The Sydney Thunderbird

Sydney’s Thunderbird totem

For over 50 years a five metre totem pole has stood in Sydney’s Victoria Park opposite the University of Sydney. The cedar pole was a gift from the people of Canada, carved by Salish First Nations people who live on Cowichan Bay in British Columbia.

This is a thunderbird totem depicting whale, bear and the Chieftan’s mask. A totem pole is essentially a vertical narrative, describing life stories, ceremonial events, family legends, spiritual symbols and the super-natural. The totem pole preserves culture as an enduring symbol of the past. This unique form of story- telling almost didn't survive the colonisation of Canada, as the process of assimilation discouraged the carving practices. There is an interesting parallel between totem poles and the posts that stand outside Marae (learning houses – social spaces) of the Maori in New Zealand. The totem pole delivers a message about culture, family values and history. This particular pole is a memorial symbol celebrating timber week in 1964.