‘Transubstantiation’, Danie Mellor, photographic print on aluminium panel, 2019, image Danie Mellor. Sydney Living Museums. © Danie Mellor

Transubstantiation by Danie Mellor

Artist statement

Transubstantiation explores the means by which the intended and purposeful use of land was changed during Australia’s early colonial history. Land grants accorded through the initiative of ‘marriage portions’ made to unmarried women were an instrument designed to encourage respectability in the colony, and seemed to provide the means by which recipients could enjoy agency and a degree of empowerment. While the scheme had its own internal complexities when it came to class, discrimination and selection, it was essentially a pathway to expanded rights over land. 

A side effect of an apparently well-intended initiative was the displacement of Aboriginal people. All land claims by colonisers eventually had the effect of divesting Australia’s First People of their sovereignty, and their cultural rights to access and use of Country. While colonisation had a whole of community impact, this work highlights the outcomes of intended and unintended consequence around the lives and stories of women, who were often overlooked in the telling of contemporary history at the time, regardless of culture. 

The change in how land could be used was instituted through an administrative act, and through a union considered holy and (very possibly, wholly) pragmatic. It marked the beginnings of trauma in the spirit of Indigenous people who became subject to a series of ideas around possession and occupation, and the implementation of those policies. While transubstantiation has Eucharistic interpretations in religious teachings, it is used here as a means to signify transformation, in which the ‘essence’ and spirit, the very properties of the land was changed; it shows an alchemy of change in matter and the soul of our shared landspace. It also hints at the undertones of the sacred in a union through marriage, and the severance of long-standing and equally sacred connections to land maintained in Aboriginal culture. 

Danie Mellor, in Penny Stannard, Marriage: Love and Law, NSW State Archives, Kingswood, 2019, pp40-41.
Digital image for Transubstantiation realised as photographic print on aluminium panel.,

Danie Mellor, 2019 photographic print on aluminium panel. Commissioned by NSW State Archives for the Marriage: love and law exhibition, 2019. Museum of Sydney collection