Program.

In creating a work for the WAG’s Weehnirr exhibition, Tarryn responded to the grinding stone in the collection, asking her mother and auntie what it might have been used for. They said it may have been for grinding paints and using them on the body for ceremonial dances.

She began thinking about what ceremony meant to her, what she may have experienced that may have the same sacred notion.

“Our ceremonial practice was about teaching the law and I think watching the whales come and visit Warrnambool was like a ceremonial practice for me.

“When I saw Koontapool visit I was seeing the eternal Koontapool that has visited me many times before and will many times after but this is my place in this cycle.”

Tarryn chose to work with possum skin because of its significance to Gunditjmarra culture making a stole rather than a cloak, because she felt a cloak was a ceremonial cultural thing for a leader, or elder and she was not there yet. 

Because possums are protected in Australia she sourced a possum skin from New Zealand and enlisted the help of her mother and auntie to advise, prepare and stitch. Then she began painting her childhood story of watching the whales, the Hopkins River, bush seeds, pods and the night sky and stars, using strong symbols and line work.

Tarryn said “The notion is seeing the eternal but also something originating from eternity, my ways of knowing and understanding that those intangible knowings are something intrinsically in me and I am learning and understanding what that means.”

Gunditjmarra painting is distinctive because it uses line work to tell a story rather than the dot painting style used by other Indigenous people around Australia. Tarryn sees this as an important cultural protocol.

 “If you are going to do artwork and represent stories, you have to do them in a style that reflects your nation and your country. That has been an important message and I have stuck to the culture and tradition to keep doing it in line work.”

“You also have to know your place within culture it is important to listen to my family, elders and people passing down knowledge,” she said.

Tarryn usually begins making art work with a discussion with her mother, sister or Aunt Vicki about what she is trying to express.

“It ends up in a long winded yarn about who knows where and what – we always have some great conversation lots of learning. If it is some idea I am trying to express in my identity, it is always interesting to hear from my mum’s perspective, my auntie Vicki’s perspective, or my sister’s.”

Tarryn and her sister Kelsey have also begun an online site Koorroyarr Arts, (which means granddaughter in their language), to express their journey and process in learning, sharing and reinvigorating culture. The sisters make art that connects back to their Keerray Woorroong language, using the dictionary their Grandfather created.

She said that it has become something much bigger than they imagined and given them many opportunities to exhibit and show that their language isn’t dead, it is being excavated.

“How powerful and proud that we can identify this through our art work," she said.


Image: Tarryn Love, Possum skin stole (detail), 2020, New Zealand Possum Skin, pyrography, linen thread, 130x60cm.
Purchased with the assistance of the Isobel and David Jones Family Foundation and the Cumorah Foundation Pty Ltd ATF. Fletcher and Rena Jones Foundation.