Significantly, the project acts as a meeting place where, over the the four-month installation, programs on site and in the main gallery will explore reconciliation.

“It’s important to look down the barrel of our shared history, as fraught and problematic as it is,” says Roberts. “At end of day it’s about generating dialogue.”

For Bridgland, the vacant space implies a gap in knowledge.

“When I read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu I was shocked and quite angry at how much I was not told when I was growing up about the history of this country,” he says. “Most non-Indigenous Australians believe Indigenous communities have always been nomadic hunter-gatherers. There’s an inherent prejudice that comes with that perspective.”

Appreciating that first Australians grew crops and built dwellings goes beyond a legal argument dispelling terra nullius. It strikes at the essence of architecture: establishing place. Around the structure grow native Australian grain, kangaroo and wallaby grass, along with three kinds of yams from the Western Plains. By time the pavilion comes down, they hope to have a crop.

If another major absence in Australia is the lack of registered Aboriginal architects (in Victoria there is only one), Scarce sees this collaboration as positive.

“I don’t feel in order to tell this story it has to be an entirely Aboriginal [collaboration],” says the Woomera-born artist, who belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples. “It’s a great thing that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can work together.”

In a work that revels in positive and negative space, the towers open to the sky, creating another absent form, a keyhole.

“This [commission] can’t close the gap,” says Roberts, “but it’s a step to doing it.”

In Absence, 2019 NGV Architecture Commission, Grollo Equiset Garden, NGV International St Kilda Road Melbourne, November 23, 2019 – April 2020.

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