Saturday 11 May 2024


Nearly one-and-a-half years have passed since the grand opening on 3 December 2022 of what was called ‘Sydney Modern’ – the $344 million extension to the Art Gallery of New South Wales designed by SANAA. Unusually, the gallery extension was not named when opened. One presumed that most of the catchy acronyms like MoMA and GOMA have been used up by other galleries across the world, leaving the Art Gallery of New South Wales management with a problem, and its own awkward AGNSW shambles that makes no phonetic sense. In the absence of any decision on the name, the gallery became known colloquially as ‘Sydney Modern.’ A review of the gallery was written at the time: see –

Shortly after this, ChatGPT became available as an AI tool for all to use. The idea came: why not ‘ask’* ChatGPT to write a review of Sydney Modern, just as a trial. One could compare the AI result with one’s own writing. So the words: ‘Write a review of Sydney Modern,’ were typed into the AI site, and the button was pressed. The result came in about twenty seconds – or it might have been less: the images here show the text on the mobile phone.

See text below.

This exercise showed up one thing: that this new gallery had become known, in a very short time, as ‘Sydney Modern’ by all. The AI site never paused with any ‘uncertainty’ or muddled codes about this matter; it simply put together words that said something about the new project. Looking at the text, one sees words that read as somewhat ‘mealy-mouthed.’ The dictionary helps us explain: avoiding the use of direct, critical, and plain language, as from timidity, excessive delicacy, or hypocrisy; inclined to mince words; insincere, devious, or compromising.

The words appear hesitant, making what looks like a concentrated effort to be right, polite, using catch phrases as blurb pieced together, as if taken from a tourist brochure, or collected as generic statements, general, almost apologetic words that have no idea about the particular subject being referenced, or any of the specifics involved. One could say that the AI review lacks rigour and substance; that it has none of the authority of experience. It looks to be structured on a phantom schedule, annotating some cliché dot points, offering a sundry gathering of these bits and pieces as ‘a review.’ The whole is puny: poor in quality, amount, and size. AI seems to be more of a threat from poor outcomes concealed in exuberant hype, and our hopeful belief in it, than anything else.

Now, at last, it has been announced that a name has finally been decided, for both the new and the old galleries:

Art Gallery of NSW’s $344m building extension finally named more than a year after it opened

Newer building named Naala Badu, meaning ‘seeing waters’ in the Dharug language, while older building named Naala Nura, or ‘seeing country.’,out%20on%20to%20Sydney%20Harbour. Can one really see significant water from these galleries; does one see country?

One has to wonder: why has the awkward AGNSW been dropped in favour of these two puzzling First Nation names? Why was ‘Sydney Modern’ not good enough? It seemed to catch on very quickly. Why do aboriginal names get selected when their soundings are not easy to correlate with grand institutional references?# Will Naala Nura ever match the authority of MoMA, or Tate Modern? Can Naala Badu do anything better? The intentions appear good; but is this all just a cultural cringe, a hypocrisy that pretends to care about true recognition and assimilation, but only in words? One hears a “Na-na, na, na-na” rhythm that has a mocking chant to it rather than any naming of a venerable art gallery. Is this naming the outcome of a group of indulgent enthusiasts sitting around a table, encouraging each other’s ‘genius’ suggestions without any critical overview? Did no one ever ask what the man in the street might make of this naming in classic, clever, Aussie-larrikin slang? Was there not even a joke mentioning ‘going to Timbuktu’?^

Seeing Waters?

Seeing Country?

