Gunnedah's Rainbow Serpent

The colourful Rainbow Serpent Water Feature has now been installed at the Civic, realising a long-term dream.

The large-scale serpent adorned with glass mosaics, brass and coloured glass and oxidised concrete has now been permanently installed in front the Civic as a lasting tribute to the determination of Gunnedah’s female Kamilaroi artists. These artists include Shirley Long, Janet Wanless, Delma Jones (d.) , Ellen Draper (d.), Gloria Foley, June Cox, Alison Cox, Rita Long and Cindy Foley.

Gunnedah Shire Council Cultural Precinct Team Leader Lauren Mackley said it had taken almost 20 years to see this important story come to life.

“The Rainbow Serpent Water Feature has had its own story – a story of determination and expression of the Kamilaroi women’s culture,” Ms Mackley said.

“The artwork is a beautiful addition to the Gunnedah landscape but these women have created a safeguard against the loss of irreplaceable cultural knowledge for the whole community to share and appreciate.

“Its creation has drawn on the culture, traditions, families, history and experiences of these women. Those stories are preserved in the 29 circular mosaics that are the feature of this public art piece.

“It’s amazing to see the Rainbow Serpent Water Feature come to life.”

TRAC began the Sculpture Court Public Art Project to connect the spaces within the Cultural precinct. Max Powell and Bronwyn McKeon began the design elements and an extensive community consultation process in 2001, facilitated by Jill Watkins. The Rainbow Serpent Water Feature was the third stage of this project as the result of a partnership with then-Chair of the Red Chief Lands Council, Ellen Draper (d.) who provided her own drawings as reference material for the final design. TRAC secured funding to engage Mavis Stone and Max Powell to deliver a design workshop, developing skills in glass mosaic and design. From this workshop, the core group of female Kamilaroi artists met every week from 2002-2008, creating the glass circular mosaics, supported by Jill Watkins and Jan Shedden.

The Rainbow Serpent Water feature is the final stage of the TRAC Sculpture Court Public Art Project, which also delivered The River Red Gum Tree, installed in 2002 in the Mooki Room and the Water Mural, installed in 2005 in the Mooki Courtyard.

These Kamilaroi women have continued to advocate for this project to be completed and it has finally come to life. The project has come to fruition through funding and support from The Gunnedah Shire Council and the NSW Regional Cultural Fund and the passion and dedication of the Gunnedah community.

The sculptural part has now been installed and final works are expected to be completed over the month. An official opening will be held once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

The Story of the Rainbow Serpent

As told by the late Elder Ellen Draper

In traditional Aboriginal storytelling, the Rainbow Serpent was not always a snake but a man who, by deception and lies, attempted to turn the people against their God, Baiame.

The Elders in the Dreamtime went to Baiame and told him what Rainbow was doing. Baiame punished Rainbow for his treachery by causing him to slither along the ground and sending him from the Dreamtime, never to return.

He was ordered to place all of the heavenly bodies and earthly objects in this land in such a way that balance was maintained. When he laid his head on the ground to rest from his labours, a waterhole or billabong was created; and where he travelled, rivers formed.

When his creation work was finished, the Rainbow Serpent transported all living creatures, including the people, to the land he had made for them and deposited them in their rightful places.