BURRINJA GALLERY

When the small Shire of Sherbrooke was incorporated into the much larger Shire of Yarra Ranges the local community worked very hard to gain the empty building for the community. With much hard work by many people and organisations, this notable muilestone was achieved.

A number of difficulties arose at this point  :  who was to tenant the building? Was the space to be divided? Should the space be rented, or part rented, to a commercial organisation? The project was threatened by considerable division and uncertainty.

Neil McLeod, who, although he lived nearby had not been primarily involved in the earlier negotiations, had nevertheless heard of the details through the family of his close friend, artist Lin Onus. Lin's sudden death in 1996 had shocked the whole community, and there was talk
of naming the centre after him.

Neil had  always dreamt, one day, of having a beautiful place to show off all the beautiful art that he, and other people had collected. Lin Onus, an Aboriginal man of the Yorta Yorta people, a revered artist, had been very much of the same mind. After  much negotiation Neil  undertook  responsibility for the entire project, designing the interior, setting up a magnificent gallery space, and establishing Uncle Neil's Cafe.

The centre was named Burrinja, Lin Onus' Aboriginal name, meaning 'star'. Asked if he thought Lin would be happy with the centre, Neil was sure he would.

' You don't have to put it in words, you just do it. That's what I did, I just did it. I had a vision of how it could all look inside; especially I wanted the gallery with the dark walls, because I used to sleep in a swag in the Kimberley and I used to wake up in the moonlight and I used to see the trees all lit up by the moon and I thought wouldn't that be beautiful as a gallery? Just something with that sort of atmosphere. It can showcase work beautifully because you wouldn't have to worry about all of the people standing next to you, with their designer suits on, they just melt into it all.It's the work that's on the walls that does the talking and that's what it's done; it's achieved it admirably over the years. I've had many people come in here, especially Archie Roach, when he came to this place, he said, "this is one powerful place, this is our Keeping Place." He was really impressed with the place, as indeed many people have been over the years. People from leading galleries, the Reich's Museum in Amsterdam and all sorts of places have been into this place and said how they loved....the atmosphere was really powerful. Even in the cafe with the ochre walls  everywhere, at nighttime it takes on the feeling like a womb or something, it's got a beautiful encompassing feeling. Because, it's not a synthetic, polymer paint, it's a natural ochre from the bush and so there's a nice feeling to it.'
Notes by Shirley Jojkity

 Although the Shire eventually took responsibility, the design, the hard work of building the interior, setting up the cafe known as 'Uncle Neil's', and tramping from one auction to another to buy (and pay for!) equipment,  were all very much the work of Neil McLeod.

Anxious that his collection of valuable art work should be kept together, in one place, he donated over 700 pieces, known as the Burrinja Collection, to the Shire of Yarra Ranges, to be housed at Burrinja Gallery.

His efforts to establish a permanent gallery and cultural centre were rewarded when Burrinja and Uncle Neil's Cafe won the Dandenong Ranges Tourism Award for Best Tourist Attraction in 1999.

The " Grand Opening -  Burrinja Gallery", November 29, 1998 featured performers Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, Paul Kelly, the Indigenous Burrinja Collection and dancers from New Ireland and New Guinea. Noah Lurang and King Pawut arrived from New Ireland for the Opening. The exhibition in the Gallery itself was opened by Jo and Tiriki Onus, with thanks to Neil McLeod, Hank Ebes and Simon Ford, with stories of works annotated, and organised, sponsored and curated by Neil McLeod.

Burrinja became the location for a number of exhibitions organised and curated by Neil Mcleod; these included works from Zeta Thomson (Yorta Yorta), Alex and Eva Nganjmirra (West Arnhem Land),  Jack Dale Mengenen (Kimberley), Malagan Art from New Ireland,  Heather Anjolu Umbagai (Kimberley)," A Poko Poko Nau", showcasing culture from many areas of New Guinea, and  Chen Yong Qiang, Master Artist (China) .

Textile Art, Isabel Foster and Joy Serwylo, "Threads of Time", a Celebration of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Women's Culture and Land Through Their Art", "Affordable  Contemporary Art", "Blasphemy : The Sacred and the Profane",  "Turtles All the Way Down",  and "Shazzarazz Fashion Blast", all mixed media, showcasing the work of both white and black people, were organised and curated by Neil McLeod between 1999 and 2007.

"Works by Patsy Lulpunda", curated and opened by Neil McLeod, were shown at Kintolai Gallery, (SA) in 2001, while "Works by Jack Dale Mengenen, with the Jandamara paintings by Neil McLeod" curated by Neil McLeod, were shown in Fame Gallery, Darwin, 2006. "The Stockman and the Medicine man ", works by Jack Dale Mengenen and and Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri, curated by Neil McLeod (who also
collected Jack Dale, and flew with him to the opening of the exhibition, and home again to the Kimberley) was shown at Japinka Gallery, August/September 2007.

A major Exhibition, "Footprints of the Spirits",  curated by Neil McLeod, toured New Zealand in 2002-3, while for "Sing Sing 2 : Song Dance and Rhythm from Oceania",2006, performed in Hamer Hall, Neil
McLeod lent twelveTubuan costumes, as well as artefacts for the "South seas Benefit Concert",  Hamer Hall in 2008.

The Burrinja Collection was gifted to the Shire of Yarra Ranges in 2001.

For more on Burrinja see www.burrinja.org.au