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Sandhills Memories, 2020. Owen Lyons

Life on the Sandhills

Over 2020, Coleambally artist Kerri Weymouth interned with us as part of her Masters of Therapeutic Arts Practice at MIECAT in Melbourne. Kerri worked with local Wiradjuri artists to showcase an important piece of Narrandera's heritage.

History of Narrandera Sandhills

The building of a road across the Blue Mountains into Wiradjuri Country marked the beginning of devastating disruption and loss in the lives of the people living in this Nation. The road was ordered by the British-proclaimed Governor of the colony of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, in 1813.

Soon after, in 1821, another representative of colonial power, Governor Thomas Brisbane, began issuing land grants to squatters. Large tracts of Narrungderah (Narrandera) were claimed for European agricultural purposes. Free movement on Country was severely limited for Wiradjuri peoples and access to traditional lands and water became tenuous. The Frontier Wars which went on for many years took a huge toll. Within Narrandera you will encounter place names such as Poison Water Holes Creek and Murdering Island; sharp and direct reminders of the historical injustice that Wiradjuri people have faced.

From 1880 many Wiradjuri families lived at the Warangesda Mission at Darlington Point which had been established by Reverend John Gribble and his wife Mary with the intention to assist the many dispossessed in the region.
After Warangesda's closure, more than 50 families lived on the Sandhills on the outskirts of Narrandera between 1912-1970s. Although government policies prevented the freedoms and undermined the life-chances of people on the Sandhills, there was great  love, joy, family, community; and most importantly, resistance and survival.

These artworks aim to capture some of this important Narrandera history to add to the many memories and stories of life on the Sandhills that the families and their descendants continue to share. These artworks have been gifted to the Narrandera Shire Library for people to connect with this important part of our local history.

A launch was held on Wednesday 9 December 2020, 10:30am at Narrandera Shire Library to share and remember this important history.


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Michael Lyons Snr

Michael Lyons Snr is a Wiradjuri Elder from Narrandera NSW. He is known world-wide for his traditional-style Wiradjuri artefacts. The knowledge Michael learnt from his father and grandfather, he now passes along as a presenter of Wiradjuri Cultural Days to local schools, community groups and young Koori kids. Michael specialises in creating tuned, playable, termite-hollowed Mallee didgeridoos. You can visit Michael’s studio and Museum, Sandhills Artefacts, in Bamblett St, Narrandera, located on the Narrandera Sandhills, where Michael has lived for much of his life.

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Owen Lyons

Wiradjuri artist Owen Lyons has been involved with the creation and sale of Aboriginal art for over 30 years. Owen was a young child when he was first exposed to Aboriginal art by his father. His father demonstrated the centrality of painting in Aboriginal culture. As an adult, Owen continued to learn his technique from his older brother Michael and went on to develop his own unique style, but still gives his brother a lot of credit for the artist he has become today.

Dexter Briggs

Dexter Briggs is a Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta man who was born in Narrandera and has lived most of his life there.

His memories of the Sandhills surround his grandparents Thomas Johnson and Alma Johnson (nee Turner), who lived there in a tiny home built from found corrugated iron and boards, with earthen and timber floors, and newspaper-clad walls. A very early memory Dexter holds is of living in a tent behind the house with his parents, his sister Rhonda and baby brother Wayne, before moving into the house for a time.

Years on, the family moved to the Narrandera Showground as Dexter's father Cedric had taken a job as the caretaker there. Dexter remembers visiting his grandparents at the Sandhills often with his six siblings; playing with his cousins, and fishing, and making rafts to use in the creek below his grandparents' house. He recalls swimming in the Murrumbidgee at Koori beach and watching older boys (he wasn’t allowed) swing into the river on a tyre swing. He remembers the job of filling kerosene tins with creek water and carrying them to the house for washing. He also recalls that there were always people living in an old car under the pepper tree.  

Dexter’s memories of the Sandhills, and those of his parents, brothers, and sisters, have provided a rich source of connection for them as a family. The Sandhills is a place that through generations will continue to connect Wiradjuri people even when life has taken them to faraway places.

These Sandhills memories are passed through his daughter Andrea who has painted the story on paper dyed with leaves from the Sandhills.

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Andrea Briggs

Andrea Briggs is Dexter's daughter, a Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman. Her life has been marked by family gatherings in which her grandparents, aunts and uncles have talked of the old days, family connections, and the Sandhills. Growing up in Narrandera gave her a huge love of the Murrumbidgee River, and family drives to the Sandhills and swims at Koori beach have always been a very large part of her life. The project has brought back those memories for her.


This project has been supported by Narrandera Shire Council, Narrandera Shire Library, Bendigo Bank Narrandera, and Murrumbidgee Council. The Cad Factory is supported by the Sidney Myer Fund and the NSW Government through Create NSW.

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