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Links between life and death

IMAGE: Timothy Cook, Kulama 2013. natural earth pigments on linen.  Courtesy of the artist. Photographer: Ian Hill. 

River and water language and the law of the land

The river is a presence…physical, metaphorical and symbolic, beyond culture, place and time. Human roots, like those of the river she-oak growing outside my window, have long intertwined with water and soil. River language is evocative.

In English we talk of headwaters and tributaries, confluence and current; we meander, trickle, flood, flow – and all these words mean more than one thing. But when the river breaches the levy of Western law, the language changes tone. River becomes resource, water becomes commodity.

Marlikka Perdrisat is a Nyikina Warrwa and Wangkumara Barkindji woman who belongs to Martuwarra, the Fitzroy River. Winding 700 kilometres from the east Kimberley to King Sound near Derby, Martuwarra is nationally heritage listed for its cultural and environmental values, and is the largest registered Aboriginal cultural heritage site in Western Australia.

To the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, the river is not a resource to be tapped, but an ancestral being. Its status is recognised in first law, but not in Western law. It will be, though, if the Council has their way. ‘We really want to find ways to strengthen our protection of Martuwarra,’ Marlikka says.

‘One of the ways we’re looking at doing that is through ancestral personhood
which looks at legal personhood and rights of nature.’

The organisation is looking to precedents, such as the Whanganui River in New Zealand, which in 2017 was granted legal personhood. But they’re hoping to take it further: ‘Instead of going okay, let’s give the river its own identity as we do a corporation, let’s look at how we protect it as if it were a grandparent or a relative. Although we want protection in the Western system, we don’t want to completely give up how we see our relationships.’

Words by Georgina Reid – 01.06.2022

Mortality and the link between life and death

At a time when many are experiencing complex feelings about the frailty of life and future uncertainty, this exhibition explores the subject of mortality and the inseparable link between life and death.

The exhibition presents paintings, sculptures, installations and sound works, that challenge us to reckon with death and dying as an inherent part of life, invoking experiences of loss, impermanence, transience, remembrance, memorialisation and varied expressions of grief.

One foot on the ground, one foot in the water is a La Trobe Art Institute exhibition toured by NETS Victoria. Curated by Travis Curtin.

Part of an exhibition at Lake Mac Museum of Art and Culture, Boolaroo
MMM … Issue 31, July 2022