Film series uncovers stories of Newcastle

09 May 2021

Newcastle’s role in a 19th century art revolution that preserved important Aboriginal cultural knowledge has been highlighted in a new film.

Lycett and Wallis: Unlikely Preservers of Aboriginal Knowledge tells the story of English-born convict Joseph Lycett, who was transported to Australia for forgery in 1815 and was later commissioned by Captain James Wallis, Commandant of Newcastle, to document the landscape and burgeoning township of Coal River/Mulubinba (Newcastle).

Created in a time before cameras existed, Lycett’s paintings have become an invaluable record of traditional Aboriginal life in Newcastle as it had existed for thousands of years, depicting the rich culture and lifestyle of Australia’s first peoples with images of corroborees, hunting techniques, fishing, funerals and visions of laws being enacted.

The film examines the significance of Lycett’s work and its importance to Aboriginal people today, as well as the role Wallis played in the development of Newcastle and Lycett’s work.

It was created by Newcastle songwriter, producer and musician Chit Chat von Loopin Stab (aka Glenn Dormand) and fellow filmmaker Tony Whittaker as part of their Stories of Our Town series, which also includes films on the Star Hotel riot, BHP and the Scott Sisters.

With grants from City of Newcastle, the Newcastle Port Community Contribution Fund and private sources, the filmmakers are hoping to make at least 12 documentaries as part of the series.

Lycett and Wallis: Unlikely Preservers of Aboriginal Knowledge features interviews with a range of subjects including Newcastle Art Gallery Director Lauretta Morton and Gallery Curator Sarah Johnson, Newcastle Museum Director Julie Baird and Councillor Carol Duncan, whose personal Facebook group Lost Newcastle provided the initial inspiration for the Stories of our Town series.

Three of Lycett’s paintings examined in the film form part of the Newcastle Art Gallery collection – ‘Inner View of Newcastle’ c1818, ‘Newcastle NSW looking towards Prospect Hill’ c1818 and ‘View with cattle in foreground, Hunter River’ c1818.

The film was officially launched with a special screening at Newcastle Art Gallery and is now available to view via the Stories of Our Town website.

The filmmakers also recently released a short film, The Islanders: Chats with Vera Deacon, which was created in collaboration with Newcastle Libraries and University of Newcastle Library and is a collection of stories from Vera’s early life on the islands of the Hunter River.

The writer, philanthropist and passionate historian was named a Freeman of the City in 2019 in recognition of her contribution to Newcastle’s heritage, conservation and local history.

The film was commissioned by Newcastle Libraries as a contemporary twist to traditional oral history projects and makes the most of the capabilities of the new Digital Library Storywall, where it will be available to view by the community.