Portrait honours Aboriginal leader

Uncle Rod O'Brien stands next to his portrait, smiling,

Uncle Rod stands with his portrait: Uncle Rodney O’Brien, Kaurna Elder (2021) by Thomas Readett, Ngarrindjeri/Arrernte people. University of Adelaide Library (A.VA.2022.1031)

As part of National Reconciliation Week, a new portrait has been unveiled in the Barr Smith Library of Uncle Rodney (Rod) O’Brien, respected Kaurna Elder and Cultural Advisor at the University of Adelaide.

“The University of Adelaide is committed to equity and diversity, and we believe the rich cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be taught, supported and celebrated,” says Professor Steve Larkin, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Engagement.

“The University is proud of the achievements of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, graduates and staff, and remains committed to working in partnership with the Indigenous Australian Community in a spirit of cooperation and reconciliation.

“Commemorating Uncle Rod in this portrait is significant, given how much he has dedicated to the University. In his role as Cultural Advisor, Uncle Rod brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and pride in his Aboriginal heritage and culture, and a willingness to share, teach and grow.”

Displayed for the first time, the portrait of Uncle Rod is the centrepiece of the Face to Face: Embracing Portraiture exhibition. The portrait captures him standing next to the Wangu Pole sculpture at the Kaurna Learning Circle, on the University’s North Terrace campus.

Uncle Rod called the new portrait “humbling”: “The University has made steps in the right direction in putting Kaurna knowledge at the forefront.”

“I hope my portrait shows Aboriginal people that I’m valued by the University, and I hope to inspire other Aboriginal people at the University, whether they be students, academics, or professional staff, to reach for the stars and achieve excellence. Maybe one day there will be an Aboriginal Chancellor or Vice Chancellor.”

“I hope to inspire other Aboriginal people at the University, whether they be students, academics, or professional staff, to reach for the stars and achieve excellence. Maybe one day there will be an Aboriginal Chancellor or Vice Chancellor.”Uncle Rod O’Brien

Amy Dale is the Exhibitions Coordinator at the University Library.

“Described as a cultural mirror, portraits are where art, biography, history and identity collide. Painted portraits have often come to be associated with status and power,” she says.

“Over many years the University of Adelaide has collected portraits of our leaders and great thinkers, and this is the first portrait of an Indigenous leader to join the University’s Visual Art Collection.”

The portrait was completed by Thomas Readett, an artist and Ngarrindjeri/Arrernte man who was born and raised on Kaurna Country. The portrait of Uncle Rod acknowledges his leadership in the University of Adelaide community on its journey to reconciliation.

“This exhibition and the portrait of Uncle Rod is an opportunity to pay respect to First Nations leaders on an equal footing to other university leaders,” said Professor Peter Høj, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Adelaide.

National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. The 2022 theme of National Reconciliation Week is ‘Be Brave. Make Change’, challenging people to ‘Be Brave’ and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so we can ‘Make Change’ for all.

The Face to Face: Embracing Portraiture exhibition is open until 24 June 2022 in the Ira Raymond Exhibition Room of the Barr Smith Library. Entry is free.

For more information about the University’s commitment to Reconciliation, including our Tarrkarri Tirrka Integrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy 2013-2023, view our Reconciliation Statement webpage.

National Reconciliation Week is from 27 May to 3 June each year. These dates commemorate significant milestones in the reconciliation journey; the successful 1967 referendum, and the High Court Mabo decision.

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