The James Gleeson oral history collection
James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists
carved English limewood
61.0 x 364.8 x 30.4 cm
[No date or location]
Rosemary Madigan: That is a piece called Eingana, which is based on an Aboriginal legend. That is a piece of English lime. I think it’s about twelve feet in length. It is a horizontal relief. That again was interesting because, although I wanted to carve, it started with that motif. But I wanted to carve it very sharply, in a hard-edged way. I hadn’t done that before, and I felt I wanted to cut it very decisively. I started working on it, and the wood is beautiful wood to work with, but it is a flowing kind of wood, and it wouldn’t let me do this.
James Gleeson: What year was this?
Rosemary Madigan: I think I began that in about 1968.
James Gleeson: In Adelaide?
Rosemary Madigan: Yes, I worked on that.
James Gleeson: And the English lime?
Rosemary Madigan: It is, again, a yellow timber. It’s very nice; it’s not too soft and it’s not too hard. You can work it without a hammer, without a mallet. You can work it by hand. It cuts beautifully.
James Gleeson: What is the theme of Eingana?
Rosemary Madigan: The theme is the story of Eingana the snake, the serpent. It is the creation of the world. Eingana contains all the tribes, all of nature. It is before the world began—It is the Creation story.
James Gleeson: According to the Aboriginal mythology.
Rosemary Madigan: In Aboriginal terms. An Aboriginal comes along and spears Eingana, and from the wound all is created: the trees, the fish, the stones, the rocks, the mountains, man—all is created then. This carving is Eingana the snake, with these elements within. It is a sort of see-through shape; they may be a little vague. Also at that time I was relating my own Western heritage to the Aboriginal, the fact that I was an Australian and lived here and loved and understood, I hoped, in the same way as a native Australian did. It was my land and yet I had this Western heritage, especially religiously. So I just combined those two things in the carving as a way of thinking myself at the time. On the right-hand corner I have the traditional hand of the father with the two fingers, but it’s in a sort of gum-leafy shape. You can read into that that idea, if you like. There are Aboriginal symbols of journeying, there’s the spear with which Eingana was pierced, there’s a tree, and there are some animals. I forget now; I haven’t seen it for a quite a while. I thought of the Eingana serpent as the Mary figure; there’s a sort of a halo around the head of the snake. Then there is the mountain where the Aboriginal people take their holy symbols—churingas, are they called?
James Gleeson: Yes, churingas.
Rosemary Madigan: So I have a symbol there of bread and of water, material and spiritual. There was one space in Eingana that was vacant. I always thought a bird had to go there but for some reason or other I resisted that idea. I can’t think why now. I thought, ‘No, that doesn’t fit into any of this mythology that is mixing itself up in my mind; no, a bird I don’t understand’. But this bird would be there—although I hadn’t carved it. I was leaving this space and one day I went down to the workshop and I just gave in. I walked in and said, ‘All right, I’ll carve you’. And I did. It turned out to be a sort of a pelican bird, which had a symbolism, in the end.
James Gleeson: A Christian symbolism, yes.
Rosemary Madigan: An Australian bird, too. At the end of this carving—it reads from right to left—there’s a large symbol of an ear, which to me meant hear—hear about what has been given to you, not only visually, but in this other way. All of that is basically incidental to the actual forms, but while I was carving them, because I did have the drawing for this—
James Gleeson: You did?
Rosemary Madigan: Yes. I drew this before I thought of all these things specifically. But while I was carving it, it was more that these ideas came to my mind and influenced the shapes a little bit.
James Gleeson: Is Eingana a unique work, or does a philosophical or symbolic thread run through a lot of your work?
Rosemary Madigan: No.
James Gleeson: It was unique?
Rosemary Madigan: Yes, out of context. I haven’t done anything like that before or since. I got really interested in that as an idea. I don’t think art should have these literary—and my work doesn’t have—literary connections. It was interesting to have a story, but it wasn’t a story to me as such. It was the Aboriginal story, and I was reading those stories at that time. I basically wanted to make a carving, and to make it work, and for it to have a geometric shape. I just used the way I was thinking at that time, and put that into it.