Image of Uncle Allan Lena speaking at a childcare centre

Interview with the Artist

Introducing Uncle Allan Lena: Elder and Traditional Owner and Custodian of the Bundjalung and Yuggara Nations
Published 09 July
Uncle Allan Lena, a respected Elder and Traditional Owner and Custodian of the Bundjalung and Yuggara Nations, has collaborated with Robina Town Centre to create a bespoke artwork representing a campfire. The Campfire is a cultural symbol that speaks to the heart of community, heritage, and storytelling. We had the pleasure of meeting with Uncle Allan to explore his artistic journey, discuss the importance of the campfire in Indigenous culture, and learn about his passion for education and cultural awareness.

Can you tell us about your background as a Traditional Owner and Custodian of the Bundjalung and Yuggara Nations? 

Ngaio Kurung Allan, Minjungbal / Mununjali (Tweed/Beaudesert ancestry with connections across the Gold Coast, Logan, Brisbane and Beaudesert region) Traditional Custodian and Elder of the Yuggara and Bundjalung Nations.

Under Australian law, a person is Indigenous if they have a direct bloodline to this continents native Indigenous families, identify themselves as Indigenous and are in return recognised by
Indigenous people as Indigenous

A Traditional Custodian and owner must have direct bloodline to the people who lived on this land before the landing of Captain Cook; Native Australian Aboriginals/Native indigenous families who lived sustainably and happily before the arrival and forced settlement of the English from 1778 to present time.  This means our mother or father’s , grandparents, great grand parents lived within a tribe who lived on tribal land within said Nation;  This person is otherwise now known as an apical ancestor.  I am a descendant of the well-known apical ancestor Bilin Bilin the King of Logan and Pimpama (Yuggera) who was married to Queen Nelly, their daughter Emily married aboriginal William Williams of Knapps Creek on my grandmother’s / mother's side.  On my father’s side, my grandparents Percy Lena and Bella nee Dodds were both born to aboriginal parents; Uncle John & Aunty Dolly Lena on my father’s father’s Charlie Dodds & Nancy Smith on my father’s mother’s side (Bundjalung).  They were not as well-known, hence not documented as well as Bilin Bilin.  It is these solid blood lines that enable me to claim that I am a Traditional Custodian of both the Yuggera and Bundjalung Nations.

Can you tell us your connection of the campfire with the NAIDOC 2024 theme “Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud”?

Keep the fire burning immediately leads me to what is the centre of celebration and life; a campfire, around which we come together as equals, a true and pure democracy.

Could you describe the symbolism, elements, colours incorporated into the artwork?

The campfire is painted on a background of black to represent the black on our flag, the colour of our skin is referred to as black and of our night skies whose stars guide us and hold our ancestors.  The circumference of the art piece is red, yellow and red, both represented on our flag, the red being our earth and blood spilt in massacre and genocide, the yellow our sun and of the stars in the sky, and of our ancestors.

The next ring of dots in blue and green, are two of the colours on the Torres Straight Island flag as they too endured the same fate as the aboriginal people on the mainland; green being the green lands and blue of the blue seas.  Laid on a carpet of greens,(prosperity and fertility) are our people male and female, of various skin groups, meeting as equals, to share stories, ceremony, problem solve, heal, trade and feast.  The next ring is a ring of white, blue and green to represent the completion of the Torres Strait Island flag, the white representing peace.

The Inner circle of yellow orange, red and maroon is the colours of our campfire, the spirit of our heart, the giver of light, heat for warmth and cooked food. The maroon centre are the ambers that keep on burning long after the flames have gone.  It is these ambers that are the strength of our heart and with a breath can reignite into a fire, which once again, can sustain the tribe with the above mentioned, light, heat for warmth and cooked food.  A campfire brings us together as we are Blak, Loud and Proud to be the descendants of our ancestors whose fire continues to burn in our hearts.

What impact do you hope your artwork will have on viewers at Hyperdome in terms of cultural awareness and appreciation?

I hope the art has people of all nationalities and ancestry, gather in circles of equality, asking about the true histories of this land and gaining the knowledge of our ancestor’s, and the land’s culture in order to realise the history and importance of our connection to country and culture.  For those who are not native aboriginals of this land and for those descendants with mixed ancestry, I hope to ignite the fire in their hearts so they sit and learn with us, giving us a voice, right wrongs, acknowledge our history, the history of this land and our ancestry’s history, for it is our history and our homelands that create the heart of an individual.  For those who have mixed ancestry that includes aboriginal ancestry, and those with full aboriginal blood lines, I hope the campfire gives them strength to identify, be proud to be “blak”, own their voice and share their and their family’s experiences, and all the history experienced by their ancestry, good and unfavourable, loud and proudly, as silence does not educate those who have not heard the truths of this land.  We did not hand our beloved mother earth over to anyone and to this very day, we still don’t have a voice.

Could you share with us your passion for education and cultural awareness, and elaborate on why you believe it's important to educate our young generation?

I am passionate about our way of educating the younger generations as it has no expectations, no limits to growth, is honest and allows the children to explore their being as well as the truth of our history and culture. 

Cultural Awareness is important for everyone so that they understand and acknowledge the past of the people and this land, our culture and connection to country.  We all say how much we love our country, the flora and fauna, however everyday I see rubbish on the roadsides, trees being cleared for logging, housing, road networks and upgrades;  introduced plants being allowed to flourish in domestic gardens, roadsides, crown land and in national parks.  Our lands are not as they were and we don’t have a voice, as the land is no longer under our management.

Could you share any guidance or recommended resources for individuals interested in deepening their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture?

The 5 top books I recommend would be:
A secret Country x John Pilger
Dark Emu x Bruce Pascoe
Blood on the Wattle x Bruce Elder
The Biggest estate on earth x Bill Gammage
Why weren’t we told, Truth telling, Frontier x Henry Reynolds – any book written by him is worth reading.

5 top activities/movies:
Ted Talk Disruption is not a dirty Word x Amy Thunig
A Secret Country x John Pilger
Attend a Cultural Awareness workshop delivered by a TO
Go on country with Traditional Custodians
Please ask questions, talk to Elders, find the truths and do your own research
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