The repeated phrases about acknowledging country etc., etc., are proudly spruiked at nearly every opening or introduction; and aboriginal place names are now used in the news, and on weather maps too, but really nothing changes. Indeed, it is worse: when the population is asked to agree to give a ‘Voice’ to the aboriginal population, just the right to be listened to, nothing else, astonishingly the vote goes against this idea, all while these pitiful, self-conscious acknowledgements and namings - e.g. “This is Cammeraigal country” - continue, appearing to be both insincere and devious; lacking true rigour and commitment; just shrouding an intent to do nothing about ‘country’ or its people who, perhaps hopefully, might be placated by such hollow gestures. The use of the aboriginal names for the galleries has a cringing feeling about it: one could say that there is nothing ‘native’ or necessary about this labelling. “I’m going to go to Naala Badu,” sounds like a phrase that comes with the cynical, sarcastic, Aussie retort: “Ya might as well go ta . . . .” - think, at best, Timbuktu; and 'snarly' comes to mind as well. The sounds lack authority and substance to the western ear; they almost complain. The meanings might be poetic: ‘seeing waters’ and ‘seeing country,’ but does it make sense to name a place in this way, either in English or in the Dharug language? It all appears very shallow; perhaps it is just an effort to be seen to be ‘politically proper’? Might this increase funding for these galleries?

Sydney Modern - Naadla Badu

The closest parallel one can think of is the arts theatre building in Lerwick, Shetland. It is named ‘The Mareel’ – mareel being the name in Shetland dialect for the phosphorescence seen on the sea, especially so during autumn nights - the sheen of light on water: one might say ‘seeing waters.’ With the Nordic/Icelandic roots, the sound ‘mareel’ settles easily on the ear, and the name carries some substance in its new punchy title, as it maintains its poetic reference which lingers nicely with the location: the building sits right on the waterfront on Lerwick harbour, opposite Bressay Island.

The Mareel, Lerwick:

One can only remain uneasy with the twin, double-syllable, First Nation names that collect four soundings into each title; is this the problem: too sing-song? Shetland’s working sheep dogs were named with single-syllable words so that commands would be crisp and certain: e.g., Fleece; Sam; Max; Jack. Perhaps a name needs a clear, brisk snap with a sharp certainty to sound right, to be memorable, to hold meaning in its reference in order to establish a belief in itself and what it stands for?

What is interesting is that this SANAA building itself appears uncertain; it is still being illustrated from drone shots. It appears as though this is the only identity it has. It was argued before - in – that the building would never hold the identity, the authority, of the Sydney Opera House, even though the media hype claimed otherwise. One supposes that one has to get something outstanding from an iconic expenditure. Here, yet again in this current media release, we see the building photographed from on high, highlighting the obvious weakness as it begs the question: what does it look like from ground level?

Naala Badu from above:
the words sound like a foreign country, perhaps as strange as the vision itself?

The images of the new SANAA gallery seem to struggle for cohesion and identity when not taken from a drone. From the air, one sees layers underlining the context of Sydney’s dramatic skyline and harbour; an interleaving that becomes a criss-crossing of planes from higher above; but at eye level, one sees a certain blandness – planes and posts framing nothing but uncertain white voids, lacking the confidence and strength one sees in a Meis building. Naala Badu – is it ‘The Naala Badu,’ and does one add ‘Art Gallery’ after this or not? - seems to have no public image that can be grasped from eye level; and there is now nothing in the sing-song name either. As noted previously, usually a graphic is developed to promote such a place. What will be the graphic image for Naala Nura and Naala Badu? It can hardly be the colonial frontage of the AGNSW! Perhaps the current graphic might turn the angles into boomerangs? - it would nearly be as crass as the naming.

The interior seems as uncertain as the exterior in deciding what it wants to be.

Might boomerangs be a better match with the new names?

Why not use boomerangs in the graphic above?

Even the section appears ephemeral.

Will this new interest in things aboriginal in Australia now give its First Nation members a ‘Voice,’ or is all of this ‘feel-good’ aboriginal naming just an artful scheming to pretend we love ‘country’ and its people; that we really, truly care? - !! ‘Humbug!’ sounds loud in the silence which we are forcing on our First Nations people – “You have no say in this country.” What might AI say? We’ll have to put the instruction: Write a review of Naala Badu, and find out.# One fears that it will be as poor as the first review on Sydney Modern.

Perhaps this mishmash in naming can be seen to be stimulated by that of the identity of the new building itself that seeks to claim far more than it appears to offer.


AI language always refers to the digital, programmed system as though it might be human: see note below on the instruction to write a review, where the response refers to an ‘I’ that is mere code, nothing human at all.


