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The significance of the ibis

For some time now the Gunyadyu comic has been a regular feature in the SSH. Each issue, with a single image, the artist shares a word from the Dharug language, providing a context in words and scene that also reflect on contemporary Indigenous experience of inner-city living. Gunyadyu episodes range from the sweet and funny to biting and incisive, each one featuring the ibis as a symbol for Indigenous people, depicting urban life with all its ups and downs.

Caption: Gunyadyu in Redfern (Photo: Andrew Collis)
Caption: Gunyadyu in Redfern (Photo: Andrew Collis)

In light of the annual east coast ibis survey conducted a few weeks ago, and of the ongoing debate around the status of ibis as a native or pest species, we thought it a good time to learn a bit more about Gunyadyu and the significance of the ibis. The artist behind Gunyadyu chooses to remain anonymous, so this interview was necessarily conducted via an electronic intermediary.

The comic has a very contemporary and very local feel, with images and ideas that anyone in the SSH area could find some connection to. Can you tell us why you chose to use ibis for the comic?

The ibis was chosen because of its poignant metaphoric societal reference to the (stereotypical) urban Kooris. That being – a “problem”, a “hindrance”, “unsightly” and “noisy”. Add to this, the ibis is in fact native but most likely from a different region.

Can you tell us about the name Gunyadyu?

When seeking a local language name for the ibis, I found I was somewhat restricted, given there are no speakers of the Gadigal language. So I consulted the only fluent speaker of a local language relative to the Sydney basin. I was hence informed that, whilst there was no direct language name for the ibis per se … Gunyadyu refers to a “large bird who excretes a lot”.

Have you conducted research in developing and creating the comic, or is it more of a direct expression of what you already know and feel?

No such research was required. The concept arrived to me immediately and as per much of my art I purely went with the instinctive response and perhaps a direct expression of my observations during my time in Redfern.

What do you think of the current “debate” around ibis? For example, many people commonly see them as a pest, and there are claims they were introduced to Sydney artificially, though the National Parks and Wildlife Service describes them as a “key wetland species” and has highlighted that their presence along the coast is an indication of disasters like drought further inland.

Ditto for flying foxes, cockatoos, corellas and fast-food outlets.

Do you have a particular audience in mind when creating Gunyadyu? Are there any types of people you’d prefer didn’t “get” it?

That would be somewhat discriminatory or at least … subjective. There be already too much of that kind of attitude within the art/journalism world. I choose not to contribute further. May all enjoy the Gunyadyu tale.

What can you tell us about yourself? Is Gunyadyu intended to remain anonymous and separate from your other work?

Well, that was the intention. I’ve had sufficient accolades throughout my emerging career but for once I wished to create an “unsigned” artistic contribution.

You’ve shared a great deal with the SSH readership through your comic – cultural knowledge in the form of Dharug words, but also perspectives and critiques of contemporary inner-Sydney life. What has creating and sharing the comic done for you?

For one … given me a “free to air” voice of my opinions relating to grass-roots issues connected to our local community. It’s also granted me the opportunity to publicise (creatively) the only Sydney-based Aboriginal language website (www.dharug.dalang.com.au).

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