Aboriginal names for AGNSW buildings 

Aboriginal names for AGNSW buildings 
Image: Exterior view of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Naala Badu (L) and Naala Nura (R), photo © Iwan Baan


After extensive consultation with key Aboriginal stakeholders and community members, the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) has received Aboriginal names for its two buildings.

Its new building, the centrepiece of the Sydney Modern Project, that overlooks Sydney Harbour, has been named Naala Badu, meaning ‘seeing waters’. 

Subsequently, the original Art Gallery building, the Ionic sandstone temple that sits at the edge of the Domain, has been named Naala Nura meaning ‘seeing country.’ 

According to the Art Gallery director Michael Brand, the Aboriginal names of the building aim to “forge an even brighter future” for the museum by recognising the compounding histories of the site and paying respect to Indigenous knowledge and language. 

Art Gallery of NSW, original building. Image: Wikipedia

“They evoke a powerful sense of place – this place of extraordinary physical beauty with its complex, contested histories. We intend to carry these names with the deepest respect.”

Naala Badu refers to both the waters of the harbour and the surrounding waterways that have sustained the land and communities for millennia. 

Naala Nura seeks to acknowledge the Indigenous Country the gallery is built upon, and recognise that the sandstone of which it is made was taken from local Country. 

Indigenous Advisory Group chair Rachel Piercy said of the decision: “Aboriginal language has a deep and spiritual connection to Country. We hope this can be felt by everyone when the building names Naala Badu and Naala Nura are used by the community and visitors to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.” 

Naala Badu is now home to the Yiribana Gallery, which was first established in 1995. The gallery displays a collection of works by local and national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and is curated by a team of 13 First Nations educators and curators, led by Cara Pinchbeck. 

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney Modern. Image: Art Gallery of NSW/ Iwan Baan

The philosophy of the Yiribana Gallery comes from the meaning of its name: ‘this way’. It acts as a command of direction, a beckoning, one that points the artworld and institutions to look towards and include “Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, culture, and, above all, its people.” 

Tony Albert, Art Gallery trustee and inaugural chair of the Art Gallery’s Indigenous Advisory Group, applauded the new building names when reflecting upon Yiribana: 

“As an Indigenous Australian for whom English is my second language, having not had the opportunity to learn my first language, I applaud the gift of living, breathing language for the Art Gallery’s two buildings.” 

The Sydney Modern Project opened on December 3, 2022 and included a new building – Naala Badu.

Additionally, Naala Naru was restored to provide additional space for art and scholarship, with an art garden outside to connect the two buildings. 

The project as whole cost $344 million and was funded by both the NSW Government and philanthropic donations. It was the largest governmental and philanthropic arts partnership in Australia. 


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