Fiona Hall is one of Australia’s most well-known and innovative contemporary artists. She grew up in Sydney in a family with a keen sense of enquiry; most significantly her mother was a prestigious scientist and her brother pursued a career in mathematics. Hall’s endeavours as an artist are parallel to that of a scientist; searching for understanding about humanity and the environment.

Hall works across a range of media including painting, photography, sculpture and installation. At times she uses unusual materials such as soap, sardine tins, aluminium cans, video tape, currency and beads. Hall uses these everyday objects to address contemporary issues associated with history, politics, conflict and the environment.

Occupied territory was Hall’s first work about the British colonisation of Australia. The work consists of four native and four introduced plant specimens. The four introduced species are made from red and white beads; fig, pear, acorn and peach, while the four native species angophora, banksia, Norfolk pine and Sydney Wattle are constructed from black beads and nails. The choice of beads and nails refers to the ‘gifts’ offered to Aboriginal people by colonisers including Captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks.

Australian Curriculum Connection - Year 4 History

The nature of contact between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and others, for example, the Macassans and the Europeans, and the effects of these interactions on, for example, people and environments (ACHASSK086)

Stories of the First Fleet, including reasons for the journey, who travelled to Australia, and their experiences following arrival (ACHASSK085)

  • Imagine you and your family arrive unexpectedly in a new country to live. What things would you need to learn?
  • The endemic and introduced plants represented in Occupied territory were grown on the grounds of Governor Phillip’s house in Sydney. Governor Phillip (1788–1792) proposed that Aboriginal people be treated kindly and aimed to establish a harmonious relationship with them. Unfortunately, not all British settlers thought this way. Investigate interactions between Aboriginal people and European settlers at the time of first contact. How did these interactions change over time? What are some of the effects this has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today? If you could go back in time and change one specific moment in Australian history, what would it be and why?
  • Fiona Hall’s work sometimes explores problems associated with colonisation and how many of these problems remain with us today. Locate other works of art in the Gallery’s collection that explore similar themes. Compare signs and symbols employed in these works of art to those used in Occupied territory.

Science as a human endeavour

Science knowledge helps people to understand the effect of their actions (ACSHE062)

  • Imagine you are labelling the four native plants in Occupied territory. In what region of Australia are these plants usually found? Research plants native to the Adelaide Plains region and their Aboriginal names. Create a display in your classroom.
  • Hall is deeply concerned about the impact humans have had on the environment. Many of Australia’s plant and animal species are now extinct or nearing extinction as a result of colonisation. Investigate an Australian species of flora or fauna that is on the brink of extinction. Discuss ways we could prevent more species from becoming extinct. Write a letter to the Minister for the Environment and Energy outlining your concerns and including a list of recommendations.
  • Consider the role of introduced species, hunting and land clearance.
  • How would modern day Australian food chains compare with those existing before colonisation?
  • Taxonomy is the science of classification. All the plant seeds listed in Occupied territory belong to the plant kingdom but they are grouped into more specific categories at lower classification levels. What features make them all members of the plant kingdom? Find out which family each of the seeds belong to. Why have they been classified in this way?
  • Observation is an important skill in art and in science. Locate other works of art in the Gallery’s collection that depict plants or flowers. Look closely while completing a series of drawings based on your observation. Back in the classroom classify the plants and flowers and research the scientific names for your specimens.

Some of Hall’s earlier works, including Occupied territory, both celebrate wonders of the natural world and explore how distressing it is to see it disappearing before our eyes as a result of human impact. Create a work of art that responds to a current environmental issue using materials and methods that incorporate a sense of beauty.

Download the full Fiona Hall Education resource as a PDF here