Aboriginal Elders are educators, knowledge holders and decision makers. Because of their important roles in the community they are highly respected and have authority in their respective communities. While the term ‘Elder’ denotes relatively advanced age, it also implies respect relating to a person’s achievements and dedication to their communities. Traditionally, Elders were the leaders of tribes and clans, and responsible for making all important decisions.

Sydney Elders was undertaken by the Australian Museum in 2012 to celebrate and share the significant commitment and achievements of local Elders. Sydney is the site of the first colony but importantly the first site of resistance and the continued fight for social justice. Each featured Elder has contributed to the important role of culture, education, health, community or social justice. Djon Mundine has written Growing Old on Eora Country as a dedication to Elders and for the Sydney Elders exhibition.

The portraits were taken by renowned Aboriginal photographer Mervyn Bishop. Mervyn has played his own significant role as a historical documenter on Indigenous Australian experiences. This now includes the documentation of these very important elders.

Through this online gallery, the Australian Museum continues to present these portraits and their associated life stories to highlight the important role Elders have played in achieving change and justice for the local Indigenous community. The portraits are a special part of the Museum’s collection and are available for future generations to access.

Read Djon Mundine’s essay Growing Old on Eora Country.

Although this exhibition showcased some very important local Elders, there were, and still are, many more that we have not been able to include. The Australian Museum would like to pay our respects to all of Sydney’s Elders who work tirelessly within our communities and thanks them for their contributions. The Museum worked closely with the local Indigenous community to make the exhibition possible and would like to extend our thanks to the Elders and community for their support. Djon Mundine