This was done on the original AI site, ChatGPT, but a direction was given to download the very latest AskAI site. The site was downloaded and the words were typed in; ten seconds later some words appeared. The response is very telling and says much about the problem with the new name:

I’m sorry, but I don’t have any information about “Naala Badu.” It seems like you might be referring to something specific. Could you please provide more details or context so that I can better assist you?

What can one say but express alarm and concern: the site responds as if it might be a real, living, thinking individual: I’m sorry, but I don’t . . ; and, surprisingly, the new name of ‘Sydney Modern’ which was the original name that was immediately recognised, means nothing. The suggestion is that it might be referring to something specific but it has no information at all, and seeks guidance to give it a clue. Who would have guessed that it might be an art gallery; not just any old place, but the prestigious Art Gallery of New South Wales? There was no such uncertainty with Sydney Modern.

The change to this First Nations name seems to have immediate problems with recognition, let alone being seen as an apologetic cringe that has no intention of changing anything to do with First Nations people, and their country. It all looks very much like an imposing, new Colonialism operating with the idea that apparent inclusion will allow power to be maintained, which is not good. One can see it as a scheming to hold the “No Voice” stance, where the cunning argument is that we are including you; that we respect you.

There is yet another problem with the new names: Googling Naala, the common portion of the new identities, one discovers that this is the name of a singer - see: - and that it is an acronym for the NORTH AMERICAN AUSTRALIAN LAWYERS ALLIANCE. It also means: Not An Average Legal Adviser, and has its own graphic, and references a healing centre too. This is not a good start; did anybody check? One might say: "Join the queue."

Naala, singer.


Gordon Spicer has already made his comment online:

I haven't heard of that name change.

Does that mean it will only show Aboriginal art, or is it political revenge for the NO VOTE last year?

It's pathetic how we are caving in to minority woke activists.

Spineless NSW Government?


This is not the first time a familiar place has had its name changed to the indigenous title. Bombay has become Mumbai; Ceylon, Sri Lanka; Ayers Rock, Uluru; and, more recently, Fraser Island has been named K’gari. All of the first three noted here have been successful, with the names easily slipping into colloquial chat. The last name has yet to be tested, but there seems no problem with this almost cryptic, friendly title. The lingering issues with the new gallery names remain the strong aboriginal referencing for an international display, and the twin syllables of the two words that begin telling a story in song and can almost be seen to reference themselves as an echo rather than sounding as a place: Naala Badu and Naala Nura will have to prove themselves on the street. It seems as though there might be some difficulty as the sounds appear to be saying something unknown in a foreign tongue, something secret – which they are; but discovering that this is ‘seeing waters’ and ‘seeing country’ may leave one puzzled with such poetics when the idea was to be there to ‘see art.’ The further complication is the twinness that can, with its structure and sounding, easily be wrongly assumed to be a Christian name and a surname, when it is not. The whole appears very confusing. Might the galleries eventually come to be known as The Badu and The Nura? It might be better than establishing a confusing, mystic puzzle in rhythmic sound, and could hold some mythic sense in place and style with the old gallery being the solid ‘country,’ with the new more ephemeral extension being the surrounding ‘waters’ - wishy-washy comes to mind. Perhaps the whole complex might eventually become the Nura Badu Art Gallery of New South Wales, and come to be known as the more friendly, more encompassing acronym: ‘the NuBa.’ The only problem here is that this is the name of the indigenous inhabitants of central Sudan, and is close to 'Uber.' Such are the problems of acronyms: see - Maybe the matter will sort itself out with time?

Naala Nura

Naala Badu



5 June 2024


This report on the gallery is interesting, as it confirms that the promotional image of the gallery is the photograph taken from the drone: see -

The new gallery apparently has no identifying presence for the pedestrian, a circumstance that makes the earlier hype about it becoming the ‘new opera house,’ pure farce; true hopeful thinking. It seems that the aim of the PR was to prove that the $344 million had been well spent!

What is interesting is that this article is illustrated with both an aerial image of the new gallery, and an image of the old, as if the drone shot needs some real support to be read for what it is. It seems that it is only the old gallery that has the identity - the classical entry.

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