Rock star with a chisel

Ian Marr at work with Braidwood Social Justice Group looking on.
Ian Marr at work with Braidwood Social Justice Group looking on.

Ian Marr is a man in a hurry. One of perhaps only six stone lettercutters in Australia, Ian has just ten days to finish carving an inscription into Braidwood’s Dhurga Rock.

Created from a monumental piece of Cambrian slate from South Australia’s Clare Valley the Dhurga Rock is a reconciliation initiative by Braidwood locals to acknowledge the region’s original owners; the Dhurga language group of the Yuin Aboriginal nation.

Organisers hope the Dhurga Rock project will be a significant step towards addressing the hidden nature of Braidwood’s Aboriginal history and creating a future where Aboriginal history is acknowledged and culture valued.

On one side of the rock is the inscription regrets the “dispossession and dislocation” of the Dhurga people while the other side will be graced with Aboriginal images created by Yuin Elder Noel Butler

Although the work will be a central part of this year’s Two Fires Festival on arts and activism Ian says he is no activist, but rather sees himself as a facilitator in a project to improve understanding and relationships between communities.

Growing up on a station in the Wilcannia region Ian says his father Ted Marr worked with Barkinji Aboriginal men at Marra Station before the war and later at Mount Murchison station. 

“So I’m delighted to help make this project a reality, to make this go from an idea to something tangible, something beautiful in Ryrie Park,” he said. 

“This message is something that maybe hasn’t been said before in this part of regional Australia. It’s about bringing the two communities together; settler Australians and Aboriginal Australians.”

Ian believes that when the Rock is installed in Ryrie Park even those who are not yet convinced will have their minds changed.

“When they see the nature of this object and the poetic form that it takes and see how the Aboriginal people have a connection to this area I think that those possibly negative feelings will just fade away like the morning mist. 

“They’ll realise this isn’t a confrontation of any kind; the form of the stone  isn’t just words, it has the shape of a big coastal valley looking up to the tablelands, so I think there’ll be a much greater understanding when it’s sitting in the park radiating its qualities,” he said.

The responsibility of producing a work of such emotional and historical significance is something that Ian takes very seriously. “It’s always a grave weight on one’s shoulders, to spell correctly and to make sure no mistakes slip past. There are two kinds of errors that can happen with letter carving in stone; one is at an editorial level, the other is the slip of the chisel, the accidental removal of stone that was never meant to be removed from a beautiful letter.

“However, after you’ve been doing this a few years you get to know the material and technique so well that mistakes are highly improbable. 

“Touch wood,” he adds with a laugh.

The Dhurga Rock will be unveiled as part of the Two Fires Festival opening ceremony by former editor of the Canberra Times, Jack Waterford, in Ryrie Park at 10am on Saturday 16 May. Everyone is invited.