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Tommy McRae legacy honoured

Tommy McRae’s descendants Nicky Moffatt, Aunty Sarah Morgan, Jean Morgan, Amanda Morgan, Alana Thomas and Elijah Marjanovic who travelled to Rutherglen to be part of the special occasion.

The legacy of renowned Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae has been celebrated with a magnificent sculpture installed on Lake King, Rutherglen.

The sculpture, which overlooks the lake, is a replica of an 1890 drawing by Tommy McRae from his Bremnar notebook, and fabricated by The Agency of Sculpture, Yackandandah. Directly across the lake is a sign which features detailed information about the tribute as well as the life and impact of Tommy McRrae.

The significant cultural project was brought to life by Arts Rutherglen members Ro Porter, Gail Steed and Toni Harris over two years, with COVID-19 causing many delays on the way.

The silhouette sculpture which overlooks Lake King is a replica of an 1890 drawing by Tommy McRae.

Despite the challenges, an opening ceremony was finally held recently on the viewing deck of Lake King where descendants of Tommy McRae joined Arts Rutherglen and the community in commemorating his life and enormous contribution to the region.

Descendent of Tommy McRae, Amanda Morgan welcomed the guests and spoke about her “entrepreneurial and independent” great great grandfather describing how his works were sold to white settlers and tourists.

Instigator of the project Ro Porter spoke about the many challenges getting the project off the ground but how important it was to honour Tommy McRae’s legacy.

“What a joy that this day has finally happened,” Ms Porter told the crowd of some sixty people gathered at Lake King.

Bpangerang Elder Uncle Dozer Atkinson, Wahgunyah Historical Society’s Sue Fenn and Indigo Shire Mayor Bernard Gaffney.

“During the dark days of lockdown in 2020, this is where I came for refuge. Like Lake Moodemere, there is a presence that you can feel.

“It was blindingly obvious that things needed to be done, first, just acknowledge First Nations people. In particular pay tribute to Tommy McRae, a renowned elder from our area.

“Being an Arts Rutherglen member, I saw the tribute being a perfect project because we had already made Lake King a sculpture precinct and our street portals project was unlocking passed stories.”

Ms Porter thanked a number of people including her husband Rob Porter, Rutherglen Parks Committee of Management, Arts Rutherglen, the tribute sub-committee, the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Ben Gilbert from the Agency of Sculpture, Indigo Shire Council and the Wahgunyah Historical Society.

“May this tribute play its role in the acknowledgement of elders past, present and emerging.”

Descendant of Tommy McRae, Nicky Moffatt performs a song for the crowd at the celebration in Rutherglen.

Following Ms Porter’s speech, Nicky Moffatt, an accomplished musician and descendant of Tommy McRae entertained the crowd with a beautiful song about his grandmother.

Inducted to the Aboriginal Hall of Fame twice, Nicky grew up in Morwell, where he taught himself the guitar at the age of 8 years old. Nicky has played with many bands during his career including No Fixed Address, the first Aboriginal band to tour overseas (in 1984). Other bands include Coloured Stone who supported Carlos Santana, The Clash, Bob Marley’s Wailers, Ian Dury and The Block Heads.

His performance on Lake King received a rousing applause from the crowd.

Tommy McRae, traditionally known as Yakadun, was born in the early 1800’s near Goulbourn and was part of the Kwatkwat tribe, one of the eight clans of the Yorta Yorta people. In the 1880s, he set up a camp with his family at Lake Moodemere where he lived with his wife Lily, four children and his brother and sister-in-law.

Sadly, McRae's children were taken from him sent to reserves under Victorian government regulations.

McRae died on October 15, 1901 and was buried at the Carlyle cemetery in Wahgunyah.

McRae’s sketches offered a rare perspective of Aboriginal life during the early years of European settlement in Victoria, as well as depicting Aboriginal culture, people, traditional war ceremonies, animals, and the surrounding country. His drawings are held by in the National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia Canberra, the State library Victoria, State Library of New South Wales and Melbourne Museum.