arts and design

Julia Gillard: ‘There have been many takes on the misogyny speech. This is a truly special one’

On a wall at the National Gallery of Victoria hangs a spirited, aquamarine stringybark painting titled Order, a radical piece of Indigenous art that shows former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard delivering her infamous misogyny speech to parliament.

Those milling about the gallery on Friday morning were in for a surprise: seeing Gillard standing underneath her portrait, visiting a painting she’d heard so much about, for the first time. “I am so big,” she says, clearly delighted.

Order was painted by Dhambit Munuŋgurr: a prolific Yolŋu artist who works in the north-east Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala. In the painting, Australia’s politicians are hangdog figures in the shadow of Gillard, who is gigantic and fierce, and surrounded by Yolŋu dancers leaping in as her bodyguards.

Munuŋgurr is a longtime fan of Gillard’s because, as she told the Guardian in a profile last month, “she is a woman, like me”. In 2013, the artist prepared a painting in Gillard’s honour ahead of a scheduled visit to Yirrkala, hoping to present it to her – but just two weeks before the trip, Gillard was toppled in the Labor leadership spill, and Kevin Rudd went to Yirrkala instead. (He left without a painting.)

Gillard first became aware of Order after reading a Guardian Australia profile of Munuŋgurr last month. “A friend sent me the link saying, ‘Have you seen this?’ They were just the first of many people to send it to me,” she says. “I didn’t know about it, or the story of her waiting for me. It is just fantastic … I had to come and see it.

“What she’s captured – me giant-sized, these limp people, the Yolŋu coming to protect me – it is beautifully conceived and executed. The sheer presence of it – a photograph doesn’t capture the size and power of it, you need to see it in real life.”

Dhambit Mununggurr painting at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, a Yolŋu-owned art centre in Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land.
Dhambit Mununggurr painting at the Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, a Yolŋu-owned art centre in Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land. Photograph: NGV

Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, or the speech that stopped the nation, was a full 10 years ago this year – or only 10 years ago, depending on the Australian. In that time, the former prime minister’s blistering assault on then opposition leader Tony Abbott has become a TikTok meme, a choir song and the most unforgettable moment in Australian television history.

“There have been many, many takes on the misogyny speech but this is a truly special one,” Gillard says.

‘I love you!’: Gillard meets with Munuŋgurr over FaceTime.
‘I love you!’: Gillard meets with Munuŋgurr over FaceTime. Photograph: Tim Carrafa

After the viewing, the NGV calls Munuŋgurr on FaceTime, so the artist can finally meet her hero and Gillard can thank her herself. While the conversation is curtailed by internet connection and language differences, the affection is not:

Gillard: “It’s so lovely to see you and have the opportunity to thank you for this incredible work.”

Munuŋgurr: “Ah, Order!”

Gillard: “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to come see you in person, that would be a dream come true – one day.”

Munuŋgurr: “I love you!”

Gillard feels “astonished” by the ways Australians continue to respond to the speech. “When it all started, there were choirs singing it, people dancing to it, it was going around the world on social media,” she says. “But that it is still being shared in new and ever more creative forms all these years later – it is somewhere between heart-warming and crazy. I would have never expected it.”

As to why it still resonates, she believes it has less to do with her and something bigger. Over those 10 short – or long – years, some Australians have come to feel increasingly uncomfortable about the treatment of their first female PM; or the younger Australians coming of age, who expect something more for women who enter the public sphere.

“I think it’s about people, particularly women, increasingly identifying with the need to call out sexism and misogyny. It can be women who are preparing themselves to do that, because they need a bit of energy, a fight song, an anthem, before they do it – I think it can play that role for them. I think it also plays a role for women who wish they had said something but missed the moment for whatever reason – it can help overcome the frustrations of that. It has to do with the way women, and people who want to see change, are mobilising – and there is a lot of mobilisation right now.”

As to whether she will meet with Munuŋgurr in Yirrkala to finally collect that painting made for her so many years ago? “I will if I can. We need to protect Indigenous communities, I have a real reticence to go trumping through until it is absolutely safe. But one day, I would love to.”

  • Order by Dhambit Munuŋgurr is hanging as part of the Bark Ladies exhibition of women artists from Yirrkala, on show at the NGV in Melbourne until 25 April


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