Two Islands - Franklin Square

Two Islands

Two Islands, 2018, in Franklin Square, by Nigel Helyer. Photo credit: Andrew Wilson Photography

Two Islands was developed with the aim of representing the tangible and intangible layers of history and meaning in Franklin Square, a high-profile public park in the city centre.

The project emerged as a recommendation as part of the Franklin Square Master plan, which was a guide for the recent refurbishment of the park.

Artwork title: Two Islands

Artist: Nigel Helyer

Year: 2018

Media: Timber, steel, lighting and sound technology

Images: Andrew Wilson Photography

Filmmaker: David Pyefinch (Madfinch)

Artist statement

The Two Islands sculpture presents a metaphor that draws together histories of Tasmanian Aboriginal and European settler cultures in the form of two symbolic vessels.

The skeleton of Sir John Franklin's ship the HMS Erebus lies wrecked alongside a contemporary representation of a traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal canoe, creating a tension that resonates with the complex histories of Tasmania.

Two Islands incorporates a soundscape comprised of many voices and perspectives offering us potential to reflect upon the past to continue a dialogue of reconciliation into the future.


The artist wishes to acknowledge the invaluable cultural guidance of Greg Lehman and Tony Brown and thanks all of those who contributed their time and voice to the project. Many thanks also to the technical expertise of Trent Baker of Armature Design, The Wooden Boat Centre, Dynamic Welding and Barking Owl Audio.

At the time of installation, the soundscape included perspectives and reflections from:

Brendan Brown (Buck), Teangi Brown, Tony Brown, Richard Flanagan, David Gough, Julie Gough, Rodney Gibbins, Hank Horton, Ruth Langford, Greg Lehman, Brendan Lennard, Jillian Mundy, Theresa Sainty and members of muka nawnta (Jodi Haines, Kartanya Maynard, Merinda Sainty, Jude Reid, Theresa Sainty).

Project background

The project was initiated in response to The Franklin Square Master Plan (2014), which included a recommendation that there be “…diverse interpretation of the park's cultural heritage – particularly Aboriginal heritage” utilising approaches that could target a broad range of visitors. One recommended approach was the installation of public art (both permanent and temporary).

The public art commission was advertised nationally, with the artwork brief calling for a work that would “bring life to the rich and multilayered history of the park.” Nigel Helyer was selected by the City's Public Art Advisory Panel, from a shortlist of three artists, each of whom was paid to develop a concept proposal. Offering feedback on the selected concept, Greg Lehman - a descendant of the Trawulwuy people of North East Tasmania – noted the following:

“The use of water craft to symbolise Indigenous and Settler colonial cultures has deep resonance with the histories of both cultures.”

The selected artwork, “…refers to the wreck and loss of the Erebus, a tragic and unresolved history that might also serve as a metaphor for the decline of British imperial power, and perhaps even the uncertain future of Western technological culture (bearing in mind the growing threat from human-induced climate change and broader questions about sustainability of consumerist, commodity based economies).”

The hull of the Erebus during fabrication at the Wooden Boat Centre, Franklin.

The hull of the Erebus during fabrication at the Wooden Boat Centre, Franklin. Photo credit: Andrew Wilson Photography

“The canoe, by contrast, is whole and complete – communicating a quiet and confident beauty. It still rests within the presence of the wreckage, but has the potential to journey forth through the same access point that visitors use to enter the structure. I see this as a generous acknowledgement of not only the unbroken continuation Tasmanian Aboriginal culture – in spite of colonial domination of the past – but also the vitality that has been demonstrated by the reemergence of canoe building in recent years.”

A period of consultation, conducted by Greg Lehman working with the Public Art team, followed the selection of Helyer's concept, including local Tasmanian Aboriginal groups and other relevant bodies or individuals.

Local Tasmanian Aboriginal man, Tony Brown, worked with Nigel Helyer to develop the design of the canoe for the artwork and to draw together a group of contributors for the soundscape within the work.

