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Art Gallery WA Media Release
Frederick Garling, View across the coastal plain


Experience WA through the eyes of the first
European explorers and colonists

OPENS Saturday 17 September 2016 | TICKETED

The first European explorers and colonists viewed Western Australia and its spectacular coast as an “unknown land”.

Of course, it was no such thing – Aboriginal people had owned the land for thousands of years and were quickly in conflict with the imperialists.

Whatever their motives – colonist, invader, explorer, settler, adventurer – the Europeans were awestruck by the land we now call Western Australia – and the opportunities it presented.

This exhibition of the earliest watercolours, paintings and drawings of WA superbly captures images of locations still familiar, but now mostly transformed. These European artists were the first of many generations to be inspired by the landscape of WA.

‘See WA before it was WA’ is the strap line for the exhibition. The AGWA drone flew over Mount Eliza, Fraser Point and upstream Swan River to see how the setting of three historic artworks has changed. DROPBOX LINK.

A series of key events are being held to support the exhibition.

Guru Guided Tours
2-3pm, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
(excluding 25, 26, 27 Dec and 1, 2 & 26 Jan)

Tour free, exhibition admission fees apply
Get to know the “Unknown Land” with an hour long tour by a Guru Guide.

6.30pm, Saturday 17 September & Saturday 1 October
Experience art after hours with a private tour of "Unknown Land", followed by a three course meal at Arthouse Dine – the Gallery’s new dining experience. This exclusive experience is only available on two Saturday nights – Saturday 17 September (opening weekend) and 1 October. Places are strictly limited to just 30 people, so book early. Get together a group of friends or treat someone to a special night out. $69 per person includes entry to “Unknown Land”, three course set menu inspired by the WA themes of “Unknown Land” and one complimentary drink.

Curator Tour
11am, Sunday 18 September
Tour free, exhibition admission fees apply
Hear from AGWA Curator Melissa Harpley, as she discusses how the first European explorers and settlers viewed Western Australia and its spectacular coast as an “unknown land”.

School Holiday Fun | FREE
10am-3pm, Monday 3, Wednesday 5 October to Friday 7 October
Education Studio, AGWA | Suitable for ages 6 and over
To celebrate "Unknown Land", join AWESOME Arts and AGWA to celebrate our city, and show your vision of our state. How do we see ourselves now, nearly 200 years from European settlement? After looking at some of the historical images of Western Australian places and scenes in the exhibition "Unknown Land", try your hand at making an artwork showing how you see Western Australia today. Work with us to create a work on paper revealing your vision of our state!

"Unknown Land" Teacher Preview | FREE
4-5.30pm, Thursday 22 September
Bookings essential
Join the Curator of "Unknown Land", Melissa Harpley as she takes you on an hour long tour through this extensive exhibition. After the tour, AGWA Educator Lisa Young, will discuss online resources and opportunities for schools wishing to bring their groups in to the Gallery to visit the exhibition in term 4.

Quote attributable to Melissa Harpley, AGWA Curator of Historical + Modern Art
"Over 150 works have been drawn from the State Art Collection, supplemented by key national and local loans, which depict coastal views, landscapes, and sketches of the flora and fauna as encountered by European explorers. The exhibition primarily includes works on paper alongside a focused selection of paintings."

"A highlight of the exhibition is the display of so many of AGWA’s colonial works on paper together for the first time since 1979. These works deliver extraordinarily detailed images of the Western Australian landscape and offer insights into the mindset of the Europeans who were encountering the land for the first time."

Quote attributable to Stefano Carboni, AGWA Director
"Loosely grouped into key Western Australian locations – Albany, Fremantle, Perth and the Swan River – people will be able to see iconic scenes such as the view from Mount Eliza, Kings Park, views of Elizabeth Quay and Heirisson Island from an era long past, and reflect on how the places have changed since then."

To broaden the views on these topical issues, AGWA also presents two fascinating exhibitions to counterpoint and complement “Unknown Land”.

Dissenting Voices is a strongly political show which demonstrates how artists, including significant Indigenous practitioners, use the visual as means of protest, debate and robust dissent. It includes works by prominent Australian practitioners such as Tom Nicholson, Marco Fusinato, Raquel Ormella and Mike Parr; Indigenous artists Gordon Bennett, Julie Dowling, Gordon Hookey, Tracey Moffatt and Lin Onus; and international stars from all periods from Francisco Goya to Leon Golub.

By contrast, the Gifts to the Fallen exhibition is a reflective and emotionally charged expression of the Aboriginal voice. This exhibition of Aboriginal work focusing on responses to death, and the ceremonies around it, is breathtaking. It presents a combination of traditional and contemporary objects that reference Aboriginal mortuary beliefs and practices. It’s a poignant, beautiful and resonant rejoinder, perhaps, to those who thought they were walking an “unknown land”.

Exhibition Partner

Further information

For more information, interviews and imagery please contact Tanya Sticca on 9492 6692 or email

Annual Sponsors

Principal Partner

Wesfarmers logo

303 MullenLowe, Singapore Airlines, Audi, Smartbots, Alex Hotel, Juniper Estate, Gage Roads Brewing Co.

Digital manipulation of Horace Samson Perth 1847, 1847 (detail). Watercolour and ink, 27.6 x 40.4 cm (sheet/image). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Gift of Mr D. Rannard, 1923. Robert Dale Panoramic view of King George’s Sound, part of the Colony of Swan River 1834 (published). Hand-coloured etching and aquatint, 18 x 274.5 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Transferred from the Battye Library, 1955.

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