Coolamon (kulum), smoking, performance prop, wood/metal/[plastic], designed by Peter England, made by Neil Barron, Amanda Clarke - Ceremonies Workshop, used in 'Awakenings' segment Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Sydney 2000
This coolamon has significance in material culture due to its role in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games, an important event in the social history of Sydney and NSW. It has the potential to communicate in exhibitions and publications about the Sydney Olympic Games and has historical significance in its design, making, use and in the cultural meanings ascribed to it.
Described by the NSW premier Bob Carr as 'the greatest spectacle Australia has produced', the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games took place at Stadium Australia, Homebush Bay on Friday 15 September 2000.
The opening ceremony was the subject of much public expectation. After years of controversy and insecurity around issues like Ric Birch's infamous kangaroos on bicycles (from the Atlanta closing ceremony) and the recruitment of American musicians in a proposed marching band for Sydney's opening ceremony, it was perceived as a test of Australia's cultural competence. Could Australia deliver a modern, sophisticated performance or were we to embarrass ourselves?
The overwhelmingly positive public response to the opening ceremony inspired a sense of relief among Sydneysiders. In the upsurge of goodwill and excitement (which began when the torch relay arrived in Sydney) the media dropped its negative attacks on the Games' organisers and embraced the extraordinary spirit that had gripped the city. The public had finally claimed ownership of the Games. Cynicism melted away for two weeks as locals revelled in the rare carnival atmosphere.
The opening ceremony had anthems, speeches, oaths, flags, a marching band, pop singers and a parade of the athletes from 199 competing nations. However the daring conceptual sequences ('Deep Sea Dreaming', 'Awakening', 'Nature', 'Tin Symphony', 'Arrivals' and 'Eternity') will be remembered as the ceremony's great imaginative works. Each segment commenced without interruption, following on from the last to form an overall narrative. The purpose was to project a national image to a worldwide audience, to form the world's vision of Australian culture. This image embraced tolerance, social progress, multiculturalism and reconciliation, as well as nature, history and creativity. Designed to stimulate emotional responses from the audience, these segments delivered a refreshing mixture of youth, naivety and larrikinism.
The creative team comprised 13,000 artists and performers, including designers, choreographers, circus artists, costume makers, set builders and painters, singers, composers, writers, arrangers, dancers, musicians. Even more than the high quality costume design, choreography and music, the props were talking points, with the Endeavour tricycle and the Ned Kelly horse attracting the most attention.
The 'Awakening' segment was a primary focal point of the ceremony and had a strong theatrical impact. It portrayed a powerful image of Indigenous peoples to a vast international audience for whom Aboriginal culture is perhaps the most recognisable aspect of Australian life. Featuring over 1000 performers from around Australia, it showed the diversity of Aboriginal cultures. The segment functioned as a traditional welcome that celebrated the next generation of Indigenous youth, taking their culture into the new millennium.
In 'Awakening' Djakapurra Munyarryun, the songman, called the new generation of spirits. The white ochre spirits were drawn to the heartbeat of the land by Central Desert women, who performed their 'Chant of the Seven Sisters Dance'. As ochre filled the air, dancers from Arnhem Land performed the 'Flag Welcome Song', which welcomed the Macassan traders long ago. Torres Strait islanders arrived, welcomed by the Eora nation of the Sydney area. The Songman was escorted by a number of Aboriginal performers carrying coolamons (including this one) full of smoking eucalyptus leaves. All gathered around drums of burning leaves for a smoking ceremony, rekindling and cleansing the Olympic stadium on Daruk land. The Gjorn Gjorn, huge spirits from the Kimberley Ranges, hovered. As the clans united, the giant Wandjina figure arose - an ancestral creation spirit and lawmaker. The Wandjina flung a lightning bolt to ignite the bushfire that regenerates the land.
The Aboriginal theme continued into the next segment, 'Fire'. The Australian bush began to burn when the ancestral creation spirit and lawmaker, the Wandjina, yawned and started a raging bushfire. Flames purified the bush, starting a new life cycle. The segment included fire breathers and fiery stilt walkers.
The fire narrative continued into the next segment, 'Nature'. After fire has charred the earth, the rains came and Australia's flora burst into life. The segment ended with the arrival of European settlers.
Billions of viewers around the world learnt something about modern Australia, including the desire of the people (if not the government) to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous people.
Note: the usual spelling is 'coolamon'. However the associated documentation shows that the Ceremonies team referred to these items as 'smoking kulums'.
Peter England, Sydney, 1999
A wooden frame was covered with paper bark. The upper part of the coolamon was fitted with a wire mesh lid. Within the frame of the coolamon is a stainless steel kidney dish which holds the smouldering embers. The wire lid is covered with synthetic gum leaves. The shape of the coolamon is elliptical. Olympic ceremonies carpenter Neil Barron and prop maker Amanda Clarke, at the Ceremonies workshop, Eveleigh, Redfern, 1999-2000. A wooden frame was covered with paper bark. The upper part of the coolamon was fitted with a wire mesh lid. Within the frame of the coolamon is a stainless steel kidney dish which holds the smouldering embers. The wire lid is covered with synthetic gum leaves. The shape of the coolamon is elliptical.
Sydney 2000 Olympic games Opening Ceremony- Awakenings segment Stadium Australia, Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush, 15 September 2000. This is one of a number of coolamons used in the 'Awakening' segment. They were carried by Aboriginal performers accompanying the Songman during the smoking ceremony and the raising of the Wandjina.
This is one of a number of coolamons used in the 'Awakening' segment. They were carried by Aboriginal performers accompanying the Songman during the smoking ceremony and the raising of the Wandjina. Made for and owned by the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and donated to the Powerhouse Museum after the Games.