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Trepang art exhibition celebrates Australia-China relationship


A collaboration of contemporary and traditional Chinese and Aboriginal art will be unveiled in Beijing today with the launch of Trepang: China & the story of Macassan - Aboriginal trade.

The exhibition, a centrepiece of the Imagine Australia: Year of Australian Culture in China programme, will be on display for the next two months at the Capital Museum in Beijing.

Imagine Australia aims to strengthen cultural ties and cooperation and open up new links between Australia and China by showcasing the depth of Australia’s cultural talents. It will be followed by a reciprocal year of Chinese culture in Australia from mid-2011. As part of this exchange, the Trepang exhibition will be on display in Australia from July.

Founded on a 20-year friendship between classically trained Chinese artist Zhou Xiaoping and highly respected Indigenous Australian artist John Bulunbulun, the 89-piece Trepang exhibition features contemporary works including cross-cultural collaborations of traditional Chinese and Australian designs. Many of the joint works were produced while Mr Zhou was living in Indigenous communities in northern Australia.

By combining historical artefacts, paintings, maps and photographs with new works the exhibition tells the tale of the Aboriginal and Asian contact that centred on the trepang trade from the early 18th Century to the early 20th Century. Trepang, a dried or smoked sea cucumber, is a prized Chinese delicacy used in traditional cooking and Chinese herbalists believe it to be an aphrodisiac and contain medicinal qualities.

Australian Ambassador to China Geoff Raby said "The Trepang exhibition makes a very significant contribution to the Australian Embassy’s Imagine Australia: Year of Australian Culture in China programme.

"The exhibition carries many positive messages about the long history of cultural exchange and trade between Australia and China.

“I congratulate the curator, the artists and all the partners for their tireless work in helping to bring this excellent exhibition to Beijing, and I thank the Capital Museum for so generously hosting the exhibition and Rio Tinto for supporting it. I encourage our Chinese friends to visit the exhibition to learn more about Australian culture, art and history.”

Rio Tinto China managing director Ian Bauert said "Rio Tinto is proud to support this exhibition which celebrates the rich history of trade relations between China and Australia.

"Rio Tinto’s relationship with China extends for more than half a century and China represents a significant part Rio Tinto’s business, not only as our largest customer but also as a partner in various projects.

“As a global operator Rio Tinto respects the significance of cultural heritage in the areas where we operate and is committed to working with the local communities to preserve local history and traditions.”

Rio Tinto, the principal partner of the exhibition, acknowledges the vast personal contribution of Professor Marcia Langton in bringing this story to life, and the support of its exhibition partners, including the University of Melbourne and the Capital Museum. The exhibition is open to the public at the Capital Museum in Beijing from 2 April until 29 May, and will be on display at the Melbourne Museum in Melbourne, Australia from 23 July until 17 October.

Exhibition background

During the early 18th Century the Macassans of the Kingdom of Gowa travelled along the northern coast of Australia where they harvested and cured trepang. Extending for several months at a time, these visits helped foster enduring relationships with the local Indigenous people. The Yolngu of Arnhem Land welcomed the Macassans and commemorate their visits to this day. The Macassans then transported their harvest to China where trepang was a prized delicacy.

Historians estimate the trepang trade started between 1720 and 1750. The trade ended in 1907 when the Australian Government ceased issuing licenses to the trepangers, forcing them to abandon their annual visits to Australia.

More information and historical background on the exhibition can be found at:

About Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.

Rio Tinto’s business is finding, mining, and processing mineral resources. Major products are aluminium, copper, diamonds, energy (coal and uranium), gold, industrial minerals (borax, titanium dioxide, salt, talc) and iron ore. Activities span the world but are strongly represented in Australia and North America with significant businesses in South America, Asia, Europe and southern Africa.


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