Water in a Dry Land: Place Learning Through Art and Story

Mutual Entanglement

#Map 9: Black and White

Black on white of turtle shell and emu egg, white on white of embossed images, the shadow spirits that haunt this work,.and just off centre, my own reflection in the glass taking the photo of the print.

Thinking through the visual images helps me to find words to name the complexities of working together in country to produce new knowledge about water. The artworks and stories are the site of articulating our own entanglements and the possibilities of knowledge production. Each of us moves to the very edges of our being, takes on a new skin, in the process of doing this work together.





It was that night at East Mullane that things fell apart. We were six people from different countries and crossing the boundaries of those countries into the territory of the other is the hardest thing to do.





When I remember this time I think of the solace of the place of East Mullane. The lengthening shadows on the red earth with no grass, the desert trees, the luminous night sky, Badger’s dark hands floured white with kneading johnny cakes for us to eat.





We came together in each other’s country and stories grew as different voices contributed to the flow of conversation. I write images, stories, bits of conversation, revisiting them over and over to allow something of their collective meanings to emerge.





Badger made two lino prints about Narran Lake in response to Chrissiejoy’s stories and her suffering. They are his gift to the Lake and to Chrissiejoy. The first print, ‘Memories of the Narran Lake’, is his imagining of the Lake coming back to life with the return of the waters.





The second print depicts the mythical black swan who was there in the beginning, ‘it was always terewah, home of black swan, they were part of the lake and the lake was part of them’. The mythical swan, with its interior visible on the outside and the outside visible within its body, fills the frame as it floats on the wavy lines of water.





The artworks, as body, are also material objects with a life of their own. They are purchased and circulated to different people and places; they are given as gifts both within and outside the project; they carry with them the body traces of the country of their production.





This work about water moves from place to place and project to project. There have been six exhibitions in different locations, each time emerging from our ongoing conversations with each other and the place, and the works that have been produced in response.





One shared story, the emu story, flows throughout like the invisible waters of the underground waterways. The first emu story was there in the very beginning with Chrissiejoy’s memories of hunting for emu nests in the lignum on the Lake when the Lake dried back.




It was Daphne’s first story of how the sign of the emu in the sky calls her to make the thousand kilometre round trip to her home in the country of no grass to collect emu eggs with her family.

She painted the emu in the sky on the cover of the Yurri Yurri story book, ‘the other story that comes from that country’. It depicts her only child, Alpena being taken away by the Yurri Yurri, across the red dirt, through the water shimmer of Lake Corcoran to the emu-in-the-sky-land of the Milky Way.





Badger connects sky country to earth and water country with the black space of the emu among the white stars of the Milky Way in his lino print ‘The Emu in the Sky’. White people, Badger says, follow the line of the stars, us Paakantji people see the black space of the emu as the sign for feasting and for ceremony'. 





Then, in Treahna’s ‘Black and White’ we have two black and white emu eggs complementing the single black and white turtle shell, and three shadow tracings of emu egg and one of turtle shell, white on white. It is her contribution to this theorising. Two countries, two peoples, in dialogue, ‘the seeds/ waiting to come up/ until you start talking’.





The emu stories and artworks are a storyline of us in country, travelling to each other’s countries, making stories in conversations, actions, connections, and artwork, the work of making and the work of singing the waters into being.