ACHHA members in the lockdown


The COVID-19 lockdown – as we all know – has had a devasting effect across our communities, including Aboriginal Cultural Centres and Keeping Places.

We checked in with some of the ACHHA members (Aboriginal Arts Culture Heritage Association) to find out how they have been affected by the lockdown, and how they view the long-term effects.

Alison Williams
Creative Director, Wadjar Regional Indigenous Gallery and Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre

We set out to make our Elders feel safe and supported. It makes us feel a bit useless, in our capacity as cultural service providers and frustrated for our arts and cultural sector.

It has given us timely pause to reflect and work on our collection behind closed doors. We don’t often get the time to do some of our essential collection management, as we are under-resourced. We have decided to make some audio-visual recordings supporting our cultural objectives and to engage the community with online classes such as weaving and cooking with bush foods. We have been profiling an ‘artist of the month’ with local regional artists.

The long-term effects are a possible loss of knowledge if the virus takes our Elders. The consultation process with community and Elders must also be adapted.

We have seen an extreme decrease in revenue and patronage at our centre and the loss of employment.


Wendy Spencer
Dhariwaa Elders Group

Walgett had recently experienced the drought and water crisis, then our only supermarket burnt down June 2019, then the bushfires and now COVID-19. These events emphasised for us our interconnectivity with the world, cities, our food, water and housing vulnerabilities, and the need for local solutions that we are developing. The COVID-19 emergency has highlighted our community’s vulnerability in food and water systems.

In the long run, this experience will wake everyone up to what DEG has been advocating, regarding the need for culturally-appropriate and knowledgeable emergency responses, particularly with local food and water. We think our emergencies are going to increase and have been advocating for preparedness, and we hope we might get some momentum there.

Closing has been a total upheaval for us because everything we do relies on Elders meeting up with each other, working with staff, sometimes travelling together on day trips and meeting with visitors and guests. While we are remotely located and used to working with collaborators using the internet, we have had to postpone activities so some of our long-term projects will be delayed.

Visits from key project collaborators have been postponed. Most importantly we are worried about the Elders who are already battling chronic disease and other challenges. We are worried about the virus and also about social isolation which no-one is used to, so we have been using MS Teams, Zoom and relying on Google Drive, as well as Adobe Creative Cloud to upload photos and video, that we use in our messaging work. We need to buy laptops and use the internet more.

We would like smart TVs that are super user-friendly, that we could place in Elders’ homes with NBN connections, so we can have daily check-ups and connect Elders to yarn, work and play together via Zoom or Google hangouts. Our Elders don’t have the internet in their homes or smartphones, so we can’t use Zoom to connect. As such, we are phoning and physically checking up on them from the gate.

Food and groceries can be delivered from the local temporary IGA supermarket once a week, so we are helping Elders get set up to be able to make grocery orders by phone – which is a challenge. We have learned just how vulnerable food and grocery supply systems are.

We’ve learned how important social interaction is – we miss it! If we could change anything? Better preparedness by every community so they would have been ready to have bespoke emergency plans enacted with the necessary budgets.


Kyra Kum-Sing
Curator, Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative

At the start of the pandemic, everyone was unclear and unsure what was to come, like many organisations worldwide and across the country.

We closed the gallery doors in mid-March, as we knew that if COVID-19 reached our communities, it would have devastating outcomes.

Boomalli will continue creating platforms for NSW Aboriginal Artists to be represented in a safe space.  We understand the importance of art, and keeping Aboriginal artist-led organisations, such as Boomalli, open for artists and communities from NSW Aboriginal Language Groups. Boomalli staff are continuing to create strategies and fresh ideas for promotions. While the gallery is closed, our artists are creating new funky and interactive art and content for our online platforms and presence.

As Aboriginal peoples, we have been in survival mode for 250 years; I believe we will continue to keep going and like many businesses, Boomalli has seen many obstacles in the past and have overcome them. This is just another obstacle to get through. I believe Boomalli will survive. The Government released some COVID-19 relief grants, however, I feel there is much more financial support needed.

We have made sure Boomalli is present across all social media platforms. For online exhibitions we are using kunstamatrix. Our artists are making new works and by having access to online platforms, this gives our artists the opportunities to upskill their knowledge around new technologies.

There are many new lessons we’ve learnt, one being that time is everything, and we need to take the time to connect with the people we love.

View Boomalli’s latest exhibition NOT YOUNG OR FREE! 


Related articles

COVID-19 Resources
https://mgnsw.org.au/sector/resources/covid-19-resources/

Regional Galleries transition to online during the lockdown
https://mgnsw.org.au/articles/regional-galleries-transition-to-online-during-closure/

Engaging with Museums, Galleries and Keeping Places in the Time of Social Distancing
https://mgnsw.org.au/articles/engaging-with-museums-galleries-and-aboriginal-keeping-places-in-the-time-of-social-distancing/

How the Art Gallery of NSW is bringing its audiences #TogetherInArt
https://mgnsw.org.au/articles/agnsw-togetherinart/