Wurreka is an etched zinc wall by Judy Watson that forms the entrance to permanent exhibitions in Bunjilaka, a space within Melbourne Museum dedicated to Aboriginal cultural activities. It was the largest public art installation in Australia when it was unveiled as an iconic component of Melbourne Museum when it opened as the new campus of Museum Victoria at Carlton Gardens in October 2000. This Aboriginal Centre with its focus on the history and culture of Australia's First Peoples gives prominence to Museum Victoria's internationally significant Indigenous collections. The architects Denton Corker Marshall, who won an international competition to design Melbourne Museum, created a wall that “insinuated itself snakelike into the space to become the primary form around which Bunjilaka developed”.

In collaboration with the Australian Print Workshop, Museum Victoria developed an artist's brief identifying the need for the artwork to capture the distinctive nature and continuity of Aboriginal art and culture from southeastern Australia in a sophisticated, subtle and powerfully symbolic way to preserve Aboriginal culture for the future. The acclaimed artist Judy Watson, a Waanyi woman from Queensland, worked collaboratively with local Victorian communities and artists in developing the design for the wall. During 1999, Watson travelled with museum staff and to members of Aboriginal communities across Victoria and sought their input into how to view the land as a cultural landscape. She visited a number of iconic cultural sites and drew inspiration from key historical and contemporary objects in the Museum’s collections, many of which are clearly visible in the work.

Watson etched 74 zinc panels with senior printer, Martin King at the Australian Print Workshop in inner Melbourne where the project was managed by the Director, Anne Virgo. A range of techniques were used, including bitumen paint as an acid resist, lithographic tusche applied as a resist to create a wash effect, and the use of stencils and lift ground techniques to create the images. The panels were etched in nitric acid into the panel, rather than the image sitting on the panel. During production, Indigenous community members visited the project at the Australian Print Workshop, and suggested symbols and objects for inclusion. The work developed in an organic fashion over several months, a process Watson called “an ongoing conversation”.
Her intent is for Wurreka to be a “‘learning wall’ and a resource for people, particularly children, wanting to learn more about Victoria’s Aboriginal culture. I want the work to have a fluid, dreamlike quality, objects will be floating across the panels, as though on the edge of memory. It is about survival, resilience, resistence and strength”. Wurreka means “to speak” in the Wemba Wemba language from northwest Victoria.


  • Title: Wurreka
  • Creator: Judy Watson
  • Creator Lifespan: 1959
  • Creator Nationality: Indigenous Australian
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Creator Birth Place: Mundubbera, Queensland
  • Date Created: 1999
  • Location: Carlton Gardens
  • Physical Dimensions: w350000 x h2400 mm
  • Type: Object
  • Rights: Copyright Judy Watson, Source Museum Victoria / Artist Judy Watson
  • Medium: Etched zinc
  • Subject: Aboriginal art; Aboriginal peoples (Australians)
  • Description: Watson is a Brisbane-based Waanyi artist who works across a range of mediums to explore familial, historical, political and environmental aspects of Australian Indigenous heritage and experience. She began her art career in 1977 with a Diploma of Creative Arts at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education in Toowoomba. Watson completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, in 1982, and in 1986 she completed a Graduate Diploma of Visual Arts at Monash University in Gippsland, Victoria. Watson specialised in printmaking during her fine art studies, but diversified her practice to include painting, installation and sculpture. Over the course of her career, Watson has undertaken international residencies in Italy, India, Canada, Norway and France. She has held numerous solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas, and her work is included in the collections of all major state galleries, as well as numerous overseas collections. Survey shows of Watson's work include 'sacred ground beating heart: works by Judy Watson 1989-2003', an international touring exhibition initiated by John Curtin Gallery in Perth, and 'Judy Watson: Selected Works 1990-2005' at the Queensland University Art Museum. In 2006 Watson received the National Gallery of Victoria's Clemenger Contemporary Art Award. Watson has held lecturing and tutoring positions at variuos universities. She has undertaken a number of public art commissions in addition to Melbourne Museum's 'Wurreka'. She has also been active in encouraging and assisting other Indigenous artists to research their heritage, access art resources, and develop approaches to creating art works that reflect their history, identity and location.
  • Artist: Judy Watson

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