Council approved the work to go ahead in 2016 and the work received Development Approval (including Tasmanian Heritage Council approval), in mid-2017.

Nigel Helyer

Nigel Helyer is a Sculptor and Sound Artist with an international reputation for his large-scale sonic installations, environmental sculpture works and new media projects. His practice is actively inter-disciplinary linking creative practice with scientific research and development. Recent activities include The Oratorio for a Million Souls. This work was a major feature of the European Capital of Culture, Leeuwarden (Fryslan) 2018 Silence of the Bees program. The project consists of bee listening architectures constructed in three European botanical gardens, located in Buitenpost (Fryslan) and Emden and Oldenburg (Germany).

Nigel has qualifications from the West Sussex College of Design, the Liverpool College of Art, the Royal College of Art and the University of Technology in Sydney. He is a Senior Research Fellow in Arts and Media at Macquarie University and maintains active research links with many international art and science organisations. He has been a visiting Professor at Stanford University and an Artist in Residence at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland.

Artwork design, fabrication and installation

The artwork comprises three components: A scaled hull of Sir John Franklin's boat, the HMS Erebus; A full scale Tasmanian Aboriginal Canoe and a motion triggered soundscape.

The scaled hull of the HMS Erebus has a 10 mm thickness mild steel skeleton as the armature for the boat. This is fixed to the ground via a galvanised, mild steel footing frame, which is concealed under the earth. A series of screw piles secure the footing frame into the earth. This steel skeleton is clad with timber, such that the boat ribs are like a series of structural “flitch” members (steel fin, with a timber cladding either side). The timber has an oil finish that will weather to a natural grey finish over time.

The canoe is made predominantly from solid stainless steel rod, which has been rolled to shape and welded to a series of laser cut profiles that approximate the profile of a Tasmanian Aboriginal Canoe. This element also forms a seat for the artwork, for visitors enjoying the soundscape, or simply sitting in the park.

The canoe during fabrication at Dynamic Welding, Moonah.

The canoe during fabrication at Dynamic Welding, Moonah. Photo credit: Andrew Wilson Photography

The speakers and sensors for the soundscape are securely housed within the canoe. A series of sound files are accessed at random, when triggered by the motion of someone approaching. Sound files might be of song, environmental sound, or sections of interviews with soundscape participants.

Lighting is also housed within the canoe and in the ground under the ribs of the HMS Erebus.

The artwork has been fabricated by businesses located near to Hobart. The stainless steel canoe, the armature for the HMS Erebus and the footing frame, were all fabricated by local Moonah business, Dynamic Welding, while the timber components of the HMS Erebus were constructed by the Wooden Boat Centre, which is located 40 minutes drive south of Hobart. The equipment for the soundscape has been programmed by local audio display specialists, Barking Owl.

Construction of the timber components of the HMS Erebus by the Wooden Boat Centre.

Construction of the timber components of the HMS Erebus by the Wooden Boat Centre. Photo credit: Andrew Wilson Photography

The installation of the work was carried out by the City's Parks and City Amenities team, working with Complete Workforce Solutions.

Soundscape contributors

At the time of installation, the Two Islands soundscape includes reflections, perspectives and music from:

  • Brendan Brown (Buck)
  • Teangi Brown
  • Tony Brown
  • Richard Flanagan
  • Rodney Gibbins
  • David Gough
  • Hank Horton
  • Ruth Langford
  • Dr. Greg Lehman
  • Brendan Lennard
  • Jillian Mundy
  • Theresa Sainty
  • and music group muka nawnta (Jodi Haines, Theresa Sainty, Kartanya Maynard, Merinda Sainty, Jude Reid).


Two Islands - Fabrication

Two Islands - Soundscape

Two Islands - Installation

Filmmaker: David Pyefinch (Madfinch)


Photo credit: Andrew Wilson Photography